Sunday, August 01, 2010

Losing track of time while reading the newspaper

"Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock."

- Ben Hecht

News media is interested in news, which means olds are generally not reported. Anything that is doing well without much drama, or which is still doing just as disastrously bad as it has been for a while, drops below the radar of news media. Indeed, without a trigger of some kind, incremental changes also largely pass by unnoticed. Unless you happen to be watching when the second hand reaches "12", you might miss the fact that we're in a new minute. And the chances of noticing a new hour are even lower. And so this quote is very apt, since the more important large scale things generally don't receive much coverage.

And all this is before we've even mentioned other systemic problems in contemporary profit-driven, narrowly-owned news media eviscerated by short deadlines, relying on untrained journalists, polluted by populism and more interested in conflict than consensus.

Of course, some sources are better than others, not all media is the mouthpiece for corporate interests and quality journalism still survives. Just don't set your watch by it.
From xkcd.com.

8 comments:

Anthony Douglas said...

C'mon Byron, that's old news!

byron smith said...

A good example, with pretty pictures (ok, it's actually a colourful chart).

Jason Goroncy said...

... and so PT Forsyth counselled us to 'think in centuries'!

byron smith said...

I guess that would have made it a little hard to plan a catch up over coffee with PTF...

meredith said...

Interesting that even historians debate the value of different spans of view. after the kind of fragmented micro history of recent decades, some historians are now advocating a 'big history' approach and writing serious books on the big bang to now.

One of the main difficulties, though, is in making sure difference isn't flattened out into sameness. there's a huge challenge, too, in mustering the enormous volume of complex information from across a range of disciplines, and marshalling it in a manner that's comprehensible.

byron smith said...

Meredith - Yes, we all rely on you historians to provide some of that "larger than the present moment" context. It's a difficult job, but it can't be safely ignored or dismissed.

byron smith said...

Climate Progress: Media credibility gap widens due to systematic changes in media practice leading to more errors of all sizes.

byron smith said...

Tobis: Cultivating American Ignorance. "How is the world supposed to reach a sustainable condition if its most powerful interest is a democracy whose voters are encouraged to remain ignorant?"