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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Power of Five (12)—Newspapers

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "The Power of Five"
One year ago on Round and Square (3 July 2012)—Fieldnotes From History: Provincial Elections-j
Two years ago on Round and Square (3 July 2011)—Hurtin' Country: Kentucky Rain
[a] Every day...RF
Below, I list the Five Newspapers.

This one was difficult, and the RSQ Board of Cosmology struggled to get the right "feel" from the varied list. While it is true that the schtick of this series is that these lists just are, this one shows a few cracks in that conceptual foundation. The Five Newspapers? It's pretty tough to choose from a large series of excellent publications dotting the entire world. From Yomiuri Shimbun to the New York Times, and Die Welt to Corriere della Sera, generations of readers have scoured the pages and proceeded through their days with FBI-fingerprint style hands. One ill-timed blotch on a white shirt and we walked around with a smudgy Rorschach test of literacy on our clothing.
[b] Mud, ink RF

Newspapers. I love them...and wear my inky heart on my sleeves.

Except that almost none of us reads ink-on-newsprint anymore. 

No, the Kindle, the Nook, and the I-Pad have transformed the publishing industry and kept our hands clean. It's a thing of beauty, for the most part, but before we leave that papery memory to the world of phone booths, typewriters, and eight-track players, let me quote something from my scattered "fieldnotes" from 1984. Yes, that year.

You see, I read a New Yorker story by Donald Barthelme, and thought—at the time—that he had just expressed the idea of continuity and never-ending repetition in a timeless sort of way. I was so excited that I copied it down in my notebook, and still have it today. Here's how it goes, exactly the way I wrote it in June 1984:

         Metaphor for "life goes on..:"
               The New York Times will be published every day and I will have to 
               wash it off my hands when I have finished reading it, every day.
         Donald Barthelme, "Affection," The New Yorker, 7 November 1983
[c] Daily RF

Boy, that sounded permanent almost thirty years ago. Now, though, I just click the "off" button on my Kindle and do something else. With clean hands (and heart). 

Permanence just isn't what it used to be.

But the newspaper is still alive, and my fascination with it, and them, continues. Way back in the day (about the time that I read Barthelme's story), I made a big decision. I was going to get the New York Times, and I was going to read it (and wash it off my hands) every single day. Today, that would not be terribly difficult to do, even with a print issue. Back in the early-1980s, though, a Northfield, Minnesota subscription required working with the US Postal Service and relying on rural delivery. That's right. I got my newspaper—two or three days late—in my mailbox.
[d] Front RF

I can't even begin to tell of the excitement in my life as I carried the Times with me (proudly making sure—this embarrasses me now—that everyone knew I was reading it). One elderly neighbor asked me what was wrong with the Fargo Forum. "It's good enough for us, after all." Another got to the point in another way. "Are you moving to New York?," she asked. None of that mattered to me, though. I was transfixed. 

I read Flora Lewis's opinion pieces and washed them down with Anthony Lewis. I loved Russell Baker. Above all, I started to see international news in a new way—reporting on themes and trends rather than only the occasional front-page article (in lesser newspapers) detailing the latest "big" thing. Indeed, this is one of the inspirations that eventually led to Round and Square: medium-sized and little things matter...a lot. I first learned that from grandma, and then from the New York Times.

This affection for newspapers has continued wherever I have lived. I was an avid, daily reader of 中央日報 when I lived in Taiwan for two years, and bought two or three daily newspapers in Japan during my year at Waseda University. I have electronic subscriptions to Le Monde and Die Zeit. I can't get enough...including time to do them justice (alas).
[e] Sensational RF

And let's not leave off one last idea. The Wall Street Journal. I read it every day, if only—this is how it began—to make sure that I have news from a wide range of political angles (a somewhat more seasoned journalistic focus than, say, FOX News and MSNBC). I have stayed with it because the Walleye, as John McPhee's trucker friend calls it, is superb. Only the New York Times surpasses it for fascinating articles on nooks and crannies of everyday life in the United States and beyond. 

In fact, my only quibble with the Journal has nothing to do with its political angles. Those are interesting. No, it is the tendency of editors to let down their guards and add silly, pun-filled, headlines. I learned long ago—and they should have done so, too—that it just doesn't work in print.This is actually one of the first points on my style sheet for student writers. Jokes and puns might be funny in a lecture or presentation—even a blog, for Pete's sake—but not in longer-lasting (paper of record) print. The WSJ enjoys frequent lapses in this regard. Below, I list just a few.

[e] Noisepaper RF

     Pot Pipe
     Gold Lumps
     Diamonds Could Lose Their Shine
     Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to 
          Be Tennis Pros 
     More to follow...

***  ***
So, of all the daily papers from which we could choose, these are the five. Together, they represent are the totality

Remember, if you think that this is a "top-five" list, such as you read on Yahoo, you are very badly mistaken. No, these are totality.

Got that? It isn't "The Best of..." It is totality. These five are "newspapers."

If that doesn't make sense...go back and read the introduction and the links!
[f] Convenience RF

The Five Newspapers
(feel free to click the links) 
Asahi Shinbun (朝日新聞)
Le Monde
New York Times
The Times (of London)
Die Welt

Honorable Mention**
Wall Street Journal
USA Today
Die Zeit
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The National
The Times of India
New York Post
The Northfield News
** The RSQ board will occasionally make use of the "honorable mention" opportunity to throw in a few more things to think about. The Honorable Mentions have a little bit of history and culture to consider. The RSQ Board has its reasons.

A brief (sort-of) explanation. 

Japan has, by far, the greatest newspaper readership in the world, and in almost any way you can count it. Asahi Shinbun stands in for hundreds of good papers. Le Monde is serious, well-written, and French. Die Welt is serious, well-written, and German. The New York Times and the original Times (of London) are substantial papers-of-record.

The honorable mentions run the gamut, as they should. Oh, and by the way, Japanese readers: I will not participate in the silly Romanization of 新聞 as "Shimbun." That's just stupid. In my world, and ん is an ン is an "n."

Beyond that, 'nuf said. The cosmologists have the last word. 

The Five American Independence Days
[g] Word RF

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