Saturday, November 12, 2005

BBC v. BBC v. Blogging

Depending on the day, we get two or three newspapers delivered. That doesn't count what we get on the street or in the mail. In the post-print era, that must hover between an addiction and a fetish.

In our defense, both of us were newspaper reporters and magazine writers. We know no other way. Besides, we still take great pleasures – to the eye, nose and fingertips as well as the heart and mind – in print. I am considered freakish when I sit on panels judging technical manuals now if I mention how a coated stock enhances the colors or simply feels good.

TV is hardly ever on. We only recently got cable when Comcast, our Internet pusher, bundled in basic for nothing. ("Psst. Psst. The first 100 channels are free...")

Yet, we do blog and then there's radio. While those may seem to lie on opposite ends of an information spectrum, to us, they are of a piece.

BBC radio has been an important part for years. Lately, I have mused on my old favorites, and then on the program that was lately my personal Charybdis, giving me a very brief spin.

By cracky, in the old days (up till last year), my commute between 4 and 5 a.m. involved Outlook and if I delayed a bit, Off the Shelf. Those are classic BBC style. There was a couple of lengthy features riffing on hard news and some good literature, generally read by the author. For example, a current Outlook included a long report on the famine in Malawi from a Beeb talker there. The following Off the Shelf was an episode of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy novel of a Hindu family in the throes of matchmaking.

I shall have an abiding affection for Off the Shelf's introducing me to Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.

Since my encounter with the newish World Have Your Say, I've been comparing old-style Beeb with new and with blogs. They are the same and different.

Sked notes: Locally, you can hear Outlook and Off the Shelf on WBUR from 4:05 a.m. five days. It runs World Have Your Say from 1:05 p.m. The links above offer feeds of recent programs, plus broadcast times in less and more civilized locales.

Comparing Combs

The short of it is that World Have Your Say is more sensationalist than Outlook, even for the exact same topics. Yet, even this falls far short of the panting and slobbering typical of The Sun and other such British tabloids. Blogs, of course, can be as nice, as nasty, as intellectual, or as visceral as you'd wish

On the current French riots, for example, World Have Your Say returns daily. It deals mostly experientially, as its name implies. Folks who are there – hopeless youth, xenophobic silver hairs, and coping officials — call in or email comments and questions. It is a town hall with all the egotism and self-righteousness you'd expect. It is both exhausting and edifying to listen to it. More more than the standard news-reader style of Outlook, this program makes you filter and focus.

Returning this morning from another ritual, the Haymarket food-gathering cycle, I heard Scott Simon in that other style on Weekend Edition Saturday. It was both smarter and less exciting, or at least less tantalizing, than either Beeb show. He covered two politically and emotionally loaded topics, the French riots and the Iraq war, but tunneling down with a single source in the former case and a father/son pair in the latter.

Simon did what we bloggers typically do, keyed off on a new item, article or book. In these two stories, he had the clout to interview the original sources, but the technique was similar. Hot topic is analyzed by a keen observer and personalized in commentary.

One air piece was philosopher/journalist Bernard-Henri Levy discussing the French riots and their causes. He was quite insightful and dealt at length with the failure of the French model of integrating immigrants. In contrast to the American ideal of a melting pot (lame and inaccurate, but he was too kind to say so), he said the French version was that the day you arrived, you were no longer a whatever-French, rather simply French. He said that was fantasy and they were bearing the burden of it now.

That was a stark contrast to the chatty, personal and self-absorbed World Have Your Say speakers.

Simon's next was novelist Frederick Busch and his Marine major son discussing Iraq and adult children in harm's say. The dad has the cover essay on this in the November Harpers. This was poignant and powerful. However, at no time did either Busch criticize Bush. The personal aspects were such as the son having to cut short a phone call because of rocket explosions and the dad being speechless with joy at seeing the son meet for the first time and cuddle his one-year-old daughter on returning from his duty tour.

Who Gives What?

On a spectrum of information, you could get the most from a rigorous hour hitting blogs, then from Outlook, then from World Have Your Say, and finally from Weekend Edition Saturday. On a spectrum of combined intellectual and emotional demands, you'd typically get the lightest load from Outlook, then from blog reading, then from Weekend Edition Saturday, and most from World Have Your Say. Again, the latter makes you work the most to filter and interpret. At the end, you earn it and own it.

Simon is reserved but makes a deep impact. Outlook has a similar depth but a bit harder edge. Blog cruising is mostly what you make of it, but it is far less in your face and ears than World Have Your Say. A day including all four on the same topic could exhaust you. There would be worse things to do with your mind and feelings.

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