Why Books, Newspapers and Magazines Are Still The Best Sources Of Information

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Fascinated by the idea that print media may be the best “discovery engine” we have for finding information we didn’t know we were looking for (a notion I first encountered here), I tracked down this article in The Wilson Quarterly by Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT. “There are at least three ways we discover new information online,” Zuckerman writes:

“Each of these methods has shortcomings in terms of giving us a broad, global picture of the world. Search engines, while incredibly powerful, are only as good as the queries we put to them. They are designed for information retrieval, not for discovery . . . Search engines tell us what we want to know, but they can’t tell us what we might need to know.

Social media are a powerful discovery engine, but what you’re discovering is what your friends know. If you’re lucky enough to have a diverse, knowledgeable set of friends online, they may lead you in unexpected directions. But birds of a feather flock together, both online and offline, and your friends are more likely to help you discover the unexpected in your hometown than in another land.

The most powerful discovery engines online may be curated publications such as The New York Times or The Guardian. Editors of these publications are driven by a mission to provide their audiences with the broad picture of the world they need in order to be effective citizens, consumers, and businesspeople.

But professional curators have their inevitable biases and blind spots. Much as we know to search for the news we think will affect our lives, editors deploy reporting resources toward parts of the world with strategic and economic significance. When mysteries unfold in corners of the world we’re used to ignoring, such as Tunisia, curators are often left struggling to catch up.

The limits of online information sources are a challenge both for us and for the people building the next generation of online tools. If we rigorously examine the media we’re encountering online, looking for topics and places we hear little about, we may be able to change our behavior, adding different and dissenting views to our social networks, seeking out new sources of news.” (Read more here.)

This reminded me of something: My favorite cognitive scientist, Daniel Willingham of the University of Virginia, writes in his book Why Don’t Students Like School? that reading print media is the best way to get cognitively “richer”:

“If you want to be exposed to new vocabulary and new ideas, the places to go are books, magazines and newspapers. Television, video games, and the sorts of Internet content that students lean toward (for example, social networking sites, music sites, and the like) are for the most part unhelpful. Researchers have painstakingly analyzed the contents of the many ways that students can spend their leisure time. Books, newspapers, and magazines are singularly helpful in introducing new ideas and new vocabulary to students.”

Good reasons to keep reading the morning paper.


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3 Responses to “Why Books, Newspapers and Magazines Are Still The Best Sources Of Information”

  1. I beg to differ—I think it depends on the person and the information offered by a particular resource. I do read newspaper in the morning, which I find helpful. But on the other hand, I also enjoy browsing in the internet, which is truly convenient. A very good example is this very article. I found this article intriguing and inviting, it made me read it all the way to the end. This is not printed media—but it offers information about things people might find interesting. Different media offer people different approaches.

  2. Manuel B. Alderete says:

    I totally agree with this article. There is simply no substitute for reading books. And anyone who has walked the aisles of a decent library will have visual proof that there is a vast world of knowledge against which his Facebook friends cannot compete.

    The typical book author has spent years of his life researching and articulating a topic. The typical Facebook post consumes less than a few minutes of thought. No contest.

  3. Abdul Rahman says:

    What’s interesting is that the choices we make while using Google to search shape the types of results that we get in future searches. People with different political opinions will get shown different sources of information over time.

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