Back in June, I decided to try a little experiment in how I receive and read the news. My goal was to read news exclusively through a newspaper every day for two weeks. That meant no web news, no NPR in the car, and no TV (including TMZ, which is normally a rich source of reflection for me).
There is a lot of discussion about the slow extinction of the the newspaper and standards of journalism, but that wasn’t really my interest. I didn’t grow up reading newspapers, and I wanted to know how the experience of reading a paper at a fixed time every day compared to checking an RSS feed reader for blogs several times throughout the day. Here’s what I found:
1. Newspapers Are Expensive
On the first day of my experiment, I managed to demonstrate how naive I was about the world of newspapers. I was shocked to see to see that the Dallas Morning News weekday edition is $1.00 and the New York Times is $2.00. That’s more than a Venti coffee!
Interestingly, that expense played into how I interacted with the news. I found that the cost motivated me to really explore the paper and finish articles in contrast to web news which I often stop reading after the first paragraph.
2. Newspapers Are Hard to Conceal
Since I work at a computer all day and into the evening, I can switch between working hard and reading news at any point and no one can really tell. But it doesn’t work this way with a newspaper.
If I wanted to read some news in the middle of the day, I would have to pull out a piece of paper bigger than a 24″ monitor, and I’m pretty sure my co-workers would have noticed that I wasn’t working. Of course, a lot of Internet news I read is job related (ajaxian.com, smashingmagazine.com, etc.), but with this accountability in place, I was far less tempted to squander away the day with mindless tidbits.
3. Newspapers Are Not Distracting
It’s amazing how different it is to read news without all the blinking popup ads. When I went back to websites, it was surprising to see how I had become desensitized to today’s online ads with video, animation, and lots of blinking.
The newspaper also can’t alert you when someone @replies on Twitter, or a new message comes in, or some Adobe, Microsoft, or Apple software needs a millionth update. Without all those distractions, reading the news was a fairly calm experience.
4. Newspapers Are Not Customized
Although I did find at least one article in line that fell in line with many of my personal interests, much of the content was very different from what I would have chosen to read online.
It turns out that although the Internet gives us amazing freedom, most of us self-select only news that agrees with our existing viewpoints and interests. The newspaper forced me to see different perspectives and a different set of interests than what I would have customized for myself.
5. Newspapers Stack up
After just a days, I started getting a little behind in my reading, and I began to accumulate a stack of unread newspapers. Seeing a physical reminder of all that information that I was missing out on made me think about how little I really care about most of it.
When I’m reading online news, for some reason its endlessness and ease make me want to keep going and going and going. But with the newspaper, I found myself less interested in getting to everything.
In the end I didn’t quite last the entire two weeks, and I’ve ultimately gone back to Internet news for its price, customization, availability, beautiful design, and interactivity.
However, my “media ecology experiment” with the newspaper was a catalyst to change some of my online habits. First, I all but killed off my RSS reader, and I now feel far less pressure to keep up with the endless stack of digital news. Also, I have begin containing my consumption of news to a few times per day, rather than the constant nibling that was my habit before.
Ultimately, I think these changes are helping me stay more focused throughout the day on things that are pure, excellent, and beautiful (Phil 4:8), and less on things that are trivial and easily entangle us (Heb.12:1).