When I was a kid we had regular meals at my grandparents’ house. Much of the food was delicious (in my memories if nothing else), with the glaring exception of my grandmother’s creamed spinach. Granted, it wasn’t there with every serving, but when it came, I shuddered. I literally couldn’t stomach it, and played little tricks to “hide” it on the plate, the table, the floor, or, best of all, someone else’s plate. I hated it, and it’s the only food to stand out in my memory as something so loathed. But I’m sure everyone has a similar dish, or possibly even an entire food group, they disliked when they were children.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the demise/impending demise of newspapers (an event some people seem almost giddy about), and I’ve come to realize that it does far more than sadden me, I find it pretty scary. You see, the one thing a newspaper did unique to all other news media is it effectively “pushed” stories on you, like it or not. Sure you can turn the page or even a whole section, but the process of reading the format necessitated people reading content they would not otherwise choose to read.
Online readers and aggregation services do a good job at pulling together the content sources an individual selects, but they do nothing to deliver unasked for content. This is a problem. As people are becoming increasingly dependent on these tools, they are becoming increasingly resistant to consume any content which does not appropriately hit their filter. Further, the ability to simply click click click away makes it all-too easy that readers will abandon content mid-stride (how many readers did I lose in that sentence alone).
Analogy time! Giving people the ability to complete select, filter, control and govern their news streams and sources is like giving children the ability to select the food for their meals. Just as in news people are flocking to gossip rags, trade publications/blogs, and other narrowly filtered selections, children would eat meals consisting of sweets and snacks. Neither are healthy. Just as children need their brussel sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli and other never-selected items, adults need to be exposed to news content other than of their “liking”.
We live in an era with unprecedented access to information, yet at a time when people are considered less informed than in recent generations. And to be clear, this problem is spanning multiple generations (not just the youth), multiple geographies (yes coastal folks, you’re probably worse off than your “flyover” state cousins), and all other demographics. If I can make one simple recommendation it’s to pick a given news source you might not naturally prefer, on a topic (hint: international news) you might not always care about, and insert it into your news streams. I may not have liked that creamed spinach my grandmother made, but thankfully my parents had enough good sense to make sure a few bites of it did not get hidden under the tablecloth.