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The newspaper era is coming to an end—that’s if you can call one hundred-fifty years an era, rather than a century or so. With the papers came a whole edifice, including huge developments in journalism, communications, high-speed printing presses, wire services, and the paper boy.

I always loved the range of names, conveying transmission (correo, courrier, noticias, post), time (manhã, evening, zeitung, século, tempo, times), place (New York, pais, monde), and awareness (arauto, clarín, herald, examiner, sentinel, vindicator), often in combination.

Some of the names are downright bizarre, like rock bands from the sixties: Tombstone Epitaph, Banbury Cake, Unterrified Democrat, and Granma.

Papers were once the epicenter of opinion, communication of fact with the proper addition of spin, and as such they became the fourth estate—no politician worth his salt could do without one. At the same time, in places like pre-revolutionary Portugal, newspapers became a symbol of resistance to the regime, a constant duel between the editor and the infamous ‘blue pencil’ of censorship.

Already then, the ‘true’ news was conveyed through short-wave broadcasts, which transcended censorship. It also made for a burgeoning trade in radios, and I remember the bustle in some of the small shops in downtown Lisbon, packed with the semi-contraband Japanese diaspora from National, Crown, and other totally un-nippon-sounding brands.

Almost a year ago, I gave up buying newspapers, following a trend that forced publishers to change or die. Like pretty much everyone, I used to buy local papers—only an exalted few had the money and the time to trawl through the international press.

I didn’t stop reading, I just stopped buying, like an inveterate smoker at the cadging stage.

Old habits die hard—I read my local rag, until it bumped me off for freeloading. But even during that courtship period, when it periodically warned me that it would stop bestowing its favors upon me unless I had serious intentions, my roving eye strayed, and I was often seduced by the charms of the New York Times.

The attractions of contrasting the thoughts of others, and their varying interpretations of fact, make digital newshounding a fascinating pursuit. Particularly if you can tap into a few languages: in my case, that affords access to any publication in the Americas, provided it doesn’t use Inuit or a lesser known Inca dialect.

Factual accuracy demands that I correct that last bit to Quechua, the proper name for the indigenous language shared by Inca, Quichua, and Runacuna peoples; there isn’t a single newspaper in Quechua. Judging from the sample below, even asking for clarification seems a challenge.

Please speak more slowly ¿Allichu, Allillamanta rimaykuwankimanchu?
¿Susigullawan rimaykuway!
Please say that again ¿Yapa chayta rimaykuwankimanchu
¿Huq kuti rimaykuwankimanchu?
¡Allichu, huq kuti rimaway!

And in one of life’s little twists, the variation of Quechua spoken in the Huancayo area of Peru is called Wanka.

The reason I stray into the fold of the Washington Post, Le Monde, or the Cape Times, is perspective. That alone would justify periodical polygamy—the Post, for instance, ran a number of fascinating articles about the NSA, some of which I’ve kept as background for my new book.

I became infatuated with Miz Post, but as soon as she realized we would not be walking up the aisle, an Arctic chill came upon her—first a red blob started appearing, like some early venereal symptom, and finally I was permitted no more than a peck on the cheek. If I wanted more, I’d have to wait till next month. I did, and she grudgingly let me in—but she still bore the red stigmata.

The Fourth E-state: online newspapers for the digital newshound.

The Fourth E-state: online newspapers for the digital newshound.

I wondered how long I can read the world for free, given the huge amount of newspapers that exist, and the fact that I can read them in five languages on five continents. Apparently about six thousand daily papers in all, a significant amount written in my big five.

It’s a complete paradigm shift, where I now read news from all over the world—it helps me understand at close range how U.S. finance policy has crucified emerging markets. As an aside, one of these days I’ll print a glossary of market euphemisms, featuring the likes of QE, LTRO, and tapering.

Every day, some kid with more Blackberry than conscience comes up with a new word for screwing the world—the closest analogy I can think of is the French (and then English) nobility’s practice during medieval times of calling cows and pigs by a different name (beef and pork) at table, to obfuscate the hungry peasantry.

I struggled with my conscience—after all, these institutions have substantial costs, and people’s jobs are on the line. The fact is the newspaper is a binary product, you either buy all or nothing. I’m not normally enthusiastic about supplements, and when my analog paper carried one, I typically scanned the cover and left it unopened on a convenient surface, much as you might offer the remaining time on a parking lot stub to a new arrival.

My biggest challenge is time, so typically I would read one quarter of a newspaper, if that. Others might read different sections—very few of us have the time or inclination to do a cover to cover job. It was a bit like buying vinyl in the old days: 45 rpm singles where no one remembers the B-side, or LPs where several tracks are garbage.

I didn’t think I was geting bang for my buck.

Then I thought about my blog, which takes between three and four hours a week to write. WordPress publishes it for free—yes, it tries to woo me with professional packages from time to time, but it doesn’t threaten me with vermillion cutaneous eruptions.

And I give my biggest treasure willingly to you, my time. I’d like you to buy my books, and to tell your friends about them, but the only thing I do to encourage you is to link them on these pages.

The digital model is pay-per-view, not pay-per-edition, and I can’t come to terms with monthly subscription models—my media monogamy is forever gone, and my digital newshound days are here.

It makes more sense to me that a newspaper in your own country should charge you than if you read from abroad. Local advertising should take care of that. But now, as before, I only want to read a couple of articles of my own national news anyhow.

My latest discovery is the Spanish newspaper El Pais. I’ve been fascinated by one story, the Gürtel corruption scandal, which is rocking the Spanish ruling party. So far, El Pais has not developed welts or rashes, or shown me the door.

Picture this: you determine how many articles would be your monthly quota, from a basket of newspapers, and pick and choose from all over the world. Somewhere at the back end of that, they sort out who gets which bit of your money.

I love the idea of picking up something in the San Jose Mercury News and flicking over to the Bangkok Post for context.

Yes, I know I’m an oddball, but that’s why you come.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.


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