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Reading Matters

Doug Wilhelm is a full-time writer and an independent publisher in Weybridge, Vemont. His newest book is the novel STREET OF STORYTELLERS (Rootstock, 2019). His 15 previous novels for young adults include THE REVEALERS (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), which has been the focus of reading-and-discussion projects in well over 1,000 middle schools.

Reading the news online: do we really?

I’m like most people: I used to read newspapers, now I read the news online. But what I notice is, I don’t do it in the same way. I have my first-thing-in-the-morning routine: make tea, open laptop, and read — first the, then again to Then I’ll bounce around, if I have time: Huffington Post, Google News, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic online. (I’m not mentioning that I actually start by reading the comics ... um ... never mind about that.)

Anyway, I’ve noticed that I don’t read the same way I used to. With a physical newspaper, I start at the front, read the major news, and maybe skip back to the sports or features or stuff about the culture. Sometimes I’ll go straight from front to back, page to page. But I start with the news, and eventually I get to the opinion page.

Online, I go right to opinion. Why do I do that, and what does it mean?

Sometimes, at for example, my favorite columnists — Dowd, Collins, Brooks — are all I’ll read. Sometimes I’ll scroll down through the news articles, and I may open a piece or two, but mostly — I’m not proud to say this — I’ll skip from one site’s opinion section to another. Times, Post, HuffPo, Atlantic.

What does this say? Like most people, I tend to go to sites whose perspective I’m likely to share. It’s just so easy to do that. And I think we’re most of us this way, not just those who only get their news from Fox TV (if you call that news; I call it propaganda), or from msnbc. I don’t think I’m blindered, and I’m not ideological. It’s more that online selection is so easy, it’s natural to go to those outlets with which you’re most comfortable. And opinion is easier to jump to than news.

Surely this partly underlies why we’ve become such a politically polarized society. When you have a whole printed paper in your hands, it feels a little silly to go only to the opinions page and discard the rest. Online, there’s so much more information that’s so easily available; yet I tend to just go to opinions.

Well, maybe noticing this is the first stage of starting to change, to develop into a more skillful news reader in the Internet age. It’s possible that we’ll develop that way. I have to hope we will. (I'll probably always start with the comics, though.)
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