Be it resolved in 2024: Read the darn news!

The New Year is about to begin and I’ve got a great idea for a resolution for 2024.

Read the damned paper.

I type that with nothing but love and respect and incredulity. The term “paper” has an evolving definition but no longer requires cluttering up the domicile with inky dead trees. It’s a traditional skeuomorphic reference anymore. You don’t “dial” anything on your cell phone, or “tape” anything on video. You’re reading “the paper” right now on the pages of your local independent nonprofit news site.

For a resolution, don’t worry about losing weight, quitting smoking or doing anything that people haven’t done regularly in the past when bad habits abounded. Just be a normal American, as “normal” was once defined.

Resolve this: Read. the. news.

I’m really getting sick of the calcified narrative that “strange people” are up to date on current events “while real people with cooler lives” have other things going on and can only pick up their news in dribs, drabs, bits and pieces. The media itself has begun to indulge ignorance as if it’s some sort of hipster virtue or a natural limitation of the unwashed.

And the last thing people want is to be lectured and hectored, right?

Wrong. I think a good scolding is in order. As you are reading this, you may not be the problem. Pass the scolding on and tell people to do their damned jobs as citizens.

To live in a country that’s both prosperous and free, the people must be sovereign over the government and not the other way around. We the People must protect our way of life by investing time in understanding the decisions elected leaders make on our behalf, and what problems they’re purporting to solve.

Otherwise, nature takes over and the most natural form of government gives a single person the power to declare what’s best for everyone. Four seconds later, the leader concludes the greater good is what’s best for them personally. Said leader immediately starts rewiring the state to protect themselves from the people and an epic shitshow inevitably follows.

That’s how state power typically unfolded throughout human history.

America decided to do it a little differently. The difference requires some temporary inconvenience.

And for 200 years, we have more or less done our job.

A century ago, the average workweek was 50 hours, compared to 34 today. The average family had more than two kids. Today it’s less than one. Also, our great-great-grandparents lacked things like “microwave ovens,” “dishwashers,” and “washer/dryer sets.” They had far less free time.

Yet they read the damned paper. They even paid the price so journalists could live indoors and sometimes have a hot meal.

In 1962, a New York City newspaper strike shuttered seven papers – seven! And the city was in chaos. One city. Seven papers.

Radio and television pushed out some papers but these outlets brought with them the news of the day. Tucsonans not long ago supported the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen, plus TV folks like Bud Foster, Barbara Grijalva and Sal Quijada. The Tucson Weekly was also a repository of some outstanding journalism. Not to mention the Northwest Explorer, AZPM, and more.

In the past 20 years, we’ve lost hundreds of professional journalists just in Pima County alone, mirroring the quiet death of old news outlets across the country. Just at the Citizen and Star, there were more than 225 journalists not long ago. Now, one newspaper is dead and the other has barely three dozen reporters and editors. The other news organizations have been whittled and slashed, as well.

Here at the Tucson Sentinel, we’re grateful for the community support that mean’s we’re bucking the trend — we’re growing. We’re hiring more reporters because of the support from folks in this town who understand the importance of truly independent local journalism. If you support us today, your donation can be tripled and your dollars will go even farther to help us report even more!

A hundred years ago, the average IQ was apparently 70. However, those dullards as far back as 1896 (still blows me away) had a national conversation about monetary policy. It was an election that turned on whether gold or silver should back the U.S. dollar. (Read the Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic National Convention that year. A stupid policy. A great speech.)

Today’s smarty pants on TikTok couldn’t even begin to explain what monetary policy means. Voters tell pollsters all the time that the economy is the number-one issue but are all of a sudden clueless about how it works.

Barely literate farmers who often had to walk to a well to get their water had enough time to educate themselves on civic matters. Let me repeat that to the Life-Has-Never-Been-Harder crowd: People in the U.S. of A., once had to walk to a well with a bucket, fill the bucket and hoof it back to the house and that’s if they were fortunate enough to have a well.

Our grandparents had jobs and kids. Somehow, they found the time to read one paper, then watch the evening news and still often had a subscription to Time or Newsweek. The elites got the Atlantic or the New Yorker. This was a mystical time known as the ’90s. The 1990s.

Now we say we “don’t have time” because there are cat pictures to Google and post. “I’m only a level 42 elf on World of Whatever. Just make problems stop and don’t bother me.”

One online foreign language site boasts about learning High Valyrian. If I face a traitor’s execution at democracy’s funeral because you abandoned your civic duty to learn a fictional language from Game of Thrones, I promise to haunt you from the grave.

Problems: Real, imagined, misunderstood

Take immigration. In a poll earlier this year, 47 percent of respondents told the Pew Center that illegal immigration is a serious problem.

Yeah, umm. No it’s not. People are crossing the border today in record numbers to avail themselves of the country’s asylum laws. That process is legal.

And it’s important to understand the nature of the problem.

Preventing people from sneaking across the border is a different challenge than preventing them from fearing for their lives if they don’t try. How are we going to address it as a country? That requires thought more involved than a tweet, Xing, Twix or whatever Elon is calling it now.

Here at the Tucson Sentinel, we have Paul Ingram to geek out on all things border. Nobody knows more about the border than Paul. He can explain things about it for hours. His coverage will tell Tucson, and the world, what’s going on.

Wanna know the reality of what’s going on at the border? Read the damned news!

How about area government and politics? We’ve got Jim Nintzel. Nintzel knows more about how local government works than any journalist in Southern Arizona.

And if he can’t, I can. Together we have more than a half-century of experience covering what hits you where you live.

We also have bilingual Gen Zer Bianca Morales out there covering stories that give Tucsonans a sense of place to put our community decisions into a broader context, and reflecting the weird, wonderful town we love so much.

Diversity is a strength. I know this because a good restaurant has great cooks and great waiters. Chefs, however, should rarely interact with the public. Speaking of which, we also have certified dork-a-holic Gene Moreland — who’s been both a top-notch restaurant kitchen leader and newspaper managing editor — helping keep stories moving behind the scenes to make Tucson smarter and better, along with Tucson native Maria Coxon-Smith, our co-publisher who keeps us on the straight and narrow.

The perils of research

I’ve heard the tired refrain that “people don’t trust the media.” Instead I hear “do your own research.”

Please don’t menace society with more fantastical tales about conspiracies. Falling for conspiracist fantasies is the short-cut to fake expertise. A person can decide to learn about the health care system and read up on risk corridors, community ratings, reinsurance and capitation or they can just watch an 18-minute YouTube video that says it’s all a plot. Instantly, the latter folks feel smarter than anyone stupid enough to honestly study the issue.

I started this column determined not to be source-dependent. I’d listened to Chuck Todd complain that guests wouldn’t come on Meet the Press if he dared call b.s. on what he knew were lies. I wasn’t going to have that problem. I availed myself of the Internet and did my own research and I did it with femur-freezing fear.

What was I getting wrong? Am I sure about this source? Now that I have it down. Who is it that says I’m wrong? Why am I wrong?

If I want crime numbers, I look up the FBI statistics or local police department databases. If I want test scores, I go to the testing site. I get population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and economic information from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank website. I trust only news sites where I know journalists live in a state of panic that they will get something wrong. If I’m doing something on medical research, I look for the consensus. There’s a good reason for that. I’m not a doctor so I don’t know how to poke holes in what that consensus might conclude.

When I’m covering city government, I’m informed by days and days spent in City Council meetings, commission meetings, years’ worth of interviews with folks at City Hall and having written hundreds of stories that I know pass muster because no one calls and says “hey, you got that wrong.” Same with the other forms of government.

Beat reporters cover each new story with a foundation of knowledge that informs how they handle information. As a profession, we have the context.

It’s what you are buying when you consume real news. It’s just like how a mechanic knows how to replace a starter or a plumber knows fix pipes.

And again, stuff costs money so it’s important to support local journalism with legal tender that journalists can use to exchange for goods. I do this pitch without shame and with imperative. Otherwise, everyone does their own research and we are treating the common cold with horse dewormer. Ankle sprains? Horse dewormer. Wanna lose weight? More horse dewormer.

Sure, we get stuff wrong on the odd occasion. When it’s an error in fact, every outlet that’s actually a news outlet will run corrections on stories. We fess up. As a buddy of mine told me early on, our job is to take a test every day and score a 100. An A isn’t good enough. We strive for perfection. Then when we get something wrong we all die a little inside and tell the world what we got wrong.

Try getting that from a mechanic or plumber. Try getting it from a pastor, rabbi or imam.

Don’t blame Paul for Politico

I will say that political journalism has taken a downward dive in recent decades. Too many national outlets report stories as if they have no context or broader understanding, let alone memory of what happened a week ago. Policy is increasingly some sort of black box they treat as an unsolvable mystery. Polls and fundraising numbers are their only currency because the only impact that matters is which party is suddenly up and who just took a tumble.

Reality is irrelevant. Narratives matter most.

So an inflation number will come out and the political press will spend hours bloviating about how it will affect a campaign (a year out from an election) and zero seconds diving into its causes or what can be done about it. None of them act like they have the slightest clue how the Federal Reserve affects the money supply or economic activity. That’s 90 percent of the inflation picture.

However, the beat reporters covering the economy will know this and will explain it. We at the Sentinel pick up stories from national partners like the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica that inform Southern Arizonans about relevant news — not just clickbait and pot-stirring.

Don’t blame Ingram or Nintzel or editor and publisher Dylan Smith because cable news is trash. And don’t look at me when talk radio talks nonsense.

Come to us for real news — journalism that doesn’t just feed your predetermined bias, that doesn’t purposefully leverage outrage for clicks or make you happy you have a certain opinion about an issue. We’re here to work for you, to work to get the truth, and help everyone learn more.

The Big Coddle

The coddling of ignorance must stop.

This from a piece earlier in the year by the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell, who suggested: “I’m here to tell you: Don’t trust anyone who says they know for sure what’s going on in this economy — including, umm, me.”

Great work. You are helping to kill reality.

Her point was, that facts don’t matter because the economy is a mix of realities far too complicated to parse so it’s really about feelings and all feelings are valid. This is always the case. Some people will end up struggling even during good economies.

But it matters that voters don’t look at a boom time and think it’s a recession – especially during an election season.

Voters can cause an actual recession if they elect leaders to pump money into an already roaring economy in hopes of ending an imagined recession. Inflation will follow stimulating a zooming economy. The Federal Reserve will then jack up interest rates and hit the brakes so hard an actual recession would likely be inevitable.

It matters that people are properly oriented.

In aviation, what they call spatial disorientation can be fatal. It’s what happens when a pilot loses a grasp on the direction of “up.” Right-side-up can feel like upside down. So they invert the plane and start flying upside down. Then if they want to climb, they dive and sometimes all the way to the ground. It’s what killed JFK Jr.

And yes, he’s actually dead, Twitter weirdos.

As voters, we each are among the pilots of democracy. We need to understand the condition of our craft.

So read the damned news!

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