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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Worth the paper

I don't understand newspapers. Oh, the news itself is very straightforward. A bland and calculated recitation of events. A lot of mundane politics. If you really care, you can look at everything they say and see a clear agenda, but there's no reason to care since that agenda is always the same. There are the left-wing newspapers, and there are the right-wing newspapers. In general, readers seem to pick a newspaper based on their own positions, so that they can keep their glasses intact and have the news filtered through. When I sit down to read a newspaper, I know more or less what I'm going to get based on the newspaper's position. It's predictable. It's boring.

But wait a minute- why should it be boring? Politics can be fascinating. I'm watching the TV show Babylon 5 now, which is at its best when it's dealing with fictional politics, and it's riveting. Never mind the differences between film and the written word; my point is, it's entertaining to see all the different sides of these political games.

Anyhow, we all know the story of the newspaper. The newspaper itself would like to be seen as the sole guardian of the objective truth. The readers, on the other hand, like to think of the newspaper as a corrupt manipulator of public opinion. These are their roles: the newspaper tries to get exclusive content and the most direct headlines; the readers criticize the newspaper for presenting a view they disagree with (and not adequately supporting their own positions) until the newspaper makes some concessions in the way of diversity in writers.

Here's the part I don't understand. I've heard the tales of how capitalism corrupted the Game Industry; I've heard of all the cutthroat corporations out there looking to make as much money as possible. In all these cases, the pursuit of as much money as possible pushed the companies in the wrong direction. Now take newspapers. If they were looking to get as much money as possible, they'd try to make their articles as entertaining as possible to read, to build a loyal readership. Then they'd want to reward that readership in the long-term, so that they would recommend the paper to their friends. This seems to be one of the few businesses where a attitude of "Let's make as much money as humanly possible!" can only do good. And here the editors are idealists. What gives?

Why do these editors pursue one agenda consistently? Wouldn't it be much more entertaining to keep the reader guessing? You arrange the news one day so that all the writers are trying to convince the reader that one side is right, and then a week later -A twist!- have a day devoted to making them look both incompetent and evil. Leave out certain details so the reader can fill them in in his head; Put in other details that go against the spirit of the rest of the article.

The newspaper should be as entertaining as a dramatic TV show; why isn't it?



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