I really need to go through the notifications on my iPad and turn some of them off. Or turn most of them off.
I would start with that irritating app called “Apple News,” except… occasionally, it offers me something interesting from The Wall Street Journal. I recently dropped the WSJ from my subscriptions, because I wasn’t using it enough to justify paying for it – and the cost is high, compared to my other subscriptions. When Apple News scoops one up to offer me for free, I can read it. And I like to check in with the WSJ – which has probably the strictest paywall in the business – occasionally. That app lets me do it.
So I like getting notifications when they have one – because I’m not going to be looking there on a regular basis. I need the heads-up.
Unfortunately, that means I get a lot of junk from it as well.
As you can see above.
But as you can also see above, they’re not the only ones hassling me. You’ll see notes from The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. None of which I would want to turn off, because there are no entities in the world more likely to alert me to actual news, which is, you know, what I subscribe to five newspapers to get. (Well, that, and commentary.)
The problem comes when we get to deciding what “news” is.
As you can see, for awhile there last night, the most important in the universe was that Beyoncé has won a heap of Grammys. Which I suppose is important to her, at least. Personally, I have never cared for a moment about who has or has not won a Grammy, much less who has won the most of them. There was a time when I cared about who won this or that Oscar. But I quit caring about that a quarter-century ago. And now I’m not sure I can tell you clearly why I ever did care. It mystifies me.
But a lot of people care about things I don’t care about. For instance, I’ve noticed that some people – perhaps even some of you – take an interest in football.
So never mind me.
We have all these news organizations in consensus about the fact that Beyoncé winning all these music awards is the most important thing happening, so they must be right – right? In fact, it makes you wonder what’s wrong with The Washington Post, wasting time telling me about some dumb ol’ earthquake that has now killed – let me go check – 3,800 human beings.
But wait – that was a few minutes earlier than the really earth-shaking news at the Grammys. So surely the Post got on the stick later. Well, actually, I don’t think they did. I never got a notification from them about it, last night or today.
Which makes those slackers, well, my kind of newshounds, I suppose.
Now, you will protest that those notifications are merely a snapshot of a few minutes in time, and that those other organizations no doubt turned to actual, hard news later. Especially the NYT. And you’d be right – at least in the case of the NYT.
But you’d be putting your finger on something that still worries me.
You see, back in the olden days, when newspapers still roamed the Earth and I spend a great deal of time each day agonizing over what to put on the front page and how prominently to play it, editors saw it as their job to present news all at once, and in a hierarchy of importance. We assumed people had a finite amount of time in their lives, and didn’t want to waste any of it. So we told them the biggest news right up top, but gave them the other stuff, too, in case they had time for it. That was up to them.
We were able to spend time weighing how to present things, and in what order, because we only presented it once a day – or two or three times if we had that many editions. So we had some time to think before deadline arrived.
No more. Mind you, I think it’s awesome that it is now possible to provide news to readers right now, without having to spend the day using 19th-century technology to physically get a paper product to them. I used to fantasize about that back in the early ’80s – at that point, there were no more typewriters, and all writing was done on computers (a mainframe system), and I kept thinking, What if when I hit the button to send this to the copy desk, it just went straight to the reader?
And when that became possible, I rejoiced. But then something else happened. We went from being able to send stories out immediately to having to send them out immediately. No time to stop and think, How does this compare to all the other things going on?
No. Whatever was happening now became the most important thing in the world, the way things had always been on TV news – which was something I didn’t like about TV news. You could only see one thing at a time, so at that moment, there was nothing else.
Suppose you – like so many – didn’t agree with what the editors said was the most important news. That didn’t matter. You could decide for yourself. It was all presented to you at the same time, instead of this stream-of-unconsciousness madness that we have now: Now, it’s THIS is the most important thing. No, THIS is. No, THIS is…
And for awhile last night, that most important thing was that Beyoncé had won those awards – so I received a tsunami of notices about it.
Of course, newspaper readers can STILL see all the news presented on a paper’s app. Which is great. And it’s all freshly updated. And better yet, now the TV stations have websites where you can see a bunch of stuff being offered – not in any thoughtful hierarchy, but at least there’s a selection.
So that’s good – as long as you go looking for your news that deliberately, and consider it more or less holistically.
But I fear that not enough people do. I worry that too many let it wash over them the way the Grammys were washing over me last night. And I think it causes them to lose all perspective. And it causes the journalists to lose it, too, since decisions of what to cover and how to play it and what to send notifications about are now so driven by clicks.
At this point, many of you are rolling your eyes and thinking (as many of you habitually do), there goes that has-been newspaperman, reminiscing about how great things were in the old days. Which means you’re missing the point entirely.
It’s not about me. I actually love my iPad and the incredibly wide access to dependable news sources it gives me. In the unlamented old days, I wouldn’t have been able to subscribe to all these papers and received them while the news was still hot. And this is of great value.
But I worry very much about the effect these “news” tsunamis I’m speaking of have on society as a whole. It’s not just a matter of people being overly concerned with silly pop culture stuff. Hey, I love pop culture, as any reader of this blog knows. But the problem is, serious things – such as politics – get covered this way as well. It’s gotten to be all about the outrage of the day, the stupidest things that were said or done, the things most likely to drive us farther apart from each other. And yeah, it helps explain – not entirely, but in part – how Donald Trump got elected in 2016.
As I’ve said so many times, nothing like that ever came close to happening before that election. And I keep trying to figure out why it did happen. And this is one of the things I see contributing to it – this utter lack of perspective and proportion with regard to news…