Monday, December 29, 2008

Damn you Taleb

Bearing in mind Nassim Nicholas Taleb's admonitions to stop reading newspapers, I have been making an effort to avoid doing so.

The problem is I am finding it extremely difficult. I can just about avoid watching TV, but I spend so much time online it become difficult to avoid looking at newssites. Even worse (when I do) reading articles like this:

Churnalism and all other forms of sponsored or assisted reporting are deplorably remote from Steer's ideal of the reporter as author of history's first draft. They are really little more than sordid compromises which famous newspapers and broadcasters feel forced to make in a plummeting market.

I believe that one day and somehow web-based news outlets will find a way to finance expensive, agenda-setting journalism. But that is a faith-based position, not an entirely rational one. The website does not yet exist that can afford to send correspondents on speculative foreign missions or to fund expensive long-term investigations.

As yet, despite the brilliance of sites such as this one, the best online journalism remains dependent on revenues earned by its paper and broadcast parents and upon journalists employed and paid primarily by old media outlets.

The problem with this is that I simply don't even buy newspapers. On the other hand I don't buy blogs, and there are some excellent weblogs that are completely free (The Yorkshire Ranter, Charlie's Diary, Stumbling and Mumbling etc).

The problem with blogs is that for every reasonable blog there are thousands of unreasonable ones. If people don't like what one blog says they can just go and find one that says stuff they like - I'm probably guilty of this myself in my blog selection.

This leads to what the one of the guests on Andrew Marr's Start the Week (in which he recaps some of the more profound biotechnological and computational stories of the past year) describes as counter knowledge.

Perhaps I should just go cold-turkey on all forms of media, including blogs and newspapers, TV news and so forth?

The problem is if I did that I wouldn't know what to think! I need to know more before I can make reasonable judgements, and the only way I can find out more is if I read more, and the only way I can read more educational stuff is if I read books (including textbooks).

One of the comments on this blog post on Overcoming Bias (another excellent blog) puts it rather well: the "opportunity cost" of reading newspapers is very high.

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