Every Newspaper Is a Tabloid Now

Perhaps the state of news has been this way for years and I've never noticed it, but I've come to the conclusion that all of the websites I used to read to stay up to date and informed on world events have devolved into tabloids, covering the same stories over and over with the same characters and with the same tone of abject incredulity. This is true not only of "left-leaning" sites like The Guardian, but those on the right as well. Fingers are being pointed. Wars of words are being waged. Real news is being buried before it even has a chance to surface for air.

British Papers

Every so often, I've felt an incredible desire to pare down where I get my news from. This often happens when the information I'm receiving no longer plays a direct role in any part of my life, as it was for sites like Engadget and The Verge many years ago, or when the quality of writing has noticeably declined to the point where a blog written by a teenager lacking life experience offers a better read, as is seen with the tripe found on the Financial Times' half-written website. Occasionally, the urge to reduce the number of news sources is so strong that I opt to just leave them all behind for a week or two or five, choosing to instead put my time into watching paint dry. Going back to the news after abstaining for a month often shows that very little changes from day to day. The same characters are in the news vying for attention with "more outrageous stuff we wouldn't believe". The same countries are being destroyed by internal or external enemies. The same companies are chipping away at what little pseudo-liberties the common person has.

And what value do I get from reading this stuff? I've given up reading anything involving the US Government and the members of the new administration to save my vision from all the eye rolling. I've stopped reading anything about the Canadian government as well, since every journalist with semi-permanent employment seems to have an axe to grind with a politician because of what they're not doing. Sites dedicated to technology fare a little better, but seem to be bought and paid for with all the sponsored content masquerading as objective think pieces. It's true that news sites need to do what's necessary to keep the lights on, but when several $60 a year subscriptions to various sites does not offer any sort of value in return, I have to wonder if I'm the target audience anymore.

But I'm probably not.

I don't click links to lists, or "amazing things I wouldn't believe", or anything else that sounds like a sugar cereal commercial intro. I don't watch minute-long videos for 10 seconds of content and 30 seconds of ads. I don't "like" on Facebook or "tweet" things to people on Twitter1. A large portion of what is found on the front pages of news sites around the world, in English and in Japanese, are little more than tabloid material with "a premium brand name" attached.

So where does this leave me to stay informed and otherwise try to understand the context behind world events? I wish I knew. Evening news can fill some of the void, but there's very little depth in most TV reporting, it seems. Physical newspapers contain stories that come across as outdated before they even reach the printing press, and are often poor copy/paste jobs from the website right down to the underlined text signifying an unclickable link2. Radio or podcasts for news? No. Non-starters. All of them. Which leads me to wonder if perhaps I'm just no longer interested in what news organizations — that I know of — have to offer.

Like a customer who has grown tired of the menu at an oft-frequented restaurant, I want something different. Since I won't get this from the usual places, maybe it's time to simply leave it all behind until someone introduces me to something more interesting. If nothing else, this should free up a little bit more time and maybe even help drop the blood pressure a few points.

Am I just overthinking this? Am I seeing a problem in the news that doesn't exist?


  1. I do share links and specific excerpts on 10C Social, of course, but not nearly as often as I used to

  2. why is this still a problem for newspapers in 2017?

It's Not a Software Problem

Is the difference between information and misinformation something we want to leave in the hands of yet another algorithm?

This is the question I asked after reading this Guardian article where Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, laments that fake news is "killing people's minds". He goes on to say that technology companies should be doing more to tackle this problem and stemming the spread of falsehoods without affecting people's rights to free speech. While I am just as frustrated as anybody else over the excessive quantity of misinformation online, a technological solution to the problem would be the ultimate precursor to a form of censorship the likes of which authoritarian governments salivate for.

I appreciate what technology can and has done for us, but I must question why this particular human flaw needs to be addressed by software and social engineers. Humans have been lying to one another for as long as we've had language, and probably longer still. Children tell us they didn't eat the last cookie in the jar despite the crumbs around their mouth. Companies tell us they appreciate our business on receipts but never through actions. Politicians tell us they can be trusted. Would an algorithm catch these fibs? If so, how would any algorithm know what is accurate versus inaccurate? Somebody would need to be the gatekeeper of "The Truth", while the definition of that very concept varies so wildly from person to person that any form of censorship of an article that is aligned with a person's current beliefs would instantly render the entire system suspect and untrustworthy.

The issues surrounding "fake news", "alternate facts", and outright lies are not recent creations that have caught a populace by surprise. Growing up before the Internet, I remember my father and I laughing at tabloid headlines at the grocery store. Stories so over-the-top that it's a wonder anybody took them seriously. Some of the headlines that stand out the most in memory include:

  • Horse born with human head. Farmer ashamed.
  • Woman abducted by aliens from Saturn
  • City of Atlantis discovered under Brooklyn

If any of these were even remotely accurate, there would be a lot more press coverage and a whole lot of academic papers1. What my father tried to teach me by reading these at the grocer was that you cannot trust everything you read. Some of the best teachers I had while growing up would say the same: it's okay to read, but verify.

This is what people need to do if they are to separate spin from fact. It's not easy, but critical thinking is the only way we can overcome the mountain of misinformation that exists both online and off.


  1. any one of these would result in a lot of follow-up studies

Yet Another News Sabbatical

For about 16 months between 2014 and 2015, in a bit to have a brighter outlook on life, I stopped reading the news. The various RSS feeds I subscribed to were removed from the reader. The websites I would frequent were left unread. The sorts of accounts I would follow on social media drastically changed. An incredibly noticeable change in my attitude occurred within the first two weeks, and it was positive enough that I started to create more often than complain. Earlier this year, though, I started reading the news again in order to keep up with conversations people were having around me on topics that I knew almost nothing about … and my outlook on the world began to slip downwards again.

If keeping up with the world means subjecting myself to an incredible amount of frustration and anger at the sheer lunacy of what make it to the front pages of news sites around the globe, why do it? Just because I know a horrible thing has happened does not necessarily mean that I can do something about it.

newspapers.jpg

I cannot do anything about the various atrocities that take place in the name of various terrorist organizations. I cannot prevent an angry, xenophobic old man from running for president of the United States. I cannot do anything (of note) to help people lift themselves out of poverty. Ignoring these very real issues will not make them go away. Ignoring them will, however, bring a little peace of mind.

So, starting today, I'll be staying away from the various news sites that I typically read. I will stay away from the TV news that shows brief snippets of the insanity that permeates the 24-hour news cycle. And I'll use this extra time to … relax. To simply disconnect from the glowing screens and be present in the real world … or listen to a podcast … or play with my dog. Words mean things, and it seems the tens of thousands of words that I consume are having an adverse effect. Clearly I'm not cut out to be on top of the news cycle anymore.

Wiki-Journalism

Earlier today I made the mistake of reading some comments on a news site where people debated the validity of some facts reported in the article. As the website in question is using Facebook comments, one cannot put too much weight into the validity of the concerns. That said, I was surprised by the number of people who seemed to think they would do a better job of writing the article given the same set of details. This begs the question, could a news site employ a Wiki-like structure where readers, informed and otherwise, have the freedom to write their own articles, provide attributions, and — more importantly — edit the work of others?

The Daily News

Online newspapers, the last time I checked, existed for a few different reasons. One of these reasons is to impart fair and balanced information on events that are occurring around us on a local, national, and international level in a timely manner. That said, many of the articles that I read often sound like something that you’d find on a blog such as this one. Opinions appear in pieces that are clearly not editorials, and well-read articles rarely get updated to reflect the most current information. This last point can lead to misinformation being disseminated as people catch up on RSS feeds and social media. How can news organisations provide better, more relevant facts and figures to people in a timely and consistent manner if the readers are required to jump from link to link looking for the most current information?

A wiki model might work here.

With a wiki, each event would have a single page with multiple contributors adding information as it becomes available. Editorials could then point — with actual, working links! — readers to the wiki when referencing important details to justify a position. Readers could also be invited to participate by contributing or corroborating facts as an event unfolds. What’s more, if the information were provided in a single place, readers could bookmark specific events and check back throughout the day to see if there was any new information to consume.

Over time, bloggers and other people who opine would begin to coalesce around news sources that they trust and cite that company’s wiki when making points rather than Wikipedia. People would be encouraged to fact check across sites and update erroneous details. News organisations would become far more valuable to people who want to create content, and far simpler for people who just want to absorb content.

Wiki functionality wouldn’t need to be free, either. Journalists cost money, as does fact checking. The NewsWiki could operate on a subscription basis, offering people full access to decades or centuries of information for a set price per month. Readers who don’t want to pay could still see the editorials or other sections, though!

The most frustrating part of any news site is the fact-checking. Five journalists for the same source can write five different versions of the same event with just enough in common that people can see it as the same story. A wiki would provide a single voice.

Then again, this is crazy. Online news sites exist to collect metrics and show ads, not impart information. I must have gotten sucked into a dreamworld where popular websites actually did what they advertise for the good of their visitors, rather than the big corporations that finance them. Silly me ….

Grimm's News For Kids ...

While looking online for something in particular to help with my Japanese studies, I happened upon an interesting site. The site is called "News for Kids", but it's not something that I would want to expose my children to until they demand I stop calling them a kid. Here is a taste of what I found on the front page:

  • International Conservation Meet on Animal Trade
  • Another Big Quake for 2010 - Chile
  • Fiji Struck By Cyclone
  • Hundreds Killed in Ethnic Violence in Nigeria
  • Killer Storm Rages Through Western Europe
  • Flightless Mosquitoes the Solution to Dengue Fever?
  • Rahman Bags Double Grammy Honour for India
  • Terror Targets India: Bomb Blast Kills 16
  • The Bt Brinjal Battle
  • Athlete's Death Casts Gloom Over Games

News For KidsOf the ten articles found on the front page, seven talk directly about death … usually of innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This doesn't sound like "News for Kids" to me at all, but "News for Adults to Ignore While Waiting for the Sports Segment". I can't imagine explaining something like ethnic slaughters in African nations to anyone under the age of 14, nor why so many people tend to die when huge earthquakes or freak weather patterns hit.

Maybe I've become jaded in my old age, but when I think "Kids News", I think happy things. Where are the stories about Pogo giving birth to 5 healthy puppies? How about an article talking about how the bunny rabbit is next year's animal? Why not write about how playing video games for an hour a day can make math and science more fun, but too much time on the DS can result in bad eyesight and poor grades? Seriously … lighten up on the doom and gloom stories.

A quick Google search shows that many kids news sites discuss the grim reality that we live in, which is a shame. Kids may not know just how messed up our planet is, but it doesn't mean we should expose them to it head on until they're ready for it … which is usually around the same time kids want to be considered adults.

Am I just jaded about this whole thing? Any parents out there have a different opinion? I'd love to hear it :)

If You’re Not Part of the Solution …

A Stack of NewspapersFor the better part of the past decade, we’ve heard a number of cries for attention throughout the various forms of media. If it wasn’t Iraq and WMDs it was Iran or North Korea. If the annual summer temperatures melted more than 5% of any particular ice sheet, environmentalists would scream about Global Warming. If companies were shutting down, we would hear endless shouts against globalism, outsourcing, and otherwise capitalizing on the poorest humans on the Earth in the name of unheard of profits … which was demanded by other loud-mouthed dolts who just happened to own stock in the companies who were forced to find ways to cut costs while simultaneously improving productivity. The list goes on and on, and the various soap boxes that have been employed by both the mainstream media and general public has been both incredibly varied and incredibly effective.

There is one particular soap box that I would like to examine, and it’s the ever-popular internet.

Never before has it been so easy to discover information and connect with people we might never have met otherwise. One of my favorite hobbies involves reading newspapers from around the world online. Not only does this give me a few perspectives on a particular topic, but it affords the luxury of seeing what topics are considered burning for a particular week. Depending on the subject, and how well I understand it, I might even write a post about the matter to get some more ideas flushed out while sharing the info with others. But there is one aspect to online papers that grinds my gears to no end: Reader Comments.

The Winter of Our Discontent

Perhaps 7 years of poor leadership from what used to be the Earth’s only Super Power has jaded the general public’s outlook on everything, but it seems that the number of trolls that are out and about online has quadrupled in the last few months, and nowhere is this more evident than on the TimeOnline’s news site.

DannyChoo recently posted a link via Twitter on a controversial article regarding the “Environmental Impact of Google Searches.” All in all, I thought the article was not too horrible a read for a one-sided argument. That said, the argument did not contain enough fact to sway my current habits. According to the article, for every two searches we perform on Google, CO2 the equivalent to what is created to boil a pot of water is released into the atmosphere. This would be interesting if accurate, but will undoubtedly have little impact on how the most complete data catalogue goes about its business.

To add a little humor to the situation, I estimated that the article took about a minute to read, which included a little time to reflect on the vague numbers cited within. I then calculated the amount of CO2 I had created just by breathing while reading the article and found that, in the minute spent reading the article, I could have completed between 27 and 33 Google searches! (Source Links Below)

But all kidding aside, what really pissed me off about this article wasn’t the article itself … it was the useless comments that had cluttered up the space beneath Jonathan Leake and Richard Woods’ questionable article. Despite the high number of people who complained about the quality or factual relevance of the data, not one of them provided any factual information of their own. Heck, most of the people didn’t provide any value to the conversation at all.

Here are just a few of them:

I googled this article. Now I see I am going to have to up my googling. Maybe that will warm things up a bit.
Michael W, Fairbanks, AL

I totally agree, we must revert to earlier times every one heated with wood and used whale oil for their lamps. over 4 billion people cutting wood for fuel and killing the last whale herds how long before the Greenies cry we must stop living period. If that is their goal let them show the way.
joe, Farmington, USA

It has nothing to do about anything other than another way to tax us. People had better wake up.
Arnie Petralia, rochester, ny, usa

Very Soon the environmentalists will realize we exhale Co2 when we breathe and methane when we pass gas. maybe they'll try to tax that too.
Chris, Levittown, USA

Since Al Gore invented the internet, I blame him.
Robert, Brampton, Canada

What value did any of these comments serve? Did they provide any factual information or corrections to the article that was posted? Heck, considering the number of honestly useful comments that the TimesOnline actually receives on their articles, I’m surprised that they waste valuable server space by offering and recording comments. It would be far more beneficial to allocate that precious data capacity to something with a little more ROI … like another series of intrusive advertisements.

Should They Allow Comments?

A few months ago there was an argument on a forum regarding the importance of news sites allowing comments, and 8% said that news sites shouldn’t allow them. The other 92% who felt otherwise wouldn’t shut the hell up about their opinion and continued to hammer the database with poorly rationalized phrases replete with spelling errors and way too much ego. If I didn’t know better, I would think the real reason these people were upset wasn’t because they couldn’t fill up yet another online database with unjustified tripe, but because these news sites don’t offer a back link to personal websites.

Comments are intended to add to a conversation, or point out corrections with decent language and a respectful atmosphere. Nobody forces us to read any of the articles online. If a person wants to bitch and moan about how a post goes against their personal beliefs, that’s fine, but that’s what a blog is for

… which is why I put my rants on here rather than waste other people's time.

Sources for CO2 Calculation: CO2 and Human Physiology | The Respiratory System