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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where Do You Get Your News – and What News Do You Get?


Always informative, always relevant
Today's post isn’t about books, but it is about reading, and some of what you’ll read here, if you are persistent enough and read far enough, may surprise you, but if you’d rather just have pictures, see Wednesday’s world of glittering frost over on my photo blog.

“Where do I get my news?”

That’s the question on my mind this week, as I’ve been reflecting on sources I trust to tell me what’s going on in the world. What about you? Are you a newspaper reader, radio listener, TV watcher, Internet viewer, or some combination of different sources in different percentages?

My obvious #1 source in terms of exposure time is National Public Radio. We have it on every morning and every evening at home, and I’d listen at my bookstore if I got a good signal there. “What would we do without NPR?” is a rhetorical question often voiced in our house. Interlochen is our nearest station, with CMU in second place. “All Things Considered” is always interesting, and we value Diane Rehm and Terri Gross for range of topics and depth of coverage in politics, environment, and the arts. Aaron Stander’s local “Michigan Writers” program is also excellent. What would we do without any of these?

We haven’t had television in our home for years now, and the only newspaper I read on a regular basis is our county weekly, but every now and then I splurge on a New York Times or Detroit Free Press or, more often, a Traverse City Record-Eagle.

(I’m hardly what anyone would call a news junkie, but I was shocked to hear that one local man admitted he was unfamiliar with a name that’s been in our local newspaper, week after week, for quite a few years. Do we live in the same planet?)


*  *  *


I come back a day later to make amends for an omission in my original post by inserting this important paragraph. When it comes to news of publishing and bookselling, my trusted daily source is Shelf Awareness, delivering national and international stories from the book world, as well as regional bookstore news that would not reach me otherwise. I cannot say enough good things about Shelf Awareness and recommend it to all who care about the future of independent writers, publishers, and bookstores.

*  *  *

As I reflected further on “where I get my news,” however, I realized that the issues most important to me – and those I feel are most urgent to the future of the world – are only rarely addressed by dailies or weeklies, and seldom are they examined in much detail or depth. I’d love to hear more about them on the radio, but the usual silence there, other than occasional, topic-limited “stories,” is deafening, too. I want more than an occasional “story” about global finance, international trade agreements, genetically modified organisms, farm and food regulation, food and farm safety, farmland ownership and subsidies, hydraulic fracturing, and natural resources in general. What I want is ongoing, nonstop coverage. 

Where do I get it? Mainly from two sources: “Nation of Change” and a magazine called AcresUSA, “The Voice of Eco-Agriculture.” 

The Acres folks have been around since 1970, and the history of the magazine is worth reading about. (How did I miss it back in the 1970s when gardening and rural life informed all my dreams?) These days there are plenty of new rural periodicals, but far too many of them are superficial and “cute,” their content -- intended mostly for hobbyists --  driven by (as is common on the newsstand) by corporate advertising of the worst kind. Acres is different. Every month’s “Eco-Update” and “Industrial Ag Watch” cover the latest, most important studies and legislation affecting not only organic growers but every single American. The magazine’s editorial and opinion pieces are knowledgeable and hard-hitting, their features long on specifics and experience, and the interviews are with experts whose voices deserve a national hearing.

We all eat. We all need to know where our food comes from. Agriculture news shouldn’t be just for farmers.

A 2012 Stanford University meta-study (study of results of other studies) that got a lot of attention in the national media purported to show no nutritional difference between organic and nonorganic food. Imagine two apples analyzed in a laboratory and found to be “nutritionally” equivalent. How much did the study really show?

It did not ask these questions:

Ø  What toxins are present in various nonorganic products that are not present in organic products?
Ø  Which toxins from nonorganic products may remain and accumulate in the human body?
Ø  Of nutrients found in organic and nonorganic products, what are the differences in the body’s ability to access and utilize these nutrients?
Ø  What long-term dangers to health result from toxin accumulation?
Ø  What long-term effects on food prices result from escalating immunity to agricultural chemicals?
Ø  What long-term effects on health care costs will result from continued and escalating reliance on agricultural chemicals?
Ø  What is the truth of studies purporting to show safety of GMO crops? (Find someone who's studied the question seriously here. I learned about her work through an Acres interview.)

Etc.

Sigh! Journalists sometimes make me think of lemmings. One particular story of the day or week, one temporary world “hot spot,” and there they run, en masse; meanwhile, ongoing economic, environmental, and political events continue to unroll, unreported, throughout the world. During the Clinton presidency, for example, reporters and news junkies did a lot of jumping up and down and worrying and shouting and rib-jabbing about President Clinton’s marital indiscretions. I couldn’t care less, then or now. It was NAFTA that took away any enchantment I had with Clinton. And here’s what the current Acres Opinion of Judith McGeary has to say this month about NAFTA:
...Instead of the hundreds of thousands of new American jobs that were promised, a recent report estimates that the United States lost over 1 million jobs. Our trade partners have suffered just as badly. Mexican farmers, in particular, have been some of the greatest losers under NAFTA as subsidized corn from the United States undercut local production and drove Mexican farmers off their land. The “free trade” approach has not simply shifted wealth from American workers to foreign workers – it has shifted wealth from workers of all the countries involved to the large corporations.
Is that news to you? And what about the latest “free trade” agreement, now being negotiated, is the TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama Administration initiative begun under George W. Bush? While NAFTA was ramrodded through Congress under Clinton’s guidance, the substance of TPP is being kept ultra-confidential. Over 600 corporate “trade advisors” are in the know, but the few members of Congress who have seen the text have been sworn to secrecy. Why, if this agreement would be beneficial to our country, are American taxpayers and voters being kept in the dark? That’s what Elizabeth Warren asked, and her question deserves an answer. McGeary warns that a bill to “fast track” TPP and other trade agreements “would empower the Administration to negotiate ... without input from Congress,” which she calls “an abdication of Congress’ constitutional duty to regulate commerce with foreign nations.”

AcresUSA is where I get my most important news.

Along with articles on poultry-raising and bee-friendly farming, the March 2014 issue of Acres features a lengthy, in-depth interview with Margaret Mellon, senior scientist with the Food and Agriculture Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an authority on biotechnology and on environmental law. Mellon was interviewed on the subject of herbicide-resistant weeds. “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans and cotton, she said, were embraced by farmers who were promised they could lower inputs (costs) by applying only a low dose of a single herbicide, but here’s what happened:
At the beginning the company claimed this was lowering herbicide use while increasing farmer incomes, and they were right. As time goes on, though, the weeds started developing resistance, as they will. ... [Now Roundup Ready seeds are] driving big increases in herbicide use and some people think that in four or five years we’re going to have double the herbicide use that we have right now, and it will be because the glyphosate isn’t working....
Farmers become dependent, and weeds become immune. After an initial drop, costs – and therefore prices – rise. One might draw a parallel in human health and disease, with the enormous increase of antiobiotic prescribing and antibacterial cleaning products and the subsequent increase in deadly resistant bacteria.

But there is more than a parallel between problems confronting farms and hospitals, and there is important news to be found in what at first glance look like mere foodie-health-and-cosmetic sources. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, has made antibiotics resistance a top agency priority for 2014, says an article in this month’s Prevention magazine, where I read the story told in numbers.
Every year 2 million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. Dozens of new, virulent bacteria have emerged over the years, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which causes more than 11,000 deaths in the United States each year, and resistant strains of E. coli that can turn a run-of-the-mill urinary tract infection into a trip to the emergency room.
Antibiotics, remember, are given to livestock (in heavy doses) as well as to humans, and on-farm use does as much to encourage resistant strains as overprescription by family doctors. According to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council,
The FDA buried research revealing that 18 types of antibiotics currently in use on farms are considered high risk for increasing antibiotic-resistant bacteria outbreaks in humans. In total, 30 drugs did not meet the FDA’s own safety standards. (Prevention, March 2014, “Special Food Report: Cleaning Up the Farm”)
Health magazines can be important sources for all kinds of important global news stories. I would not have thought to look up the CDC home page if not for the story in Prevention magazine. When one news source leads us to others, our available information is multiplied.

Then the other day David brought home a couple copies of Rolling Stone, where we were both astonished to find important, in-depth features on the banking industry (February 27, 2014, “The Vampire Squid Strikes Again,” by Matt Taibbi) and, in another issue, American energy capture and use, as distinguished from official green “talk” (January 2, 2014, “Obama and Climate Change: The Real Story,” by Bill McKibben). Did you have any idea that investment banks are now buying up entire industries, as well as the natural mineral resources needed to sustain them? Do you believe our country is moving away from dependence on oil and gas? Rolling Stone is a lot more than a rock-n-roll rag.

If I had my way, major U.S. newspapers would carry daily features like “Eco-Update” and “Industrial Ag Watch,” and radio news would cover every day whatever could be uncovered relative to the shenanigans of politicians in bed with corporations and the ramifications of that nonstop fornication for the immediate and long-term future of American farms, food supply, fuel prices, land ownership, workers’ wages, and the health of soil and air and water. But doing so necessitates news sources going up against the biggest money in the corporate world.

Many issues affect the lives of residents of Planet Earth, but agricultural and economic issues affect us all, and if we’re not informed about what’s going on relative to those issues, we have no chance to determine our own future.

What news sources do you trust to tell you what you really need to know?

It's still very cold, but the sun is shining, and we're here now, we're here now, we're here now....



5 comments:

loreen niewenhuis said...

Pamela,

Great post with many important questions.

To answer the overriding question about where I access news, I try to take in various sources to stay informed. NPR, PBS news hour, and the national news are important sources for me, though I love to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for incisive (and, yes, often satirical) dissection of the news. He cuts through a lot of the noise and has some of the most well researched and cogent spoken-news-essays you’ll find.

I used to get the Sunday NYTimes delivered, but now I travel too much for that and access it online or pick up a physical paper wherever I happen to be. I agree that ShelfAwareness is a great source of news about the publishing world (in the PRO edition, not the other one).

Magazines:

The Week is an important recap of the facts of the news and how various sources nationwide are reporting it. It’s astonishing to see how the Wall Street Journal will spin a story one way while The LA Times spins it another. They also print excerpts from the best columns from newspapers around the world. This often gives a window on how other countries perceive America’s actions around the world (an angle we don’t often have access to and one that might help widen the world view of our citizens). And they cover the arts and travel and other topics.

I love the NYer. I also pick up an Esquire every once in awhile because they publish short stories and have done some surprisingly in depth news pieces (like you mentioned finding in Rolling Stone).

When I fly, I try to buy a magazine I’ve never read before. I will have to pick up a copy of AcresUSA for my next flight.

-Loreen Niewenhuis

P. J. Grath said...

Loreen, thank you SO MUCH for such a thoughtful and thorough response! We subscribe to THE NEW YORKER, too, and you're right -- there are important articles to be found there. Your mention of "The Week" intrigues me. I've never seen it. Perhaps the magazine section at Horizon Books carries it? A year's subscription (12 issues) to ACRES is $29, more than worth its cost. I don't know how hard it is to find on newsstands, but once you read an issue, you'll be hooked. Thanks again for the substantive comment!

loreen niewenhuis said...

THE WEEK is rather new (~3 years?). Worth a look. Much more than a digest of the news.

Your thoughts on HOW the news is related is an important subject, too. Jon Stewart just did a piece on how the media covered the fact that John Travolta mispronounced a name when he introduced someone at the Oscars, yet the media missed being outraged that Republicans killed a bill to fund a bill to give money to veterans returning from war. It's difficult to get "hard" news anymore...it's all so mixed up with entertainment.

twessell said...

Pamela, love your blog and have just subscribed to Acres. My other sources - NY Times (digital subscription), The Atlantic, NPR (with a preference for MI Radio but also a fan of IPR), and Morning Joe on MSNBC. You've also connected me with Nation of Change that I find very informative and I've just signed up with Shelf Awareness. Also, enjoy Bookmarks Magazine for reviews of 500+ books per month, Organic Gardening and Garden Gate.

Reading your blog is a real education and a treat. Thank you.

Ty

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Loreen, for introducing me to THE WEEK. David picked up a couple old copies for me at one of our nearby libraries yesterday.

And Ty, thanks for the introduction to BOOKMARKS, even though they have not (yet) featured our reading group in their magazine! And thanks for your kind words, also. They mean a lot to me.