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.

5 thoughts on “Essay: On Slow News”

  1. I am an NPR gal. And have been pretty much my entire life (depending on the family – S. ID Fam = KBOI, N. ID Fam = KPBX/NPR). Admittedly, I remember the many years of being ANNOYED at my father for the constancy of NPR in our lives. And now, here I am, a bonafide NPR nerd who subjects her cat to hours on end of it. I listen in the morning when getting ready, sometimes when I get home, and most often when I have the car for work (3 days a week). I like that the car experience gives me the morning news and then the evening news. There have been times that I missed a story (due to sleeping in or just not quite catching the news cycle for the day). And as you say, I am able to catch up to it right away with an online click or a quick listen to the news. Shawn's the person who peruses the paper at our house. Admittedly, I get it for the Weekend and the coupons.

  2. I can admit that my "reading" of the paper gives about 60% of the time to the "Living" section (the features, the advice columns, the gossip and about 60% of the comics,) 45% time to the "local" section (the local news, all the tiny local blurbs and I always read all of the letters to the editor–my favorite part–and if I'm feeling virtuous I read all of the commentaries. Some days I just can't stomach wading through the conservatives columnists, especially Rich Lowery who makes all sorts of poor arguments,) and maybe 5% time to the front page section. That one I can usually whip through in about 2 minutes because (sad but true) I don't prioritize learning what's going on in the world through the reading of the newspaper. NPR keeps me pretty informed in that realm, though.

  3. My latest approach is to put the paper on "vacation stop" status every few weeks to allow me a couple weeks to catch up on the papers that have piled up near the table. And also to give my brain a break from headline-grabbing bad news. But then eventually I wonder when the local bare-root garden sales are, or how things are going with the Lents neighborhood grant projects, and I have to start the paper up again to catch up on local stuff.

  4. This is a very good strategy. I may employ it in the future when I know I have a lot going on–say the two weeks around the school year beginning–and reading the paper feels like just one more thing. But I agree with you about all the local news. A lot of people have said to me, "How did you ever hear about THAT?" with that being cool fun event or interesting local story. And the answer is always that I read it in the paper.

  5. Minor flaw in the plan: I am discovering that the newspaper delivery people are not always on top of it when I stop the paper. This week, for example, I scheduled the paper to stop on Thursday but have received it every day since. This would not be so great if I were actually out of town.

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