Blog Post

Newspaper Backyardigans

Some friends and I were at our local watering hole this weekend (hey you gotta take a break from studying sometime) when the conversation shifted to my newspaper subscriptions.  A newspaper thumps on my doorstep four days a week and twice on Sundays, making me an anomaly in my age group.  On those four days, in order to keep my study schedule intact, I find myself waking up a little earlier (or, at least not hitting snooze so much) so I can read the majority of my paper.  The artistry and craftsmanship that goes into those stories the kind written by many of my former classmates at the Missouri School of Journalism means that much more to me when I am holding onto that slate colored paper.  Although television news can be as informative, I gravitate to the hard copy because I feel, with the paper, like I own my news.  With a newspaper, I am introduced to and more often than not, pleasantly surprised by the stories I didnt know about and for which I wasnt looking. 

            Theres a sense of adventure in reading the newspaper a striking out into the unknown that I dont necessarily get when reading the news online.  At home, I am my own grown up version of a Backyardigan, finding music and poetry in a well-crafted lede, a new word or concept and, obviously, Garfield comics.  Like the Backyardigans, my newspaper adventure is contained.  I may stretch my mind to imagine a place far, far away, but I always know where the edge of the fence is, where I am.  Given that I spend most of my time online researching the vast European continent its comforting to know I can come home again with a broadsheet.

            So therein lay my question: how exactly do we capture the feeling of a working, debating polity connected and contained, with new media?  It seems for all the convenience the Interwebs provides it hasnt helped us slow down and connect with our community.  Globally, yes, locally, maybe not so much.  This has at least been my personal experience.  I can tell you what has happened in the Philippines, who Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is, and why we should care about the headscarf ban in France, but I had no idea volunteers were needed for this mornings Bike the Ridge event in Evanston (Just cause I read the paper doesnt mean I dont miss stuff.).  I also have seen it with my students, where every class I have taught thus far, has grumbled about my requirement that they consume the daily news (in any form). 

            Some, seeing me unfurl the paper in class, take up the challenge and get their own paper, using it as a supplement it to their online news consumption. Many have commented that the news made them feel more connected to Evanston, their (adopted) university town.  Others have recounted the surprise on their parents faces when they add their two cents in on a local or national issue.  And still others, the majority, I think, dont even bother, annoyed at my liberal politics (I never knew knowledge was politically partisan, but there we are.). 

            Perhaps I have gotten far from my point, which is trying to reconcile the awesome power of technology with what I see as a loss of community.  I suffer from this as much as anyone else; as Ive found with this PhD thing, there arent enough hours in the day sometimes, to get my work done, much less be an active, breathing member of any place but the smooth, brown terrain of my La-Z-Boy.  The technology I use in class websites, streaming technology, surveys, etc. helps me facilitate lessons and clarify concepts, but it doesnt help me create a sense of community that extends beyond the university.  Any suggestions on how to do both would be welcome.

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1 comment

Your concerns about replicating the newspaper experience remind me of a related problem with all the information we have at our fingertips. Certainly tagging and in-depth categorization helps us get to the specifics we need, fast -- for example, you might be able to sign up for a RSS feed of just articles specific to, say, community picnics and debates in Evanston. Just as with reading a physical paper, those restrictions on the feed mean you'd be missing articles that fall outside that range (or articles with bad metadata...), but when you're dealing with information coming in from all over the net, some restrictions are necessary.

My worry is that, by moving from slower research of physical books to quick, targetted research using online search engines, we are forgetting how to evaluate data on a large scale (by doing things like skimming), and that our ability to write metadata (or identify what metadata matches our interests) isn't yet up to speed with pulling in all the information that could really be of interest to us.

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