Essay: On Slow News

On Monday, the Oregonian ran a commentary* by Peter Laufer, in which he attempts to convince the reader to join the “slow news” movement.  Mr. Laufer, I am happy to say I am already a member, as evidenced by the fact I read your column on Wednesday, two days after it was published.

 I already have stepped off the 24-hour news cycle, having realized that there just isn’t enough news for all 24 hours of the day.  I read the paper daily—though I don’t always finish the current day’s paper by the end of the current day—I listen to NPR while cooking dinner and that is it.**  I will, on occasion, poke about online for more information about a current event, but mostly I just keep informed as people did in the last century: by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio.
Laufer says, “We need to be able to decide for ourselves what so-called news is worth our while, not just allow ourselves to be subjected to an endless barrage of unfiltered media assaults.” What’s worked for me is to have regular times each day to check in with the world.  Mine are: on the train to and from work, when
I read the paper; also the aforementioned cooking dinner hour with NPR.  Unless some national tragedy is occurring, I can wait to wade into the details.
It’s worth noting that my definition of national tragedy is a lot stricter than the media’s view.  Here’s a tally of national tragedies in my lifetime:  the events of September 11, 2001.  That’s it. Everything else can wait until my news hour.  Remember the DC sniper?  Coverage of that event was a wake-up call for
me.  For the entire period the sniper was active, all our local news—morning, noon, evening, late night—spent a substantial amount of time reporting about something that was happening on the other side of the country.  Given that
most days there was no new news and given that few non-governmental events occurring in our nation’s capital are local it was a colossal waste of time.
Laufer also points out that the first coverage of an event
is often inaccurate.  Agreed. I would
also add that it tends to be quite hysterical.  When the shootings at Columbine High School
occurred, I recall thinking, “I can’t wait until someone writes a book about
this.”  I had to wait a decade, but the
book was worth the wait, as it carefully and completely proved that pretty much
everything we “knew” about Columbine after the shootings was not accurate.
I’d like to invite all of you to join me in the slow news movement.  We can be informed, even if we check in at limited, regular intervals.

*If you want to read the original column, it is titled “It’s OK to read yesterday’s news tomorrow.” and is available, for a time, by clicking here.

 **If I had more time, I would also read a weekly news magazine and also renew my subscription to Harpers and the Atlantic Monthly.  If I had more time and cable, I would watch the Daily Show and the Cobert Report.