From the files:
DUCK, HERE COME FACTS . . .
As for what reporters write, it makes us dumb, says U. of Florida history prof C. John Sommerville, author of How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society, as reported on the UF website 4/26/99 by Cathy Keen. It’s the nature of the beast, says Sommerville, in that it subjects us to a "daily, and often hourly, barrage of disassociated facts."
It’s the daily-hourly part that does it to us. Each day has its front page and headlines - though headlines vary in size, to be sure. Each elicits at least comparable interest. Newspapers can’t wait for the important to happen. (Slow news day mean something minor gets played big - remember Bob Newhart’s explaining why so much was made of the U.S. sub shelling Miami by mistake?)
If they did wait for something important, says Sommerville, "they might be idle for weeks and their capital assets would get rusty." So they approach every day as "worthy of the same attention." (Yes and no; again, some headlines are bigger than others.)
Moreover, news doesn’t reflect the world, it tells what went wrong.
LOOK SMART . . .
And so on. Trouble is, for every point Sommerville makes, I think of an objection. When he gets to solutions, however, I’m with him. He’s for reading books and magazines. He stopped reading newspapers several years ago but still knows what people are talking about.
It’s true, you can pick up a lot on the fly. A salesman told me he routinely checks the sports pages of any city he’s visiting - in the daily paper, to be sure - before making his calls. That way, he can chat up the most enthusiastic fan. For that matter, the more enthusiastic, the more the fan wants to do the talking anyhow. A salesman can look very wise and interesting by keeping his mouth shut.
In the Jesuits we were (once) advised never to read a newspaper sitting down. That way, you wouldn’t be tempted to linger over the ephemeral. And what do you think? Latin for daily paper is "ephemeridae," as in here ephemeridae, gone tomorrow.
We were indeed (regularly) warned against "desultory" reading, meaning without purpose, on the fly. As incipient scholars we were rather to program ourselves. I met one of us in the library once of a summer’s day poring over an art book - the best of Western Civ, that sort of thing. Desultory? Nope, he wanted to be at least somewhat versed in what an educated man knew. Off he went, eventually, to be a theologian, but like the newspaper-perusing salesman ready to look wise and sound interesting to the enthusiastic art fan.