Of all the trappings of mid-twentieth-century existence in these then-United States, the one I miss the most, I think, is the afternoon newspaper. More people, admittedly, got the morning paper; but the afternoon, I reckoned, was actually the most rational time to read the news, because you didn't spend all morning wondering about the import of the things you'd just seen. And in the middle Sixties, I bicycled around what was never referred to in those days as East Ashley, carrying copies of the Charleston Evening Post to the homes of people I believed to have the same general idea. (West Ashley, in those days, was the place to be; the east side of the river was then typically regarded as hopelessly declassé.)

Years passed, and it became evident that my preferred news schedule was a distinctly minority preference: two-newspaper towns became one-newspaper towns, and the surviving paper would be the morning paper. Most of the time, as in Charleston, the two papers had common ownership; however, there were instances where one paper acquired the other and moved to mornings, not necessarily in that order. The Houston Chronicle moved to mornings in 1994 before the death of the rival Houston Post; when the Post ceased publication, Hearst, owner of the Chronicle, had already arranged to acquire some of the Post's assets.

One can hardly blame publishers for this, I suppose: the other primary afternoon-news source, the network news with Chet and David and Walter and all those other talking heads, had been in decline for years, and their primary audience is no longer the 18-34s most coveted by advertisers, but old geezers like me who are not worthy of their attention no matter how much disposable income we may happen to have. (If you're ever unfortunate enough to have to spend a weekday at home watching the tube, you will see an endless tapestry of bad shows interspersed with ads for trial lawyers, prescription drugs, and Medicare supplements. This, media insist, is what geezers really want.)

For the rest, you can blame Ted Turner, who invented CNN and put it on the air in 1980, in the process creating the 24-hour news cycle, rendering just about any newspaper's schedule seemingly irrelevant. And when there wasn't 24 hours' worth of news — which turned out to be most of the time — the time was filled any way they could. Eventually this phenomenon gave rise to the pundit, basically an editorial columnist without any actual oversight from an editor. It was about this point that I cried, "Hold, enough!"

This is not to say that everything in cable news has been a travesty. All else being equal, I would much rather look at young women in short skirts than at grouchy old men with seemingly preternatural scowls. (The ultimate extension of this phenomenon is a silly Fox News afternoon series called Outnumbered, in which one presumably sub-alpha male is parked in the middle of a sectional sofa, surrounded by four women with possibly feigned smiles and carefully crossed legs.) Still, I'd be hard-pressed to claim that this sort of thing in any way enhances my understanding of world and national events.

Which is why, in the year of Our Lord 2015, I get most of my news from news junkies on Twitter, who cheerfully relay everything they've heard about anything, sometimes even with proper links. Still, even following a thousand people, as I do, isn't going to call my attention to everything I might need to know, so 48 times a year I peer into The Week, which promises me "All you need to know about everything that matters," and 365 days a year (more on occasion) I walk down the driveway and pick up my copy of the newspaper. It's a morning newspaper, of course. And I read it at 5 pm, as a civilized man should.

The Vent

  16 November 2015

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