Happy Wednesday, everybody. I’m pleased to report that I feel a lot better today than I did yesterday at this time. My only complaint is the vague and annoying dyspepsia I’ve been dealing with for awhile. It’s probably an ulcer, and I probably should see a doctor about it. I probably won’t, though. Pepcid-AC and Barry Manilow for the win. 😉
“I wanna pull on your coat about something…” in the words of the fabulous Tom Waits.
I’m becoming convinced that people have lost basic reading comprehension skills. I’ve come to this conclusion by reading comments on the Internet.
Early this morning, I woke up needing to answer the call of nature. I couldn’t get back to sleep once I’d done the deed, so I decided to check in on the world. I noticed an op-ed in The New York Times written by Amy Silverstein (unlocked), author of the excellent book, Sick Girl, and its follow up, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends. I read the print version of Sick Girl when it was first published, in 2008 or thereabouts. I think I have the other book in my “to be read” queue.
I learned a lot from Sick Girl, which was about Silverstein’s experiences being the recipient of a donated heart. Her first donated heart, which she received in 1988, lasted an astonishing number of years until Silverstein had to have another transplant. She writes:
My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer.
Silverstein’s fantastic and informative op-ed (which is also on her official Web site) is about how transplant medicine hasn’t evolved much during the time she’s been a patient. Most people are woefully ignorant about what it means to receive a transplanted organ. They believe that a transplant is a cure, not realizing that having a transplant means trading one medical problem for a host of others. Taking medications to suppress immunity means being vulnerable to every germ out there. It means having higher risks of diabetes and cancer. And yet, since 1988, the protocols haven’t changed much. Amy Silverstein has already lived an astonishingly long time, but she writes that she’s coming to the end of her longevity.
Plenty of people on Facebook felt the need to chime in without having read the article. Quite a few offered thoughts and opinions that were uninformed and completely irrelevant. Some complained about the paywall, apparently assuming that newspapers are charities or public services. Those who read the article were praising it for being informative, well-written, and moving. Others were just making noise. One guy wrote this comment, not realizing that Ms. Silverstein is still alive.
Why is an article like this behind a paywall? I hope the money is going to the author and her estate.
I’ve already complained about people who whine about having to pay for good journalism, so I will try to keep that to a minimum in this post. I do think that people expecting newspapers to provide free content is a major symptom of the main issue, though. People don’t value good writing. They expect it to be provided free of charge. A lot of the people who complain are also people who support capitalism and lament government “freebies”. They’re also often the same people who complain about the idea of having to buy insurance, but then use GoFundMe to pay for their medical care and funerals. Isn’t that interesting?
Anyway, I’m convinced that because these folks don’t want to pay for the stuff they read, they read a lot less. And what they do read, they don’t pay close attention to, so they miss the main ideas of what they’re reading. Then they share their crap with everyone. That problem extends, even when they’re reading other things, like books.
Consider this. I’ve been reading a newly published book that was originally written in Romanian. The title of the book is Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police: A Cold War Escape. When I read that title, I don’t get the idea that I’m going to be reading Nadia Comaneci’s life story, per se. This is a book about her fame, and how it caused her to be constantly surveilled by the Securitate.
I read and reviewed Nadia Comaneci’s Letter to a Young Gymnast years ago. That’s her life story, expressed in her own words. The book I’m reading now includes elements of her life story, but the focus is on how she escaped Romania after having been a tool for the state. There’s a lot of discussion about Bela and Marta Karolyi, and their alleged abuses of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team members. The Karolyis were also closely watched by the Securitate, as was choreographer, Geza Poszar, who was allegedly an informant.
Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police was published in Romanian a few years ago, but only very recently became available to those who wanted to read it in English. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this book, and would have jumped right in when I received it, but had to finish the book I was reading about Rosemary Kennedy. Below is the description of Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police, as provided by Amazon.com.
Nadia Comaneci is the Romanian child prodigy and global gymnastics star who ultimately fled her homeland and the brutal oppression of a communist regime. At the age of just 14, Nadia became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10.0 at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and went on to collect three gold medals in performances which influenced the sport for generations to come, cementing Nadia’s place as a sporting legend.
However, as the communist authorities in Romania sought an iron grip over its highest-profile athletes, Nadia and her trainers were subjected to surveillance from the Securitate, the Romanian secret police. Drawing on 25,000 secret police archive pages, countless secret service intelligence documents, and numerous wiretap recordings, this book tells the compelling story of Nadia’s life and career using unique insights from the communist dictatorship which monitored her.
Nadia Comaneci and the Secret Police explores Nadia’s complex and combustible relationship with her sometimes abusive coaches, Béla and Marta Károlyi, figures who would later become embroiled in the USA Gymnastics scandal. The book addresses Nadia’s mental struggles and 1978 suicide attempt, and her remarkable resurgence to gold at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. It explores the impact of Nadia’s subsequent withdrawal from international activity and reflects on burning questions surrounding the heart-stopping, border-hopping defection to the United States that she successfully undertook in November 1989. Was the defection organised by CIA agents? Was it arranged on the orders of President George Bush himself? Or was Nadia aided and abetted by some of the very Securitate officers who were meant to be watching the communist world’s most lauded sporting icon? What is revealed is a thrilling tale of endurance and escape, in which one of the world’s greatest gymnasts risked everything for freedom.
Is there anything in that blurb that indicates that this book is solely Nadia’s life story? Hell, just reading the title tells me that this isn’t a book about Nadia’s family or career. However, below was what one reviewer wrote.
I’m left wondering if the above reviewer understood what the book’s subject matter was meant to be. This is a book about the Romanian government’s treatment of Nadia and her teammates and coaches, not Nadia’s life story. The title should have given the above reviewer a clue.
Moving on to the next example…
I subscribe to The Local: Germany, an online publication for English speakers in Germany. It offers information about local news and useful topics for us foreigners living in Germany. People constantly complain about the fact that the content is behind a paywall.
Yesterday, there was a link to a “free” article asking “What’s Life Like for Foreigners in Small-Town Germany”. Again, it’s free to read, because the editors want people to respond. And yet, once again, there was a complaint about how The Local doesn’t offer all of its content free of charge (do the complainers work for free?).
Perhaps if you aren’t so rigid with the subscription, we can make more meaningful comments.
The Local responded thusly:
Hi, the article is paywall free to encourage responses. And yes unfortunately we have no choice but to impose a paywall to allow us to exist.
You’d think that would be the end of it, but no… there were more complaints and unsolicited suggestions as to how The Local could offer its content for free. Below is a sampling…
there is always a choice -just look at other media…
I don’t even click the links anymore as it’s always pay pay pay, most other get advertisers to pay, not the readers… it’s a win win, the advertisers currently speak to the few, not the many… (does this person walk into stores and read the magazines for free?)
The Local responded:
I don’t think that’s true. Most media have paywalls and those that don’t well, as the saying goes, “if something is free then you are the product”. We’d rather be the product and not our readers. Media who get advertisers to pay, write articles for clicks. We’d rather be useful and write content for those willing to pay for it.We know our members value reading articles without annoying banner ads, which is one of the perks of membership, which we have kept as cheap as possible over the years.
Someone else wrote this:
Get a sponsor, the tourist board or NGO’s, or Think Tanks, maybe the federal German government or a regional one, or hit up some EU grant scheme. There is loads of money out there for media organizations. I assume you already sell as much user data as you can regardless of being a subscriber outlet instead of a free to user one… Atlas Obscura is free and has great articles and solid writers working for it, so can you.
I was glad to see the above commenter was taken to task by another reader:
your entitlement is baffling tbh. You don’t want to purchase a product – absolutely reasonable. Demanding that you’re being given the product for free or that someone goes out to do some fundraising and get someone else pay for the product you consume…that’s quite a step further. All throughout, it doesn’t even occur to you that no one owes you anything.
To which the first commenter wrote:
Hoch weilgeborhner Frau, your pompous accusatory attestation that I demanded this media product for free is a lie, I will demand that you reread my prior comment before you castigate me for having an opinion on subscriptions and offering ideas on financing a replacement model. Sünde.
Uh… who’s really being pompous? Wow. Maybe The Local doesn’t want a replacement model for the product they offer. Maybe if you don’t want to pay for their content, you could just keep scrolling, rather than offering unsolicited suggestions on how they can offer their product for free.
I felt moved to comment too, so I wrote this:
I don’t mind paying. Your content is useful, and writers have to eat, too.
And the Local offered this response to me:
This is the main point Jenny. It’s not even about us needing to get paid (although clearly it’s important to be able to attract talented journalists) it’s just that we know we have to be useful – or readers will not pay. It keeps us on our toes.
Right. And I don’t want to read content that is paid for by advertisers. I can get that by watching network TV or reading CNN. I sympathize with those who can’t afford to pay for journalism. I just don’t understand the whining about it. God forbid someone wants to be able to make a living by creating content that informs or entertains. You don’t ask your plumber or doctor to work for free, do you?
Whoops… I truly meant to avoid complaining about people who whine about paywalls. It’s hard to avoid it, though. I know I should avoid comment sections, but they are such a fruitful source of blog ideas.
It’s pretty amazing to see how eager people are to share their views when they haven’t even taken a minute to inform themselves about the subject on which they are opining. It reminds me of Republicans who complain about rainbows on Bud Light cans and decide to boycott Anheuser-Busch, not realizing that Anheuser-Busch donates a lot of money to the Republican Party. Also, the cans featuring Dylan Mulvaney aren’t even available to the public, and yet we have people self-righteously boycotting… They’re the same people who complain about cancel culture. Too funny.
Well… I probably ought to wrap up today’s post. I see I’ve gone on quite a lot, and time is getting away from me. I have a vacation to research, laundry to fold, a bed to make, a guitar to practice, and a dog to walk. So I’m going to quit ranting now. Hope this post offers some food for thought. I challenge you to take a moment to read for comprehension, especially if you feel like commenting. It might spare you a moment or two of foolishness.