For the purposes of this post, it’d be nice to say that I read about The New York Times acquisition of social news startup News.me in any print version of any paper.
I didn’t. I followed a link that popped up in my news feed on Facebook. It was recommended. It had a pretty thumbs-up sign next to it. Naturally, I read it.
Fellow college students, don’t kowtow to the ‘Like’ button. Or iGoogle, or Twitter. Or, over the next few months, more products like News.me. Our habit of online media consumption through recommendation, most viewed and other forms of “social news” is a crux. The Web is a great tool, but unless we recognize the way we use it, we’re going to wreck the purpose of journalism.
Brace yourselves, because I’m about to say something many other web journalists won’t admit: When it comes to having a general knowledge base for day to day life—a liberal education, if you will—get off the computer. The value you’re looking for is in the print newspaper.
Here’s why you should cough up the 75 cents and get some ink on your hands:
1) The Web is not the great leveler. You may think it’s opening you up to a world of views, but you’re likely sticking to your own. Ethan Zuckerman, a researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, gave a talk on listening to global voices at a TED event in the UK this past July. Check it out—it’s funny and enlightening. If you don’t have the time, here’s a main takeaway: the people we end up hearing from on the Web are mainly people who are just like us. If you apply it to journalism, the news we read online fits a narrow area of coverage. Most college students probably don’t read about major news in Africa. In the page-turning process of reading a print newspaper, there’s a chance you’ll at least see an article about it and pick up something about it.
2) “Social news” only digs deeper trenches. If you wait for your news to be delivered to you through social media, you’re likely making the situation worse. Think about it. On Twitter, you ‘follow’ those that interest you. On Facebook, you’re actually ‘liking’ specific pages before they appear in your news feed. This is limiting in itself, but then throw in the issue of time. Both work in real time. If you aren’t on when news you ought to see comes around, you likely won’t ever see it.
3) The Web is freakin’ big. There’s a lot of news on it, and we can’t keep up with it all. Even if you recognize the above issues and do a good job of seeking out news online – likely clicking through pages upon pages, which no one likes to do – you don’t have a standard to judge how much you should be reading. In addition, it’s always updating. My college journalism friend El Heller put this another way, “Printed papers have a last page. The web never ends.”
4) You naturally digest print better. You can find stats on information retention just about anywhere, but I like this study of students at Arizona State University. In short, scrolling screws with your comprehension. The co-author of this study says it’s harder to keep track of where information is located in an online document due to the lack of page markers in a print-style text.
The most important point is also a physical one:
5) Papers are great for swatting flies. Laptops and iPads….not so much.
In all seriousness, I’m not saying deactivate your Facebook account. I can’t, and I’d never ask anyone else to do that either. But recognize where you’re getting your news and what kind of news you’re getting. If we don’t regularly supplement it with the wide range of coverage that you find in the pages of a print newspaper, we enter into a rabbit hole we probably can’t get out of.
For everyone’s sake, get some ink on your hands.
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