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.
I agree. I gave up on news aggregators (Digg, Reddit, etc.) about a year ago. I wasn’t learning anything (save funny images and videos). I liken it to having a conversation with a bunch of like-minded people on a controversial issue. It’s boring. The same ideas keep going around in a circle. Nothing new is learned. I have reverted to checking news sites one by one and looking at Google news.
The paper format, as wasteful as it may be, forces you to stay within the confines of those pages and explore the content thoroughly. There are no such limits in a hyperlinked paradigm like the web.
Thought-provoking piece Jeremy. I’m in 2 minds about this, but I can’t help thinking that in the same way that you as a kid would fight eating that creamed spinach that many people would simply not read the things they don’t care about.
I’m only a tad bit sentimental about newspapers dying off, but such is living in our modern world. I’m definitely not sad about less trees being used for something that gets thrown away in less than a day!
Newspapers certainly aren’t/weren’t perfect. How many stories get buried because they don’t make the grade? Take a look at a handful of any town’s papers and see if they’ve got the same front page story. Unlikely. Even a news junkie like me felt compelled to avoid certain stories that the media was force-feeding me (think about the death of a certain Michael Jackson).
Newspapers aren’t dying they are evolving. Some just won’t make it. The ones that do will be even better for it. I don’t really understand what type of cream spinach that we are missing out on right now? Are they’re particular events or types of news that “people” really “need” to read to begin with? I would think that the bigger concern should be the millions of people who don’t read any news at all. Social media might not be the perfect replacement, but I’d rather have someone get their news from Colbert then to get none at all.