A good read over clickbait every time

“While we’ve got better access to the news and current affairs than ever before, we’re actually reading less of it than at any time since our university days more than a quarter of a century […]

WHEN was the last time you bought a daily newspaper? I can’t remember precisely when – but I think the last time I did was at least five years ago, probably longer than that.

Sonya-Fladun

Sonya Fladun.

Things were once very different. Some 20 years ago my husband and I bought newspapers by the truck load. Both of us were working at Parliament House and keeping up with the news was essential, and indeed addictive. During the week we’d get “The Canberra Times”, the “Sydney Morning Herald” and “The Australian” home delivered. On the weekend we’d collect a huge pile of the Saturday papers from the local newsagency and work our way through the news, analysis, opinion, features and all the supplements over a leisurely brunch.

Reading the papers was both work and pleasure. The only downside seemed to be the vast piles of newsprint that would accumulate in our study and beside the kitchen table.

Then, bit by bit, we stopped buying the papers. The daily papers were the first to go as we increasingly read all the news we wanted online, free of charge.

We still kept buying the Saturday papers, mainly for the opinion pages and all the magazine sections, but over time our demand for weekend print also faltered.

Our local newsagency folded and it wasn’t as convenient to drive to another suburb to get the papers before settling down for a cuppa. We also had new family commitments and weekends weren’t as leisurely as they once were. Instead, we started reading the weekend news on our laptops and tablets while watching at the kids’ Saturday morning sporting activities.

The interesting thing now is that while we’ve got better access to the news and current affairs than ever before, we’re actually reading less of it than at any time since our university days more than a quarter of a century ago. Truth is, I barely keep up with politics and current affairs these days. I certainly read stuff that relates directly to my work, but most of the time I just let it all slide past.

My husband – a former political staffer and journalist – says the keeping up with politics is pretty much like looking in an open sewer – it’s disgusting and after a while it all looks the same anyway. He might have a point, but I think there’s a broader pattern involved.

Thanks to the wonder of the internet we’ve moved from a weekly and a daily news cycle to a 24-hour news cycle and now to a 3600-second frenzy in which a torrent of news, opinion and speculation is delivered to our screens via Twitter and Facebook. It’s no surprise that one’s eyes glaze over after a while.

Nor is it any surprise that there’s a downward spiral in quality as the newspapers churn out more and more clickbait rather than real news and quality analysis.

Sometimes I’m just astonished at the superficiality of so much of it. It’s little wonder that so many people are turning off from the mainstream media. Before long some of the daily newspapers may not be printing seven days a week and maybe not printing at all. And they won’t be employing anywhere near as many journalists to keep their web pages turning over.

I’m not sure where this will end. I don’t think it’s good for democracy – though it’s probably the case that democracy really isn’t a factor in the digital-media business models of the future. We’re drowning in information, but much of the deluge doesn’t seem worth reading.

I do still like to read something as I have my coffee on a Saturday morning, and a weekly such as “CityNews” keeps me well up to date with the local Canberra arts scene and a heap of other things that I wouldn’t have the time to hunt down on the internet. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from reading a magazine or book that you just don’t get from a tablet or some other device. Maybe we all need to slow down a bit and take the time to enjoy a good read – a book, magazine, or just something thoughtful and considered, and let the clickbait pass by.

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