“The problem with reading journalism online,” a colleague pronounced over the cafeteria table, “is that you only read the things you want to read.”
I forked up my fries: gravy, ketchup, extra pickles on the side. Copies of the Winnipeg Sun scattered underneath styrofoam, a ink-smeared receptacle for wasted ketchup packets. “Yeah, well, the problem with reading journalism in print,” I replied, “is that you only read the things the editors think you should know.”
I felt very self-righteous in this, at the time.
Now, two years later, I’m coming back to it anew. For two weeks we’ve been thrown into this debate, online offline, pay for your things, pay for our jobs, pay to read, to think and to know, and how do you make them pay — I don’t know, I don’t know. I only know this much: that bird, the tactile word, has flown. This is how things are, now.
And I know this: the success of Kickstarter proves that people, essentially, want to pay for content.
They desperately want this, even, want it bad enough to throw money at something yet unmade and for the most part unseen. A two-minute teaser trailer, a hint of an idea, a message the maker wants to send.
But now the old debate echoes through the silence of my condo: you only read the things you want to read.
Am I guilty of this? Maybe, probably, yes. It is not something to be proud of, but it happens almost without noticing. This too, like so much else, is psychology: we tend to seek out others like us. We seek out writing and content we already believe we agree with. We want to belong to a tribe.
My reading list: feminist blogs, Gawker media, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, museum websites. More than those but all in their way the same. Mostly social issues, lots of international affairs. Mostly American politics and psychology and stories of life. Oh, and sports. And I read a lot of history: atrocities, mostly, and how they happened. A lot of stuff you rarely see in the newspaper.
But now, unmoored from my daily work at the paper, I can feel my eyes start to drift away from the minutiae of civic politics, the details of economic policies and taxation. I used to read it every day, and try at least to keep up with the times: garbage carts, frontage levies. I did this even as a teenager, nose buried in the paper to escape another lonely day.
On Kickstarter, we fund the things that carry messages we believe should be shared.
There is power in this, if ideas must be spread with money: there is power in being able to assemble outside the margins of the page and raise cash to spread messages about the environment, about science, about being better people.
But there is also this: will we become this narrow, then, even when the world is at its broadest?
I don’t wish a return to the days when only a few outlets curated and channeled information to the people.
I don’t wish a return to the days when newspapers could be used so unchallenged as agents for the state, whipping up war frenzy, complicit in drawing out the dark instincts of our evolution.
Dad, I said: do you know that while you were alive, almost one in five Americans wanted to nuke Japan more?
“At the time,” my dad replied, squinting to remember the blaring headlines of a childhood owned by a war he barely knew, “Everything, all the newspapers, were telling people to hate ‘the Japs.'”
I like to imagine now that most people would hear otherwise, if it happened again. That there are more voices and they are more unfettered.
But still, is it just inevitable at this stage that nothing again can hold us to look at things we don’t really want to know? And where does this go, and how does it end? The Internet was supposed to bring us together. But it is also world of a million tribes, flowing, growing and declining again. Maybe we are growing further apart.
So I concede now, two years after the conversation began, that my coworker had more of a point than I wanted to believe.
I will try to hire an editor for my head. To make me read the things she thinks I need to know.