How Do You Get the News?

By Terry Calhoun

Up until very recently, I read five or more newspapers each day. I would stop on the way home after work and purchase the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, and the New York Times. I would already have the Michigan Daily because there is free distribution of it in the lobby of our building. And the Ann Arbor News is waiting for me by the mailbox when I get home.

Now I'm down to only the Ann Arbor News and the Sunday New York Times. Why is that? Has my reading speed slowed? No. Can I no longer afford to buy so many papers? No. (Although my wife is happy that I don't spend that money.) Am I just too busy in the evenings doing housework? Absolutely not!

Maybe you've guessed by now that "Why is that" is a trick question. Actually, the language of the factual set-up to the question is misleading. Here's how…

I no longer read those newspapers, but I still read (or listen to) the news. I've successfully converted to reading most of my news online. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that having the Sunday New York Times and the daily Ann Arbor News lying around is a positive influence on the rest of my family, most of whom would not read much news at all otherwise, I would convert completely to online reading. (And, as a result, have much cleaner fingers at dinnertime.)

The conversion was slow at first. It began ten years ago when I became the editor of SCUP Email News, one of the very oldest, continuously-published e-mail newsletters on any topic. (It’s been around since 1987 – planners really do think ahead!) It was originally called SCUP Bitnet News. I’m only aware of one older newsletter within higher education, the monthly Electronic AIR, which predates SCUP Email News by a few weeks. I don't know of anything older outside of higher education.

One of my tasks is finding, describing, and linking to a number of higher education planning-related news items or resources. The SCUP Links portion of SCUP Email News tends more toward substantial resources, magazine, or journal articles than to newspaper-type articles. But in my monthly, then weekly search, I began to notice how much news was becoming available online from sources not often found in newspaper racks in southeastern Michigan. For example, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and so forth. Those weren't replacing my newspaper reading, they were adding to it.

Early on in the life of the World Wide Web, I was always in search of topical "meta-pages.” In the end, these became so commonplace that they're now sort of passé, unless the publishing organization can claim to have captured the topical realm and be comprehensive. Even then, the more sophisticated search engines are superior for everyday news purposes. More about that later.

Then, the whole idea of e-mail newsletters got "hot" and even within higher education, some quite topically-focused newsletters became available to join the handful that were already in place, like the Electronic AIR, SCUP Email News, and Edupage. The Campus Tech stable of technology newsletters is a prime example. Eventually, daily newsletters began to overflow my inbox. Newsletters such as the Daily Report from the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://www.chronicle.com), the Daily News from Academic Impressions, Inside Higher Ed’s Daily Update, and the UB Daily from University Business.

Then I was hired by then-Syllabus and now Campus Technology magazine to write these weekly articles and collect and annotate a set of weekly news items for IT Trends. That forced me to gear up a bit in terms of organizing my weekly search. Boy, was I ever happy when I discovered – it seems like yesterday, but really was over two years ago – Google Alerts. I now have dozens of those alerts engaged and my e-mail client happily files them into folders by topic.

I'm the kind of person who got excited when the New York Times changed its online format and introduced TimesSelect. Not because I now had to pay to read the editorials and columnists, but because that meant that its everyday articles are now free of the "free registration" requirement and I can link to them.

My first item of business each day is to get my e-mail downloading and then to scan through the Drudge Report, then CNN, then USA Today, then the New York Times, then the Christian Science Monitor. While I read, I sort, forward, and reply to overnight incoming e-mail messages. During the day I make sure I get to InsideHigherEd and the Chronicle online. Lately, I've been adding a variety of blogs to my daily scanning schedule, but I'm not organized enough with them yet to be able to share them here.

What's next? I may never get to podcasting, because without the serendipity of whatever comes up next on NPR, I'm not the kind of person who gets into intentionally listening to something either on the radio or online. I think the short, 3-minute-or-less streaming video or podcasts might work for me, but I despise television. I don't watch it and don't own a television set. So maybe that’s not for me.

On the other hand, someone on the excellent DIG-REF list just posted a link to an interview with Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales from Friday's (5/26) FLOSS Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte and Chris DiBona. I may well be listening to that as soon as I send this column off.

For some reason, I have not yet been captivated by RSS feeds and I wonder if they're as much of a soon-to-be-a-from-the-past way of receiving news the way that publishing documents on CDs turned out to be. I'm very interested in reader-contributed, slightly organized news Web sites like Fark.com, which is the most recent addition to my daily scan (thanks to my colleague, John Ferry). I just wish that particular one wasn't so very few clicks away from stuff that I'd just as soon not accidentally look at.

Today, on UWEBD, the College and University Web Developer's list, a thread was started up about the potential for Wiki-based news pages. So far, I am the only respondent, but my response – formed as I wrote it – coalesced some things I have been sort of noticing about Wikipedia. One is that I use it more and more. Another is that, as I wrote, "Some of the articles in Wikipedia are so frequently updated they are analogous to constantly-updated news stories." Hmm.

So, then I asked the list to share the various cool and unusual ways they are seeing the news done. Only a couple of responses to that so far, but they're interesting. My favorite news-related page of the day – and one I think I am now reintroduced to – is FRESH Headlines at Frustrated.Cities.com. That site compares the current offerings from a political spectrum of online news sources.

The left-hand column is the Village Voice. The next is the New York Times. The next might be the BBC or the Irish Times, then on the right is Fox News. I think that the utterly poisonous World Net Daily should be a fifth column, to the right of Fox News, but then I don't know how to code that kind of page.

Personally, I show no signs of the Balkanization of news reading that some pundits have worried about. I look at many conservative, some radically-conservative: Ann Coulter , Limbaugh, and Hal Lindsey. Heck, I even visit Jerry Falwell sometimes and was delighted recently to learn about the site on which he sells special protein shakes so that Pat Robertson can leg press 2,000 pounds. And I am a "Capital El" Liberal.

To balance that, check out Daily Kos and the Huffington Post. I just want to know what everyone thinks.

What would really be cool is to be able to tap into the National Security Agency’s varied eavesdroppings, but those probably won't be available to the average person without good cracking skills until about 2010. Unless a senior administration official needs to leak something.

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