Fill the reader or fulfill the writer?

Both sides are sticking to the peculiar Shared Lie that newspapers are supposed to “hold power accountable” or “speak truth to power”. The two sides have different party-based definitions of which truth and which power, but they’re both essentially wrong.

Newspapers were ALWAYS working for one party or for the owner’s business interests. Newspapers are officially uncensored, so they will always be biased and false.

Radio and TV provided unbiased news from 1934 to 1984 because GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP FORCED THEM TO PROVIDE UNBIASED NEWS.

Radio and TV were NOT ALLOWED to distract us with partisan nonsense and team games.

Shared Lie says “The answer to bad speech is good speech.”

Reality says “The answer to bad censorship is good censorship.”

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No point in arguing about Shared Lies. Ockham tells me to step back to a broader question. What purpose should a newspaper serve? What makes a newspaper (or a similar web-based product) worth reading?

When I enjoyed reading papers, what did I enjoy? I caught the answer accidentally a few weeks ago:

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My bedtime OTR playlist has changed its form over the years, partly from available material and partly from my tastes. In the ’90s when I started pulling away from current toxic crap and seeking older and better entertainment, the only available tape cassettes carried the Big Shows like Fibber and Jack Benny. After the early web brought together groups of serious collectors and preservers, a much wider variety appeared. I was still sticking with the Big Shows at first, then gradually tried out the more obscure local and regional shows and short syndicated features. The latter IMMEDIATELY dominated my preferred playlist. These short items (5 to 15 minutes) didn’t have the time or budget to develop Complex Moral Conundrums. They mainly covered odd historical facts and unexpected human interest stories.

Today I wondered if there was an equivalent in print. Easy answer: Yes to both 5 and 15. Newspapers used to have Fillers, about one inch tall, and Human Interest Stories, about 3 inches tall. Fillers occupied the bottom of a column when the Big Shows didn’t quite fill the space. Human Interest Stories usually occupied the middle of a column, substituting for an advertisement block when no ad was available.

Back when newspapers existed, those features were my favorite parts, exactly as the audio equivalents are my favorite parts now. I used to read the fillers at the bottom first, and then the Human Interest pieces in the middle of the right side.

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Looking at this from the opposite angle, what do my readers like? Blog stats are fairly clear for many years. My main purpose and pleasure here is the long tech history articles where I look up original sources, figure out how something worked and how it affected culture, and animate the story. Readers HATE these long items. Readers avoid viewing them even without clicking past the excerpt. Readers prefer the short takes and irrelevant crap, the random cranky sleepless spewings.

So we have a clear pattern in both directions. If writers want to be read, they should stick to fillers and short human interest features. If writers want to enjoy writing, they should do longer and more serious pieces.

I’m not here to make money, so I’ll continue writing what I enjoy; partly because it’s a way of keeping my animation and programming skills sharp for serious courseware. The tech history stuff is ‘courseware without a course’.

Newspapers and newsletters ARE trying to make money, at least since QE shifted in reverse to QT and profit reasserted its sane force. So they should refocus on fillers and human interest stories.

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