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'When it comes to it, news is just some things that have happened'
March 5, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Newspapers: still the most important medium for understanding the world
Adam Curtis: “We don't read newspapers because the journalism is so boring”

The Invention Of News
posted by the man of twists and turns (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Once new media themselves, newspapers have gone on to outlast cinema and television... Theatre outlasted not only the newspaper, but also cinema and then television."

Unless he's talking about newsreels running before movies in WWII-era movie theatres, I'm not sure why cinema or theatre are even mentioned in the article. It's media, sure, but totally irrelevant to the point he's trying to make. Who uses cinema or theatre as a information delivery mechanism? That's what the conversation around the death of print is about.

Also, we have newspapers AND cinema AND television AND theatre. None of those forms have been outlasted.
posted by The Notorious SRD at 8:23 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Television's dead?
There seems to be a shitload of people going to great technical lengths in order to watch as much television as they can, at any time, in any place.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:27 AM on March 5


Economics, for example, which is central to our life at the moment … I just drift off when people talk about collateralised debt obligations, and I am not alone.

Here you go Mr. Curtis:

Derivative

Leverage

I bet you could get at least two hours out of the bank crisis!
posted by bukvich at 8:29 AM on March 5


Not exactly Chomsky, is he?
posted by colie at 8:32 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


If by "journalism is boring" you meant, "we sold out, all our competitors died off and we are prohibited by our new overlords from talking about the real news anymore."

Then, sure.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:36 AM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Having just watched some Curtis docs for the first time the other day, I am super into this dude.

His point about music is very much correct I think, though overly curmudgeonly. It doesn't bother me when a band like Savages reworks Siouxsie with a dash of Wire thrown in, but he's right that it's not breaking new ground. It used to be the rare rock band that deliberately recalled a different era, now it's the rule. Pop music (and hip hop) is infinitely more interesting right now than most rock music, because Rock is where Jazz was in the early 80s--there's fusion pap, and revival and that's it.

We increasingly live in a Spotify playlist world, a reverse Panopticon, where we can browse the infinite library of recorded digitized art whenever we want, seek cursory info in the universal encyclopedia and experience a period in 20th century+ history as if it was happening yesterday without effort or fanaticism.

He thinks this is terrible but it is what it is.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:40 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a shitload of people going to great technical lengths in order to watch as much television as they can, at any time, in any place.

People are not good at distinguishing between television and televisions.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:54 AM on March 5


World's Worst Newspaper Delivery Guy Caught in Act
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:55 AM on March 5


Curtis is right about one thing: Journalism is boring. I think it has something to do with its mid-20th century rebranding as a legitimate profession, but I spend all day reading old newspapers and they're just hysterical. Newspapers would go to war with each other, expressed entirely in scabrous comic verse. They pranked their readership and invented tall tales. At the dawn of the Speed Graphic era, they showed up on crime scenes before the police did, taking haunting, graphic images of murders and car crashes and multi-house fires. It was less a profession than a folk art, practiced by near-lunatics, semi-criminals, and failed artists and typeset by hobos (this is true; in Omaha they called themselves the Missouri River Pirates).

And the text! Oh my God, you won't find this sort of thing in a modern newspaper, a description of a Iowa form boy getting drunk for the first time in an Omaha dive, printed in the Omaha Bee in June of 1900:

Then the chair on which he sat floated out through the roof and he soared majestically over the city. He experienced a sense of exhilaration. The buildings beneath him were mountains in volcanic eruption, the river was a sea serpent, the moon a constellation. In his ears was a tinkling as of fairy bells, in his blood the essence of starlit dawns. Then his cane-bottomed mount passed out into space, and he saw more solar eclipses, bobtailed comets and short-termed aerolites than he had ever dreamed of before. He was about to join Andre in a quest for the north pole when the day bartender awoke him with a rough shake and he found himself emerging from the ice chest.

This was the time when regional American newspapers came into their own. When they both found an audience and found they impact the world around them. And a lot of the success comes from the fact that they were fun to read -- really fun.

You just rarely find that now, and why not? You can write in a manner consistent with contemporary standards of journalism and still have an entertaining voice -- The Bozeman Daily Chronicle's Police Report demonstrates that (some of their best.)

I dunno. Maybe news just decided it was serious business, and maybe the people who write the news suddenly became more concerned with their reputations or their mortgages to communicate that news is actually exciting, fun, and allows us a peek into the lives of our neighbors, and the condition of humanity, that we might miss otherwise. It's impossible to lament the increasingly failing of journalism to capture an audience without recognizing that at some time we journalists decided that news was medicine and we were uniquely qualified to spoon feed people what they needed to hear. News is medicine, in a way, in that it can be like a marvelous pharmaceutical. Cut it right and you don't have to sell it -- they will beat down your door to get another taste.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:09 AM on March 5 [16 favorites]


Newspapers: still the most important medium for understanding the world

That article disagrees. (And so do I.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:10 AM on March 5


Reminds me of The Onion's final print edition (PDF)
posted by Rhaomi at 9:49 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot these days. Even the very fact that I can't seem to find teh words to articulate what I'm seeing and sensing about the way the whole concept of news and media has changed/is changing is something I find fascinating because it hints to me that we're at the edge of a frontier world.

As Potomac Avenue says, we're consuming bits and bobs of what we need for our own individual daily media diets from around the web rather than having it spoonfed to us like in the days of old.

Add to that what I see from my own obsessions with the changing online landscape of and from the African continent, I have a hunch that what Curtis is identifying is actually a transitional phase we are in - an inflection point, one could say - and the sense of "same old/same old" could actually refer to the "pause" that we, embedded as we are in this streaming experience, don't perceive.

Anywhere from a year or 3 from now, and I say this as an extrapolated projection into one possible emerging future, we'd look back to this moment and recognize it for it was, because the world, as we would be perceiving it, given our heads in this mutually shared cloud of ours, has completely changed.

Sort of like how you don't realize you're gaining 5 kg while looking in the mirror everyday but someone seeing you after 2-3 years notices the difference right off the bat.

Disclaimer: still struggling to articulate and perhaps the words themselves are making the evolving changing more tangible than I feel it really is, at this moment. But I'm part of it myself so I know that there is a change to way "news" is being defined, discovered and disseminated.
posted by infini at 9:59 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Pop music (and hip hop) is infinitely more interesting right now than most rock music

Oh great, this shit again.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:22 AM on March 5


NIck Denton's take on the news business from Playboy magazine. (The page I loaded was SFW but you might be get an NSFW sidebar so be careful!)
posted by bukvich at 10:23 AM on March 5


a reverse Panopticon

Have I got news for you!
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:34 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Curtis's line about newspapers being "boring" specifically relates to newspapers' coverage of the financial crisis, and what he's saying is - there's no way (yet) to "sex it up," to make the complex, labyrinthe topic accessible to the average reader.

That's a big reason the banksters have gotten away with so much; it's all so complicated the general public's eyes glaze over, and then the stealing can commence.

The broader point, that we're on the verge of a new media something, is probably correct - but I don't necessarily think that what's coming is going to make people any better informed. The rise of Buzzfeed/ViralNova and all the competitors have had the effect of convincing local newspapers that this is the business model of the future. You're driven by numbers, and when the numbers say that the cat gifs are getting as many hits as the investigative pieces that tok 3 months to report - who will be able to justify, financially, the kind of journalism that the public says it wants.

Content is king, but the content that IS king tends to be cop news, "freak" news, celebrity news, lists, etc. The general public that consumes/demands this is simply uninterested in derivatives, etc. - though of course everyone will bitch the next time that all blows up in our faces, and they'll blame the media for failing to cover it or explain it fully and fairly.

Some of that criticism will be deserved. But christ, we need to get to a point where people are as interested in being informed as they are in being entertained.
posted by kgasmart at 10:42 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


a big reason the banksters have gotten away with so much; it's all so complicated the general public's eyes glaze over

Really, that isn't true. Sure, the actual investment vehicle things are complex, but the transfer of wealth from the masses to the elites and why it's done is simple, direct, easily explained, easy to understand.

But there's just no way the media can report this kind of thing. They have to 'get rid' of these facts (Chomsky's phrase). And in fact the 'complexification' of things is one of the strategies that they opt for.
posted by colie at 10:54 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Really, that isn't true. Sure, the actual investment vehicle things are complex, but the transfer of wealth from the masses to the elites and why it's done is simple, direct, easily explained, easy to understand.

Yes, the actual investment vehicles are staggeringly complex. But even the policies - mention Glass Steagal and its repeal as one cause of what occurred and you've lost the folks who've clicked over to Buzzfeed to read "This week in porn star tweets."

Any in-depth journalism that's going to go beyond the broad "what happened" (transfer of wealth from the masses to the elites) is necessarily going to have a small audience due entirely to the complexity barrier. Hell, check out this piece on CLOs, the big banks' claims that the Volcker rule (the mere mention of which sends half our audience scurrying to find the next cat gif) is going to crush Main Street businesses. Is it true? That's what "real journalism" should purport to find out, but as part of that, you've got to explain CLOs, you've got to go down the rabbit hole.

And people just aren't inclined to follow. They just aren't.
posted by kgasmart at 11:02 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Curtis's line about newspapers being "boring" specifically relates to newspapers' coverage of the financial crisis, and what he's saying is - there's no way (yet) to "sex it up," to make the complex, labyrinthe topic accessible to the average reader.

That's a big reason the banksters have gotten away with so much; it's all so complicated the general public's eyes glaze over, and then the stealing can commence.


This is silly. The way to "sex up" finance is to talk about how morally corrupt banksters steal money from good hard-working folk. This requires very little understanding of finance. In fact, having even a basic understanding of what most finance people do day-to-day probably interferes with appreciating this narrative, since the day-to-day typically involves things like Excel spreadsheets and conference calls, and people in finance make so much money not because they are thieves but because they are taking a small cut of a massive pile of money and dividing it among a small number of people.
posted by leopard at 4:48 AM on March 6


Curtis's notion of boring journalism seems related to another sad fact, which is that Wikipedia, the very icon of contemporary knowledge, is also extremely boring in its prose and structure. Reading older encyclopedias is an exhilarating delight compared to scrolling through Wikipedia's soggy cut and paste jobs.

The literary styles of both Wikipedia's "NPOV" and mainstream journalism seem designed to put the reader to sleep through pseudo-objectivity and unoffensiveness. The newspaper websites are incoherent and generally horrendous. News consumption is seen as a vague kind of duty, to keep up with the stream of important facts and goings-on, to avoid coming across as "uninformed."

I think Curtis is spot on about widespread uncertainty and confusion that's being repressed by the creators of civic writing. I know a handful of columnists are trying to express it, but they're marginalized by the professional hardass editorial opinionizers, the privileged mansplainers, the gatekeepers of the symbolic order, blah blah.

Sadly I have no better solution to offer than retrying the old Provo tactic of diluting psychoactive certain chemicals into the water coolers of national newspapers. Static culture indeed. But why not?
posted by mbrock at 7:34 AM on March 6


The Invention Of News:
Thanks be, Alain de Botton has come among us again, as he does so often when we're perplexed. Anxious about whether you understand art? Do you appreciate sex properly? What's religion about? How can you be happy? Fear not, De Botton can tell you, quickly and easily. Not since Moses went up a mountain and came down carrying a couple of slabs of granite reducing life to 10 commandments has anyone been able to reduce the complex enigmas of existence down to simple injunctions. The man has a solution for everything.

Why Alain de Botton is a moron
posted by homunculus at 10:27 AM on March 23


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