Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oct-Nov exSPIREment: Read the Newspaper, episode 2

Today marks the 9th day in the journey of my first exSPIREment to read the newspaper every day.  To recap where I left off:

The objective of this exSPIREment was to improve my knowledge of current events.  I hypothesized that reading the newspaper every day would 1) help me feel more comfortable participating in discussions about politics and world events, 2) improve my ability to navigate a newspaper and skim articles, and 3) teach me something new or inspire a new idea.  

So far in my journey, I've encountered 3 themes:

The Wall Street Journal presents one perspective

I decided on the "methods" of this proposed study based on available resources.  The Wall Street Journal is delivered to our door every weekday morning; therefore, I chose to read the Wall Street Journal.  Nothing to it.  Except... there is a lot to the Wall Street Journal.  It's a pretty dense newspaper that is obviously written for a readership interested in finance and business, neither of which is my forte.  Apart from its main section on top national and international news, WSJ also has "Marketplace," (really?) "Money & Investing," (yawn) and "Personal Journal" (my fav!) sections, along with some other sections that come and go.  Even the top national/international news is told from an economic twist (doesn't help that the main story since I've started reading has centered around the U.S. economy and the government shut down).  Maybe WSJ was not the best place to start for a novice newspaper reader, but go big or go home, right?  This paper really lays out numbers and stats, so fortunately I'm a numbers girl.  That engineer in me kind of loves some of the dryness of the articles.  Other times I get bored.  Regardless, I must keep in mind that the Wall Street Journal presents just one perspective of the news, as does any source of "news."  They say there's two sides of the story and then there's the truth.  The stories that WSJ chooses to report and the way that they choose to present those stories are unique to this newspaper (just as they are unique to any other news source).  The researcher in me strives to read critically, take away as much valuable information as I can, and stay honest with myself about the biases and limitations.

I'm really turned off by politics (and other things)

Thankfully, the Personal Journal is the very center section; otherwise, I'm pretty sure I would never read the "important" stuff.  The goal of this exSPIREment was to improve my understanding of current events.  So far, I think I have made a few small improvements.  Whereas in the past, I would have had no idea why the government shut down or maybe I wouldn't even realize it was shut down (except for PubMed telling me with every article I search that they are maintaining their website with minimal staffing), at least now I know it's because some of our elected officials seem to be acting like stubborn little brats.  In all seriousness, I do feel like I have a better grasp of some important current events, including the negotiations underway with Iran.  I'm not expert.  I don't claim to know all the facts or even most of the facts.  Actually, I really know very few facts or probably no facts.  But, I at least am aware of these situations.  Awareness is a huge step away from apathy.  

I do not force myself to read the paper like a book, from cover to cover.  Quite simply, I don't have time for that.  But I do make sure I at least catch all the headlines before letting myself find the articles that actually pique my interest.  I normally just glance through the titles of the articles in the Marketplace and Money & Investing sections.  I allow myself to not be interested in the politics and economics, but I do force myself to at least get an idea of the important stories.  If I let myself do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, instead of displaying some discipline and self-control, I'd be eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and reading only articles about exercise.  Ironic, I know.         

You cannot predict inspiration

I thought after my first few days of reading I had down the general layout of the WSJ, only to find out come the weekend, that *surprise* they switched things up.  It was actually a breath of fresh air, knowing that I wouldn't know what would be in the newspaper each day.  I have found some hidden gems in WSJ.  To highlight, I've come up with a potential Christmas present idea for someone based on something I saw in the paper.  Today featured an entire section on Education, which was awesome (given that when I graduate with my PhD I want to teach at a university).  Yesterday, I was able to ask Nick his thoughts on the JAL contract with Airbus and what that means for Boeing.  I get excited when I see someone quoted or referenced from University of Michigan or University of Pennsylvania (which is actually somewhat frequently).  Opening the door each day to see the WSJ sitting there is a lot like the anticipation of opening up a present.  You never know what may lie inside or what little story will inspire you.      

In terms of my hypotheses, I have not yet participated in any discussions about politics or world events, I do feel that I am beginning to navigate the newspaper better, and I have learned many new things and been inspired several times!  

In terms of my expected potential pitfalls, I have had some trouble identifying a consistent time of day to read.  I have tried browsing the headlines while walking to work and then reading in the evening.  So far this seems to be the best method.  As I mentioned above, I do struggle convincing myself to read the articles that bore me, so rather than fighting it, I just get the headlines and a general concept of the story.  I don't read everything.  The worse part was trying to read a digital paper on the weekends.  Talk about information overload!  I started at the New York Times, but after simultaneously opening several tabs, I quickly reached the 10 articles per month limit without realizing.  I'll try something else this upcoming weekend.  Suggestions welcome.

How are you getting your news?

Find all episodes of the newspaper exSPIREment here.  

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