from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: the newspaper habit …

April 23.  The media is full of advice on how to survive the lockdown, which for my household is now projected to last the whole of this calendar year.  The advice is generally of two kinds: those things that you might normally do but should do more, like take exercise or keep in touch with your family; and those things that you might normally do but should do less, particularly consume alcohol.

By and large we are following these injunctions.  My one besetting sin, which is doing serious damage to my peace of mind to say nothing of the time available for more useful projects, is reading newspapers.  Before the crisis, we bought hard copy print whenever we were out shopping.  We live too far from a newsagent to get a daily delivery.  These papers were the prime cause of untidiness in the house.  In every room, on every coffee table, were copies not yet finished and not sufficiently out of date to be dispatched to the waste.  Even when the news was stale, there were crosswords and sudokus to complete.  We have a log burner which needs lighting most evenings and for this purpose the large pink sheets of the Financial Times were invaluable.  The shrunken tabloid pages of the Guardian and Times not so much. 

These days every surface is clear of print, except dog-eared pages of the London Review of Books which arrives by post.  Instead I am reading online.  I always checked the free Guardian site when we had not bought a copy.  Now I subscribe to the Times to get an alternative point of view.  Also the New York Times to look at the world from outside the UK.  And thanks to the OU virtual library, I can read the Financial Times each morning [an illuminating story yesterday about the plight of second-home owners in the crisis].  There is the potential to consume hours a day wandering about these electronic journals.  And whereas hard copy papers have a back page as well as a front, the links in the stories mean that I can endlessly travel to yet further corners of the internet universe.

I can try to persuade myself that by this means I am collecting material for what one day might be a history of this crisis.  But in truth it would probably be simpler, and much more restful, if I just turned off the media and tuned in again when it is all over, to find out what happened.

The one defence of this virtual habit is that the press is having a golden period, despite the loss of advertising revenue.  Almost all the detailed analysis of the epidemic, and most of the stories exposing the shortcomings of the government, are starting life in the papers, which in turn are being fed material by informed academics, exasperated health workers, insubordinate public officials, and outraged members of the public.   This is true not just of long-term dissenting journals such as the Guardian but of papers which traditionally support the Conservative Party.  In recent weeks nothing has done more damage to the reputation of Johnson’s Government that the lethal 5,000 word ‘Thirty-Eight Days’ article written by the Sunday Times insight team last week.   Even the Daily Telegraph, which slavishly followed Johnson’s line throughout the Brexit crisis, is running front-page stories critical of various shortages. The BBC is doing its best, but is constrained by the need to take a balanced view of the Administration.  Little critical information, so far, has emanated from opposition politicians, although this may change now that Labour has a new leader and Parliament has reconvened.  Yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions with Keir Starmer was a promising start. 

What is so seductive, and so dangerous, about keeping abreast of events in this way is that every time I open my laptop and call up a paper, the news has changed.  There is no fixed point, no moment when I can be assured that I am abreast of the day’s developments.  Is there a newspaper equivalent of alcoholics anonymous?  If not, it may need inventing.

from Anne in Adelaide: now more than ever …

12 April Image from The Economist

12 April. I have been spending too much time scanning the news streaming in over the internet, TV and radio. The information is staggering. You don’t know what to think, who to believe, which version of the future to hang on to. One moment there are signs of hope and the next you read the account from an emergency worker in New York who is facing the horror of people dying from Covid-19 in their homes and his team feels helpless. Meanwhile, I remain in self-isolation in Australia waiting … for what?

Then we have the Whatsapp groups that have been set up to keep us in the loop: neighbourhood groups, family groups, and friendship groups. Memes and jokes abound, making light of being holed up at home – drinking too much, eating too much and being frustrated. It’s all a joke. Then there are the more serious messages trying to understand the beast that is Covid-19. There are many wonderful musical items spread around too – some home efforts and some professional. You could watch all day: every time your phone goes ‘ting’ to alert you to another comment, another theory, another cute kid singing for your comfort.

Now more than ever, I believe we need to concentrate on getting news from reputable sources. I cannot count the number of times I have had to alert friends to scams and fake news and threats that go around the world and that people forward without checking on (No! your phone will NOT be trashed by the ‘Dance of the Pope’ video that you might receive via Whatsapp. That hoax has been going for 5 years in various forms.)

No harm done with that one, but what does harm are the quasi-news-investigative reports that come around – from such sources as Epoch Times. An hour-long report was sent to us purportedly exploring the source of the Covid-19 virus and after a lot of interviews clothing the theory in valid reports it comes to the conclusion that Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese military facility and is an ENGINEERED virus – biological warfare. Frightening. Persuasive. Dammed the Chinese …

I didn’t know much about the Epoch Times so I looked them up.  They are not a reputable balanced media source. They are financed by Chinese Americans with ties to the Falun Gong. Very Anti-China Govt. and Pro-Trump (Wikipedia: ‘Facebook banned The Epoch Times from advertising on its platform, after finding that the newspaper broke Facebook’s political transparency rules by publishing 1.5 million USD pro-Trump subscription ads through sockpuppet pages (a page using deception).)

The Epoch Times have supported conspiracy theories like the qAnon (conspiracy theory of a deep state plot against the DT) and the dangers of vaccinations for kids …

So, I come back to: Now more than ever – let us read reputable sources. When I was a child living in East Africa my father listened to the BBC news on a short-wave radio and he continued to listen to the BBC throughout his life. For the years we lived in South Africa we also listened to the BBC – you could not trust the SABC, the South Africa Broadcasting Corp, they were the mouthpiece of the National Party, the party of Apartheid – a perfector of lies.

And … there comes a time when you don’t want to waste this time by being glued to the news broadcasts screaming for your attention. The media has it made – what a subject! Our newspapers have Covid-19 pages filled with stories.

Of course, it comes down to the question: what is a reputable source of news: the BBC, the Economist? The Washington Post? Scientific American? The Financial Times in the UK? Do these choices show my bias – of course they do. But if The Economist tells me that Covid-19 came from a military lab near Wuhan, I am more inclined to believe them than the Epoch Times.

And I am trying not to leap up when my phone goes ‘ting’.