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(Don’t) Read all about it!
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New word of the month
(Don’t) Read all about it!
New words in the media

by Kerry Maxwell

newsfasting also news fasting noun [U] /njuzfst/
the planned activity of avoiding learning about current affairs by deliberately not watching, reading or listening to the news
newsfast also news fast noun [C] /njuzfst/

‘… the news is eating me. Digging into my work time, my ability to concentrate on fiction, gnawing away at time for other things. For now at least, I’m going to have to go cold-turkey on news …’

‘Good luck with the news fast. … I tried news fasting and had a tough time of it at first. I made a lot of changes, and it got easier.

(Pocket Full of Words,, 7th November 2003)

Baby dies in tragic accident’, ‘16 killed in helicopter crash’, ‘Police receive anonymous bomb threats’. News headlines like these are sadly familiar, and we’re faced with them practically every day. If you feel depressed every time you turn on the TV or read a newspaper and discover, yet again, that there are so many dreadful things happening in the world, then maybe for your own sanity you should consider embracing the newly coined activity of newsfasting.

Newsfasting is simply avoiding the news: not reading newspapers, switching over radio or TV channels when the news is broadcast, sticking your head in the proverbial sand as far as learning about current affairs is concerned. Some consider newsfasting to be irresponsible. However for those people who feel that an overwhelming concern for world events intrudes on their everyday happiness, distracting them unnecessarily with issues over which they have no control, newsfasting might be an attractive option, if only occasionally.

Periods of newsfasting can be referred to by the countable noun newsfast, also occurring as news fast. This is a simple compound of the word news and the noun fast, a period of time when someone eats no or very little food (so the analogy is one of not ‘consuming’ news). Newsfast also bears an ironic resemblance to the word newscast, used in American English to refer to a news programme. The word looks likely to morph into a verb, e.g.: I’ve been newsfasting for several days now … although there is no substantial evidence for this to date.

The irony is that, in the fast-developing world of 21st century media, newsfasting is more difficult to achieve than ever before. The news is everywhere – on the streets, in your home, and every time you turn on a computer linked to the Internet. Web-based journalism has the potential to bombard us, not just with local or national news, but news from every corner of the globe, 24 hours a day. Yes, getting to know about what’s going on in the world has never been easier.

If we prefer our news in written form, in addition to conventional newspapers we can now choose Internet sites based on local and national newspapers such as the Guardian, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald. Popular magazines now have web versions too, or there are magazines specifically designed for the Internet, often referred to as webzines, an example of which you are reading at this very moment! If you enjoy the physical format of a particular newspaper or magazine but can’t be bothered to carry it around, or regularly become irritated by the ink which covers your fingertips as you turn the pages, then you could choose to read what is sometimes now described as a print clone, an online version of a newspaper or magazine which is an exact replica of the print version.

For those of us who are tired of staring at a screen and clicking a mouse button, and still prefer to live partly in the world of treeware, (a tongue-in-cheek expression for physical newspapers, magazines and other printed material, based on the idea of trees being the raw material for paper), then the 21st century has given us the compact. In British English, a compact newspaper is a broad-sheet quality newspaper printed in the format and dimensions of a tabloid, and is therefore more convenient to carry around, i.e.: more ‘compact’. The word first hit the spotlight when British national newspaper The Independent began producing a smaller format edition for London’s commuters, designed to be easier to read on the tube, train or bus. The idea proved popular and The Times and The Scotsman quickly followed suit. Now all three newspapers are printed exclusively in compact format.

New technology has not only given us wider access to the news, it has also made it more portable. Through a marriage of web technology and handheld devices such as MP3 players, third-generation mobile phones, and Blackberry™ computers, we can now carry the news around in our pockets. However new technology also gives us the freedom to choose what we want to watch or listen to. Podcasts, for example, are audio programmes downloadable from the Internet. Instead of listening over the airwaves, a listener can now download the broadcasts they are really interested in and listen to them when they want. Hot on the heels of podcasts came vodcasts, video broadcasts available for watching online or downloading to video-enabled handheld devices. If you missed the highlights of your favourite football or baseball game for example, you can simply grab a pod- or vodcast and catch up at a time or place that’s convenient. If the latest developments in the spiritual realm are what’s important to you, then a godcast could be just the thing (a blend of god and pod-/vodcast). A godcast is a pod- or vodcast which has a religious message. Believe it or not, godcasting is an emerging trend in churches, which are beginning to use video and i-Pod technology to create virtual, downloadable sermons and other religious broadcasts.

If you fancy doing a spot of newscasting yourself, then you could join the emerging trend of citizen journalism. Citizen journalists are people who, at the scene of a newsworthy event, take it upon themselves to provide instantaneous footage using video cameras and camera phones, usually well before professional camera crews and photo journalists are present. Natural disasters in the recent past such as the Asian Tsunami flood on 26th December 2004, and the devastation cause by hurricane Katrina in August 2005, have largely been viewed as the tipping point for citizen journalism, inspiring people to share not only images but also other information through web-based media such as blogs (online journals) or wikis, websites where users can collectively add or modify text. More recently on-the-spot reporters have collaborated in the birth of the mobcast, a blend of mobile and pod-/vodcast referring to a pod-/vodcast which can be either created or accessed via a mobile phone. The term mobcasting is also often used to describe the situation of groups of people using mobile phones to create podcasts on a common subject, especially political or human rights issues, which are then aggregated on a centralised website. In this sense the word mobcasting is a kind of double entendre, based on both mobile and the word mob as featured in for instance flash mob (a group of people who gather together to do the same thing and then quickly disperse).

The 21st century has given us so many ways of sharing and acquiring information about what’s going on in the world that newsfasting can be tricky. On the other hand, newsfasting does not necessarily mean that we have to starve ourselves of a media fix. There’s always the option of watching something mindless on the telly, reading a good book or flicking through your favourite glossy. And even in this realm there are more options than ever. If you missed the last episode of your favourite TV drama, you could turn on your PC, connect to the Internet and pick up the relevant webisode, or grab your third-generation mobile phone and watch a mobisode on your journey to work. If your idea of news isn’t world affairs, but what’s going on in the life of your best friend, you can settle down at the computer and have a good read of her blog, which by now may even have become a vlog (video weblog) and include video footage as well as text. If she updates it regularly with pictures and text from a mobile phone, then you might also describe it as a moblog. And if the blog you’re reading is far better than the novel on your bedside table, just watch this space – it may soon become a best-selling blook (a book based on an online weblog).

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.