Friday, October 13, 2017

The Age of the News Buffet

Remembering America: Reports on Returning home after nine months in Britain.
Laurel, Maryland:For a woman whose grandad and parents owned small-town newspapers, I am strangely phobic about the news. My phobia probably started when I was a kid and couldn’t even read the news, but still I couldn’t bear the feeling of inked newsprint on my fingers. 
My parents have said that I was easily distressed when my hands got dirty and newsprint felt dirty. The smell of newspaper gave me a headache – that black inky oily smell.
In college, when I worked for my grandfather’s newspaper in the summer, I remember going into the room with the big press on “paper day” and joining the other employees in “stuffing the paper,” one section into another. We wore clean surgical gloves and soon they were black with the ink that I had watched the pressman smear into the feeder tray below the giant metal rollers. News is dirty.
I don’t like arguing or arguments, and I like overhearing arguments even less, so listening to people talk over each other on the radio or watching them raise their eyebrows and curl their lips on TV is excruciating for me.
And, let’s face it, the news is generally troubling, and though many people can shake it off or listen dispassionately as the sky seems to fall around our heads, I carry all of the muddy grimness of the news with me like a pocketful of stones all day long.
So, I straddle the line between making myself aware of the major happenings, but reluctant to the let the volume of news drag me, seduce me, into depression in a show of being informed.
Though some of my friends find it appalling, when I am in the UK, I tend to catch up on the top stories and weather in a matter of minutes by watching a bit of BBC Breakfast (think The Today Show, but less showy). And I supplement my BBC Breakfast plate with a few tune-ins to Radio 4 and the six o’clock news here and there throughout the week. Add to this the occasional newspaper found on the tube, and I don’t live in a vaccuum. 
BUT, here at the hotel in Maryland, they’ve had CNN in the breakfast area every morning. This has been a shock, a baptism by Wolf-Blitzer-Anderson-Cooper-fire. Las Vegas, Melania and Ivana, forest fires, Trump and Corker, Nuclear War, Harvey Weinstein, the Light Phone, FEMA in Puerto Rico, Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, and the run-up to the World Series. 
The thing about 24 hour news is that everything, but nature of being smushed together, is made equal, so Melania and Ivana’s spat over which of them is the actual first lady (does anyone remember this story from four days ago?) gets the same weight as new evidence about the Las Vegas shooter. 
In newspapers, you have the front page, which tends to push one story to the top. But who chooses what is tops? The Editor. And who is the editor?
Harvey Weinstein was an editor of sorts, it turns out – choosing the women who would succeed in the lucrative global film business based on whether they would watch him shower or . . . But on the other hand, NY Times Editor, Dean Baquet, chose to run the breaking story that outed Weinstein for his despicable behavior. Bad behavior, good behavior. Bad editor, Good editor. How do we know we can trust the editor? And how long do we wait to find out that someone we thought was trustworthy, worthy of presenting stories, worthy of speaking from some moral high ground, is unworthy? Then what do we do with our Bill Cosby records?
In that case does 24 hour news come closer to the truth? If we put all of the stories next to each other in an unbroken line, do we become the editors based on our own biases, for better or worse? What is better? Curated news and putting our trust in editors? Or having the events laid out in front of us – a salacious buffet of events?
This news buffet is probably best exemplified by the State by State section of the USA Today where the paper presents a short news item by each state all on one page. So a man who claimed aliens filled him with drink stands alongside a major drug bust or an elderly person found sitting in a ravine. What’s more important? You decide.
And what is the importance of deciding on what is more important? Isn’t this, in some way, the great question of life? What is most important.
Now that I am leaving the hotel and looking at several weeks of homestays, I will see less of CNN.
So, as a farewell, I can only say that I proclaim this the age of the news buffet. And in that spirit, I give you my American pictorial week in review, in no order of importance.

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