I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
What’s new? Whaz up? What’s the sitch?... (situation)
For news, if you want “bang for your buck,” then newspapers are the way to go. Comment one: “But I don’t want any bad news.” Answer: We can touch on that later, fellow citizen.
Comment two: “But newspapers are too big to read.” Answer: Well now, let’s dig into that idea.
A lot of good citizens don’t read any books at all from year to year, let alone big books. So how can we expect them to read big newspapers? In my city there are two major dailies: a bigger “broadsheet” newspaper, and a thinner “tabloid” newspaper. The tabloid is easier, but still big.
Imagine the poor working person, coming home exhausted to a stuffed easy chair, tired enough to talk in a flat voice like Detective Friday on Dragnet saying, “Just the facts Ma’am.” Here’s the good news: A good newspaper is organized to give just that: the facts. That’s because each news article is written pyramid style. The five W’s are put in the leading paragraph, known to reporters as “the lead.” Often the second paragraph continues to set out the bare bones of the story. Call this the top of the pyramid. Once the barest of W’s, Rudyard Kipling’s honest serving men, have been dealt with then the pyramid gets wider and wider with more and more elaboration, extra details, and even some details the average person won’t want to know.
I am reminded of the little boy writing a thank you letter to his aunt: “Thank you for the book about penguins. It told me more than I wanted to know….” As readers, then, we can gallop through the newspaper reading just the headlines and leads. We can read down any pyramid we like, stopping halfway, once we have learned enough. How easy.
Of course on Sundays the worker does not sink into his chair but sits more lightly, more sprightly. After some church and some visiting he is quite refreshed, and still has free time. Hence the phrase “Sunday supplements” for newspaper features on science and gardening and so forth. These articles will be longer, with longer paragraphs, and they won’t follow the pyramid format. Just as with news, of course, the reader still has permission to skim and omit some pieces entirely. I’m telling every Puritan churchgoer: It’s OK not to consume every word… the starving kids in Asia won’t mind, they will find their own newspapers.
Now, what’s about all this fuss about “bad news?” Unsurprisingly, human nature hasn’t changed since the Book of Genesis. (The lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah are still whispering in my brain) Join the women at the well and you will still hear them exclaiming over the bad news… and the good news too. There is talk of new wells and irrigation projects, new factories and new jobs, and new funding drives to feed the children…. and there is news of factories catching fire and burning down in the night, too… If we responsible citizens want the news, then don’t we have to take the bad with the good?
On the other hand, we will always have the option of exchanging “citizenship” for the comfort of letting other people rule us… then the mysterious all-powerful “they” can be left all-responsible and we can comfortably dispense with reading any news.
The women at the well who speak of local good news—the church bazaar, the folks helping the widow, the Star Trek convention—tell such news knowing it is of only local importance. The truly big stuff, news that gets propagated clear across the time zone, is most likely to be “bad news.” That’s just how it is…
And what if a newspaper or radio resolved to only propagate good news? Well, it’s been tried; it always fails: People want a mix of the good, the bad and ugly.
The woman at the well are jolted by bad news, and yes, they truly want their jolt… but they are not bad people. They love their gossip, but make no mistake: On the whole they are good people trying to do the right thing. These ladies are “the long and the short and the tall” and they live in this dusty, messy world of ours. Heaven can wait. Our world is not as nice as the world in Star Trek, but at least it’s real.
Many wells in the dusty Near East date back to the Old Testament. Today, throughout the Near East, only one state has democracy. That state is only a “minority of one.” Well. Does this mean those people are mistaken to have democracy? No, it means they have faith in people. Democracy is based on the faith that most of the people, most of the time, will do the right thing, provided they have the information. Hence every democracy needs freedom of speech, meaning: freedom of information. Meaning: a free press.
Of course information can be propagated by waves from a tall television broadcast tower. But there’s a problem with taking a whole thirty minutes for the 6 o’clock news: If you took every word spoken, and typed it up in newsprint, it would equal only the first page of the newspaper. (According to Neil Postman) Not much bang for your buck! Hence this essay to encourage reading newspapers. Newspapers aren’t too “bad,” and if you read them right, taking less than thirty minutes, then they aren’t too big.
God bless democracy.
On mountain time
~Real reporters, regarding news articles, use the metaphor “inverted pyramid” but I like my own right-side-up image better.
~I like how the Arab news agency, Al-Jazeera, believes in democratic journalistic ethics.
~ Freedom is coming. In Pakistan more people are starting to say it is wrong to murder a schoolgirl for wanting an education. Same as in Afghanistan. Of course extremists are afraid: Once the ladies become literate, who can ever stop them from encouraging their children to take a grownup interest in the newspapers?
~Needless to say, although the extremists won’t agree, you can still believe in Islam while also believing in the law, human rights and democracy. I like the web site of a young Muslim lawyer in Australia, an “Aussie Mossy.”
~For further documentation that Muslims in the East agree with the West supporting them to achieve their modern freedoms, in Afghanistan and other Muslim nations, see Canadian correspondent Michael Petrou’s 2012 book Is this Your First War? subtitled Travels Through the Post-9/11 Islamic World.
~Is the public worthy of democracy? Any oppressor will always tell you, “No.” In Iran the Islamics say only the clerics are good enough. There the high clerics, and not solely the Ayatollah, have more political power than their president does. Over in the Far East the communists say very few are good enough to be allowed to join the communist party. Back in Europe the nobles used to say the peasants weren’t good enough because, metaphorically, they didn’t have any blue blood. That’s why when the American commoners in 1776 insisted on trying democracy, the nobles called it “an experiment” and predicted it would fail… So far, so good.
~What do you think?