Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12: on a positive note----

---let's start with how foreign news in a newspaper should be handled, starting with a few principles.

1. Reporting them as is done now is largely a waste of time. We get one incident at a time - but trying to understand anything in that way is like looking at a dozen pieces of a dozen crossword puzzles, and trying to guess in each case what the completed forms of those puzzles would look like.
Today's paper tells us North Korea is making aggressive noises, and that Karzai of Afghanistan is mad at NATO. But what does it mean?

Is North Korea really threatening a war? or is it doing what it  has done before - using the threat of war to get money or food or some other concession out of the US? Or is it simply acting out of a reaction to US-South Korea war games that are obviously aimed at it? Which of these crossword pieces is really a part of the puzzle at all?

2. By the time a newspaper gets its crossword puzzle pieces out, the news is already old. Radio and TV commonly beat the newspapers by a full day.

3. Few international news services can be trusted. That includes, for example, Associated Press, Reuters, Postmedia....  It's always been that way. They hold back news that their owners don't want to get out. It has been that way for over a century. The story about US torture in Afghanistan was revealed with photos taken by a non-journalist, and circulated on Youtube. In fact, the media knew about torture long before Afghanistan. The US army had a manual on it some 50 years ago. Waterboarding goes back over a hundred years to the US invasion of The Phillipines.

In today's TandT, section C 5, the lead story on Venezuela says that the US has long wanted to repair relations with Venezuela but has made little headway. That line, from The Associated Press is, quite simply, lying. The US has been hostile to Venezuela ever since Chavez raised the fee for oil extraction in order to improve the desperate conditions in which most Venezuelans had to live. US oil execs then put the heat on the US government to get tough with Venezuela - including attempted assassinations. I note, too, there is no mention that Chavez has been supplying the poor in some American cities with very cheap heating oil.

The report refers to Venezuela as being deeply divided. Well, Chavez has won 15 of the 16 elections he ran in; and, just before his death, he won his last election some 20% ahead of his rivals. Not bad for a deeply divided country.

What are the weaknesses of radio and TV in presenting the news?
1. Radio, especially private radio, is limited to short "sound bites". It is happiest with news stories of ten to twenty seconds. You can't get much in that.
2. TV is pictures. Viewers don't focus on the story. They focus on the people on the tube, and sometimes only on the shifting camera angles.

Result - both radio and TV, though  quick to get the news out, are generally shallow in their presentation of it.

The strength of a newspaper is that people concentrate on the words - and, unlike radio and TV - they can re-read any bit that they didn't quite understand the first time.

So how should foreign news be treated in newspapers? Well, skip it as news. Present it as commentary. For example, today's commentary on Afghanistan by Gwynne Dyer doesn't just give details, it explains so we can understand the big picture. It's not just a piece of the crossword puzzle; it's all the pieces fitted in.

One Gwynne Dyer column each day would be far better, far, far better than the scattered bits of crossword puzzle we now get.

(Yes, I know lots of newspapers would spoil the whole thing by hiring bigots and propgandists as their commentators. I didn't say the change would be perfect. I said it would be better.)
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The biggest story of the day in Today'sNews is that Cardinal Ouelette is surprised at his rise to papal candidate. That makes as much sense as a story on what colour socks he intends to wear during the voting.

In fact, the whole paper is so trivial today that its triviality is the reason I decided to write on how foreign news should be dealt with.
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As to editorial and op ed....

The editorial is pretty silly. It's about taxes. It says, "Normally, Liberal governments spend more....." In fact, they don't. I don't say this to defend the Liberals. It's simply a matter of fact. Throughout Canadian history, Conservative governments have been the big spenders.  Liberals come second. (NDP have generally been best at keeping costs down.)

This isn't just a minor point. That casual statement  about Liberals spending more is a sign of both ignorance and prejudice on the part of the editorial writer.

Then he says that Alward should stick with Conservative principles. Okay.

What are Conservative principles?  And, for that matter, what are Liberal principles? I have often seen editors toss those words around as though they actually mean something. I have never seen an editorial that says what those principles are. I doubt very much whether the editorial writer has a clue what those words mean. - though I have no doubt he has a bundle of prejudices on the subject.

At the end of the editorial,  he says that higher taxes are harmful to employment. That is pure rubbish. Higher taxes have been used, and quite successfully, to encourage higher employment.

Here is an editorial on taxation by a person who shows a fundamental ignorance of economics, and who uses other words with no idea of what they mean.
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Alec Bruce's column deserves a serious read, and a lot of thought. On another slow day, I'll write a part of this blog on the abysmal lack of planning at any level in New Brunswick, on areas we should be looking at, and on questions the news media should be asking.
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Norbert chose to write a column about an interview that few New Brunswickers ever heard with a woman even fewer ever heard of.

I have no idea why he chose that topic.
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On op ed, Alan Cochrane presents us with a sermonette more suited to the Faith page.  It's on the meaning of life - a topic guaranteed to produce shallow writing.
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Gwynne Dyer is solid, and a good example of what a useful news page could be.
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Oh, the federal government has released a report on what it spent (in tax money, not Conservative campaign contributions) on government advertising last budget year. It was $78 million dollars. Well, costs are high when you create political ads to appear on shows like the Super Bowl  and The Oscars.

Harper responds that the Liberals spent even more. (Actually, one year, the Liberals did. But, in general, both have been piggies at the same trough.) Funny how the eagle-eyed editors of the TandT missed this story.





















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