The sun was warm and bright that Friday morning in Southern California. From our fourth grade classroom, my friends and I were already anticipating lunch and recess. An adult walked in, whispered to our teacher, and we immediately lined up and were on our way out the door. As we walked, we saw children pouring out of every classroom, all heading in the same direction. Something was odd. Everyone squeezed into the school auditorium and quickly found seats. I took my place on the right side, in one of the first rows. Up front, on a heavy institutional wooden chair, sat an old Philco radio. The principal turned it on. The news was from Dallas. Our innocence was lost. It was November 22, 1963.
The death of President Kennedy changed everything. I wanted to know what happened, what had gone wrong. Two days later, I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot on live television. On Monday, I stared transfixed at Black Jack, the skittish riderless horse in the Kennedy funeral procession. And, I sadly remember the deep and troubling heartache as Taps was played at Arlington National Cemetery. John F. Kennedy had been my childhood hero. After those terrible four days, I had grown up too fast. And, I had developed a hunger for knowledge outside my own backyard.
My awareness of the world expanded. I listened to Walter Cronkite. I scoured the Los Angeles Times. I absorbed Time magazine from cover to cover. I followed Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I watched Vietnam polarize a nation. I became ever more aware of racial inequities in our own country. I craved the hard truths.
After my parents moved us to Northern California, I actually made money while feeding my news addiction. I got a job as a paperboy for the San Francisco Examiner. Every day, a truck would throw a couple large bundles of papers on our driveway and I would drag them to the front porch where I would read and fold, read and fold. I am still haunted by the two 1968 front page photos when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. I saw those pictures many dozens of times as I folded my newspapers.
As the years passed and my vision failed, I had to find other ways to track the news. I learned Braille and read both the weekly New York Times digest and the Braille Mirror. I waited every week for my flexible disk copy of U.S. News and World Report. When I worked for the University of Texas, I went to the Student Publications Board and proposed the move to an online newspaper. It was great for everyone, and particularly nice for me.
After I purchased my first iPhone in 2010, I started looking for ways to turn this wonderful pocket computer into my virtual newspaper. I downloaded anything and everything that looked like a news aggregator and gave those apps a try. I would slog my way through their disparate and confounding interfaces, always trying to optimize the experience. Often, it was a pain in the neck. Other times, the pain was lower.
Fortunately, access to news on the iPhone has gotten much easier. Nowadays, I have my favorite subset of apps. In the top left corner of my home screen is a folder named "Morning." It is where I start my day. Opening the folder, I find the first icon is for Hourly News. I have it configured to play news summaries from NPR, BBC, ABC, and ESPN. The second icon is relatively new, the Reuters TV app. Although it is a video news source, the app is very configurable and presents stories with excellent narration. I also have the KVUE News app where I can get a quick recap of important news here in Austin. I must confess that I also have Trivia Crack in the "Morning" folder as it goes very well with my first cups of coffee.
In iOS 9, Apple introduced a very promising tool. Apple News allowed me to capture multiple news sources in one place where I found it easy to get my daily fix. I have multiple primary news sources that I depend on, and Apple News has been an excellent start to a unified interface. I assumed that by the time we adopted iOS 10, Apple News would be spectacular.
With the recent operating system upgrade to iOS 10, I have found that VoiceOver and Apple News are not as chummy as they once were. These days, VoiceOver often loses focus and jumps back to the top of the page, necessitating a search for my place in a story or locating where I was in a list of articles. There are also times when clicking on an article link will take me to the wrong one. These glitches are a bit frustrating before I have had enough coffee. I ask only that I be treated gently when I first wake up.
Lately, I have been using the Voice Dream Reader app to help improve the Apple News experience. Because VoiceOver focus had recently become a challenge in Apple News, I was hoping that I could move articles of interest into Voice Dream Reader and then enjoy them without hiccups. For the most part, this solution has worked very well. Whenever I select an interesting article in the Apple News listing, I flick down through the Action items to the Share button. I click on Share and then move over to the Open In Voice Dream and double tap. With most of my news sources, I will find myself on a page where I can select a button titled Article and then I can hit the Save button. I am then magically transported back to the Apple News app where I can follow the same steps to add another article to Voice Dream Reader. When I am ready to relax and catch up on the news, I simply switch to Voice Dream Reader and listen. Delightful!
Still, it is easy to overdose on the news. The latest election cycle certainly did that to me. In a desperate act of self-preservation, there were many days when I went straight to my 1970s soft rock on Apple Music or my mellow collection of environmental sounds in the Nature Space app. A soft summer rain is always more soothing than the slap of serious mud slinging.
The last two weeks before U.S. voting were the most stressful. My iPhone started to feel like an albatross around my neck. Did just carrying this device mandate that I listen to the news? My personal politics were not likely to change at the last minute and I simply required a sanity break. Yes, I loved knowing what was going on in the world. But, enough was enough.
My saving grace came in an email from Audible, just days before ballots were cast. I opened my Daily Deal message from the audio book vendor and I found my answer. It offered me hope. A book. A really good book. A thoughtful, educational, interesting book. On sale! Cheap! Audible presented "Profiles in Courage," the Pulitzer Prize winning history written by John F. Kennedy. The Foreword was read by Caroline Kennedy. The book text had been read many years ago by John F. Kennedy, Jr. I cut back on my news intake and decided to catch my breath. I made the purchase. It was relaxing. It was an escape. Good books are always good for the soul. I sat in my comfy chair and thoroughly enjoyed reading the work by my childhood hero. This is why I am hooked on my iPhone. It delivers what I need. The news can wait.
*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University , Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.
Morgan is now happily retired again, taking more time to read good books and dream of India. Morgan has created fourteen other blogs for AppleVis, including "Lost In Space: Canes, dogs and my iPhone GPS apps", "Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone" and "Small Talk: Speaking up on VoiceOver and the iPhone".