The pleasures of Old News

Every news channel has this immense rush to be the first to get a story. This has placed much higher importance on being first than being right — witness the debacle of reporting the outcome of the Martha Stewart trial of a week or so ago for an example (and in particular, see The Daily Show‘s bit about it). This lust for instananeity (is that a word?) in the News industry troubles me. It’s not that I don’t want news quickly, because I do. But what I want more is trustability. And that’s not built by being first, but rather by being the most complete. There are some things that I want instant news on: I want up-to-the-minute reporting of sports scores, I want immediate current weather and traffic conditions, I want immediate alerts of network downtime (although that’s not normally covered by the news). But if someone’s been murdered, I don’t need to see the bloody body being carted away from the police. I don’t need some poor reporter to be standing out in the rain at the scene of the crime to tell me this. What I need is some context, some back story, some distance to inform me of how this affects me. Because honestly, the murder of someone I’ve never known and have no connection doesn’t really affect me. So report the murder, perhaps, but don’t speculate as to who or how or why, just tell me when you actually know something for a fact.

Not surprisingly, I most enjoy reading The Guardian Weekly, which my parents bought me a subscription to as a gift. Being weekly, I get a summary of the news from the past week. Partially, the articles are written for a noticeably more educated audience, which is nice. But there’s also a sense of completeness about the news. It has already happened. The reporters are able to give context, give opinion, give research. They’re able to complete the picture for me. Of course, what’s also nice about the GW is that it’s so international — I read about news from places that simply never get coverage in North American papers (and in particular the poor papers we have here in Vancouver).

I suppose I’ve always ‘resisted the hype’. I don’t trust anything until the brouhaha has died down about it, be it a movie, music, book or news. I trust in distance from the event to help provide context, inform opinion and encourage rationality. And maybe that’s really where my mistrust of instant news comes from — how can you believe what they’re saying, what with all the hype? But I think this serves me well as bullshit detector. I always question. When I was in school, this would get me in trouble (despite always being told that school was to teach you to think, in my experience there, thinking does not apparently include questioning the teacher’s knowledge or motivations in teaching something a particular way), but I think it now makes me a better media-consumer. Of course, just the fact that I tend to not truly experience or digest an event until hours later probably plays into both my response to hype and my ability to remain distanced from it: I don’t build and emotional response to an event until quite a while after it has occurred.