“Old news,” they say scornfully, as if the apparent oxymoron speaks for itself. But as far as I’m concerned, old news is the best kind. And no, I’m not talking about literature, which Ezra Pound famously defined as “news that stays news.” I mean honest-to-god, newspaper news. I only read one daily newspaper with any regularity, the Christian Science Monitor, and I read it two to four weeks late. Granted, that’s because I have to wait for both my parents to read it and pass it on, and they only pick up their mail once or twice a week. But I’ve come to appreciate the many subtle, often bittersweet flavors of a well-aged news story.
For example, at breakfast this morning I read a carefully researched piece from September 21 about the role of racism in criminal sentencing and whether or not racism is in decline in America, which, though written in response to the “Jena 6” march and demonstrations, had an additional resonance for me because of the ugly racist incident at Columbia University that I had just seen a mention of online. Then at lunch I read all about the Burmese monks, how they were taking to the streets in protest for the third day in a row. It was the kind of cautiously optimistic international coverage at which the Monitor has always excelled, and my knowledge of what would happen next gave the story a depth and pathos which I’m sure I never would’ve felt had I read it on the day it was published.
Imagine if you could go back in time, knowing how things will turn out, but remaining powerless to change them: that’s what reading old news is like. One gets to smile indulgently at the hot issues of the day — and then turn the page. Because, let’s face it, a lot of old news is pretty out-dated, superseded by more recent developments, and that’s one of the main benefits of reading the newspaper two to four weeks late: it saves a lot of time. Time better spent reading, well, literature.
I suppose it’s not a healthy approach, and I’m quite sure it isn’t a very responsible one. How can I be a good and productive citizen if I don’t follow the news more closely, especially as the presidential election season closes in on its final year? Can I really in good conscience sign all those online petitions and send all those emails to our public servants without a strong grasp of the issues at hand? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you this: I sleep pretty well. Instead of pointless agitation and dread, I am plagued only by sadness and resignation, which rarely interfere with a good night’s sleep.