News or No News
Traveling Without the International Herald Tribune
The man across the compartment clutched the edges of his tabloid-sized newspaper as he read. His eyes swelled and his nose dripped—he was perfectly still as he wept. My sister and I, on vacation from college, with our Eurail Passes watched him. In giant letters on the front of the newspaper, it read PAPA MORI’.
We were on our way from Amsterdam, crossing the north of Italy, possibly headed to Rome. in 1978 the Eurail Pass for students allowed first class travel throughout Europe for a single price. That and the Eastern Airlines $99 flight to Amsterdam made a trip to Europe possible. We didn’t have a plan, only a Europe on $5 a Day guidebook and our duffel bags that sometimes acted as pillows.
“I think the Pope died,” Selma said. We studied the headline—as far as we could tell Papa could only be the pope. Mori’ looked enough like the Spanish muerto. Neither of us spoke Italian and we didn’t want to trouble the grieving man. So we sat back in our seats and discussed whether we should go to Rome since it would be swarmed with mourners.
When I traveled, I missed news. Actually not missed it, forgot about it. Our pessiones were basic accommodations without televisions, not that we would have watched them. Other Americans we met talked about themselves and where they were from; discussed recommendations for restaurants or markets. No one was concerned with the events of the world and we had left the U.S. in Jimmy Carter’s hands.
We hadn’t seen news since the end of May and now it was August. Weirdly enough, we did want this one event to be confirmed—it had a direct effect on our vacation. The man got off the train somewhere and another few passengers joined us for a while. No one spoke. But when they got off, voila they left behind the traveller’s jackpot—The International Herald Tribune. Neatly folding into a panel, it lay on the seat like a fresh handkerchief.
We scanned the area, our now empty compartment, and I reached over and grabbed it. This was contraband; this was the newspaper of diplomats and business travelers, not two sisters in long dresses, wearing big scarves. Our encounters with the International Herald Tribune were not frequent. Once in a while a coffee shop or a lobby of a cut-rate hotel would slide them onto long wooden rods and hang them on the rack with the local La Prensa or Giornale. Sometimes we read it, most often we did not.
The International Herald Tribune was a dignified paper—a little larger in size, paper a little lighter. The news was placed in the columns -- no screaming headlines, no sensationalism. It presented stories for your consideration. Each of them with the same emphasis. We unfolded its many layers until we found the front page and a calmly fonted, Pope Paul VI Died Today. That’s all we needed to know and put the paper aside without reading another story.
On this trip I'm now taking, almost eight weeks away from the U.S. I haven’t seen an International Herald Tribune. In fact, the racks outside of small stores, that once offered global newspapers to visitors, seemed to have disappeared. No one is sitting on a park bench, folding back the pages to highlight a particular column; discarded papers are not blowing in the plaças. I wonder what they are cutting fish on, wrapping bones with?
Everyone is reading, but they are reading their telephone screens.
Where I'm staying--from the BNB’s in Barcelona to the writing residency in the northern wine country of Catalunya--I have Wi-Fi. Not on my phone, but on my computer and on my I-pad mini. I am connected even when I'm not looking. The benefits are amazing--I call my husband on Skype, I find places to stay, train and bus schedules, direction; I email friends, I upload pictures almost everyday. And I'm getting news too, tons of it. Instead of reading the Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Root or even Gawker.com, I go to Facebook.
I am painfully aware of too many things: The violence of Egypt’s military government, Jay-Z’s debates with Harry Belafonte, Russia’s attitude toward gay Olympic athletes; also praise for the movie Fruitvale Station, advice on how to keep writing, and a grandma’s recipe for quince jelly. I know a club is opening at home, a friend spent her birthday at the beach, and Raven-Symone is a lesbian and happy she can now marry. I got news, yes indeed.
My dependency on Facebook friends to post just the right stories, with just the right political tones pulls me toward it several times a day. Granted this America and this media of 2013 is different from the America of 1978—the news is charged, heightened, most news items that are reported ignite haters and trolls, defenders and advocates. Debates rage.
If I were to shut it down, not look, leave Facebook behind, wait for the odd International Herald Tribune to show up in the train, I would opt out of an ongoing narrative playing in the cinema of the news—race, women’s rights, sexual orientation, political stance, religion—incendiary stories that draw lines, develop polarities and push language crassness. Another petition to sign.
This news is not the news of the International Herald Tribune. It’s almost too real. How would the International Herald Tribune report in their simple and innocent and dignified font and tone that U.S. Soldiers In Afghanistan Reportedly Using Craigslist To Find Gay Sex Partners (The Huffington Post, 1 August, 2013)? And then list the maneuvers in the global stock market? How would they approach the story of Symona Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother and her speaking on Emmett Till’s mother Mamie leaving open her son’s casket, so they could “see”? I am wondering now, as I look back at my disinterest in the International Herald Tribune, were they trying to be sedate? Non-controversial?
Was News a take it or leave it proposition in 1978? No, I'm sure of that. Having just gone through Vietnam and Watergate, we were gorging on news reports – which had a different balance between journalism and editorializing than it does today. Was the country and the world in such good shape that we didn’t have the much to follow? Nah ah. For one Aldo Moro had just been kidnapped and killed in Italy. Transfers of power were happening all over the world, not just in the Vatican, but also in Rhodesia and Panama.
Sometimes when I'm trying to get on with things, like writing my novel, I long for the days where the International Herald Tribune was a little too dull, when news was not a blood sport that was participated in by trolls and web watchers, when our reactions to news events didn’t engorge the appetite for sensationalism. Muckraking and “yellow” journalism were a moral low. When you could skip a few days and then catch up because there was follow-up on stories.
On the other hand, I can’t step out of news at this moment into apathy when the world is flirting with the ugliest fundamentalism in my lifetime that has the broadest participation in history. This atmosphere and this accessibility are co-dependents and we who read and comment are their enablers. The “Fifth Estate” is filled with squatters and the tones of reporters often make it difficult to distinguish who the professionals are.
It’s a quandary. And as I'm writing this and the clock is ticking on my writing day (the novel, not this article), I think I must must detach, finish a chapter, start the next one. I will, I will. After I post this article, then resist watching the number of hits.
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