Not too long ago I wrote about newspapers and why a big part of the reason I still subscribe to a physical newsprint paper is the editorial page. In short, I love that editors choose the very best letters to publish, whereas online the same papers let anyone say anything. I don’t have time or the stomach for anyone saying anything. I want someone to curate the good ones.
But I’ve been thinking about a new reason I think subscribing to an actual newspaper is a better way to stay informed about the world versus the online edition. It goes like this.
The Internet is a rabbit hole. It’s infinite. It’s not something you read or look at in a linear manner.
Because of its vastness, the money to be made online is increasingly in giving people what they want faster. There are services that help us find music we might like. Banners ads follow us around once we’ve demonstrated our purchasing preferences.
Google, I’m told, scans Gmail accounts and offers up news stories based on what you write in your emails. Iraq is in the news, so Google News is going to serve everyone up new stories about Iraq. But if you write your friends about religion, you’ll see news stories about religion in Iraq. If you write your friends about soccer, you might instead see an article about the Iraq national soccer team
Makes sense, right? If you like soccer, you’ll probably like articles about soccer more than religion.
Or would you? Given what’s going in Iraq perhaps the article about religion would be of more interest.
What I like about the physical newspaper is everyone gets the same thing. There on your kitchen table, or at the foot of your bed, or on the coffee table is everything a very experienced and vast staff of professionals think people should know about as far as what’s going on in the community, country and the world that day.
Sure, you might not read it cover to cover. But if you go down a rabbit hole, you can still climb out and see the whole picture in its entirety.
I think this ability to get the full story, or the entire picture is increasingly important as people spend more time online.
Through our social networks, the blogs we read, the online communities we choose to be a part of it’s easier then ever to interact with like-minded people.
If you like cats you can share online space with fellow cat lovers. If you are part of the Tea Party you can hang out in online spaces where anyone who doesn’t agree with the Tea Party is shouted down. And so it goes for any political or social bent.
I think that’s the drawback to the “long tail” theory. As we move closer to communities of like-minded people we get farther away from other points of view.
It reminds me when I went from High School to College. I was incredibly political near the end of High School. The first gulf war started, Bush was elected, and the short bus I rode was evenly split between liberals and conservatives. We debated politics every morning and afternoon.
Then I went to a college so liberal a Republican wrote the newspaper saying he was in the closet politically for fear his views would cost him any chance at dating for the next four years.
With no one around to disagree with, I settled into a political complacency. Yes there were people out there I disagreed with; I just didn’t know any of them.
I’m not arguing that everyone getting a paper delivered would solve this problem. And certainly the kind of paper you subscribe to determines which kind of articles and views you read. But I think it would help. And it’s yet another reason why I’m going to continue to get the paper every morning.
More, given that people are going to continue to spend more and more time online, how do we foster online communities that both let people get the full picture? How do enable people with different interests and points of views to interact in non-polarizing ways?
Or put more simply, how about a website or social network where the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street can hear and talk to each other and realize maybe there are some things they agree on. Or at very least hear each other out without F bombs being dropped by comment number three.