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Editorial: Announcing print’s demise is premature; it still has a role
About politics and other thingsMay 21, 2014 | 2,157 views | Post a comment
An Internet post on a friend’s Facebook page asked how to get the word out about a local organization’s fund-raiser.
The answers were interesting, if a bit perplexing, and point to problems as we transform from a paper society toward a digital age.
The consensus was, sadly, that few people read newspapers like they used to. I say sadly because that brings me to the question of whether people are better informed or less informed than they used to be. Sure, they know the latest Hollywood trash talk, which teams are in the NBA playoffs, and the name of the weekend blockbuster movie. They don’t know history or even current events such as who the vice president is or who serves on their local elected boards.
This reminds me of the man-on-the-street interviews that late-night TV talk shows used to do. They would go outside the studio and stick a camera in the faces of passersby. Some of the answers were shockingly revealing.
On a more serious note, the Pew Research Center finds that, despite the rise of 24-hour cable news and the phenomenal growth of online media, people are sorely lacking information. From Pew Research: “... taken as a whole the findings suggest little change in overall levels of public knowledge.”
Too many people are satisfied to hear a news bulletin, read a headline, see a post on Facebook or Twitter, and think they know what is happening. But, do they know who the elected officials are who decide next year’s tax rates? Uninformed people do not vote, and as a result, very few participate in local elections, such as the May 10 school and city elections.
They are uninformed because they are too busy playing video games, watching movies online, or chatting on social media. Too often, they are “chasing life” through imagined worlds, rather than living life fully, but I digress.
Back in the day, people bought the local paper to find out what was happening. Now they do a Google search. You can get Google alerts, but those are restricted to specific areas of interest. Online, your subjects are limited to your search parameters, whereas you read a newspaper as a conglomeration of news, tidbits, and information. Print is not like online where Facebook determines what it thinks you want to know.
In print, as you turn each page, you may see a headline or something of interest that you want to know more about, so your horizon of knowledge is expanded. In a newspaper, you can read about your school board without doing a search to find your district’s website. And, while you are reading about the school board, you just might move on to the next story. That is how you can stay informed.
But people, especially those growing up using digital devices, are not prone to reading.
If they can’t get the message in 140 characters, they are not interested. This is a perplexing problem: how to maintain an informed society in a digital world.
As suggested by my Facebook friends, you can try banners across the road, storefront flyers, email, or electronic billboards. Those are limited in scope, and visible only to those driving past, entering the store, or on your email list.
This is indicative of today’s problem. In this, a free republic, its future depends on people being informed and participating in their government.
To that end, those of us in the newspaper industry must try harder. As Frederick Douglass said, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
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