Reading this article about why print journalism still mattered inspired me to give my own take on this issue. Since this is a digital format, let me be short: digital media promotes breadth over depth, is less efficient to consume, and lacks the serendipitous aspects of print..
Now for the longer version. I still get a paper version of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times every day. I also get paper versions of Economist, Businessweek, FastCompany, Inc, MIT Tech Review, Forbes, Fortune, and a bunch of other less popular periodicals. The question is - why?
My answer has several parts. Let’s start with the most surprising part. Print media is more efficient to consume. In 20 seconds I can flip through a periodical, skim all the headlines, and tag all the stuff I want to read by just bending the ear of that page. Try doing that on the web. You can’t. There are delays and redirects and interstitials. Surveys and ads sometimes pop up, depending on what cycle we are in for the war between ads and ad blockers. Headlines are constantly rewritten and A/B tested for what gets people to click, not what is intellectually the most nourishing and rewarding, so if you don’t like linkbait, you can’t find all the really deep good stuff. Contrast that with the paper WSJ. I can unfold it on a table and quickly read multiple articles. No clicks, no annoyances, no loss of focus, no comments or video or other crap.
The second reason is serendipity. Sometimes I find great stuff in print. The best stuff is that unique article that you didn’t even know you would like but for some strange reason it caught your eye. You know what you find online? 1) The popular stuff that everyone is reading. 2) Stuff that is just like the other stuff you are reading. That’s fine. I’m not criticizing popular articles. But I am one of those people who likes to read certain topics that maybe aren’t that popular. Sometimes that small 2 paragraph article in a small box, deep within a paper periodical - the article that would never be popular online, and thus difficult to ever find, catches my eye. Some of those articles have taken me on interesting intellectual tangents I may never have found otherwise.
The final reason is, sometimes you need depth. A headline can only tell you so much. In a world where we have to be continually stimulated, not many people can focus long enough to read a 4-5 page magazine article. But some concepts just can’t be explained in 2 paragraphs. Many of the good print articles are online, but judging from my discussions with my own social circle, if you are the kind of person getting all of your news online, you probably aren’t the kind of person who takes the time to read the whole thing. Training your mind to focus, take a step back, and consume some depth has advantages.
So, economics aside, I believe print journalism still has a place. It’s more efficient, more in depth, and more serendipitous. If you feel like your news consumption is shallow, try going old school for a while. You may really like it.
We live in a world of soundbites, which is unfortunate because it means the deep, rich, nuanced view that accurately reflects most significant issues in the world has been lost. Why read an in-depth analysis that requires 12 minutes of your time when you can just retweet a couple 140 character zingers on the same topic and feel like you’ve won a political battle? Our short attention spans, our neomania, and the media’s monetization of our hypernovelty seeking have discouraged us from reading any in-depth analysis on anything, and discouraged the media from reporting on anything in a deep, rich, and nuanced manner.
As a CEO, I had to get up in front of my company at the beginning of the year and talk about our 4 big goals. These are “the only 4 things we care about this year.” It’s a lie, unfortunately. There are really about 400 things I care about this year, but most people aren’t ready to have an ongoing discussion about the relevance, priorities, and dependencies involved in a whole bunch of subgoals. I have to keep things simple, just like the media. So, I have to admit, it isn’t just a problem with the media. It’s a problem with humans, with society, and with the way we think. We crave clarity and simplicity. Unfortunately, it’s killing us.
You know the straw man caricatures of each party as well as I do. The liberals believe that if we just made the rich pay their fair share and took care of the people at the bottom, that the economy would thrive. The conservatives believe that if we just kept tax rates low and let the market take care of things, the country would be fine. But it’s all wrong.
The truth is actually very complex, and what has been hidden from us, in our soundbite world, is the nuanced understanding of these issues. But there is hope. The CBO analysis of a minimum wage hike last month was the first time I ever remember a national discussion about tradeoffs. The analysis basically showed that such a hike would do two things:
- 1. Lift 900,000 people out of poverty.
- 2. Kill 500,000 jobs.
Wait, you mean we can’t get our economic cake and eat it too? Of course we can’t, but that didn’t stop each party from jumping on the point that most resonated with their ideology.
In my mind though, this was a huge step forward for the United States. For the first time, we are looking at an issue not as a panacea, but as something rich and deep and nuanced. Which would we prefer… 1.4 million people who are employed but under the poverty level, or 900,000 people employed above the poverty level but 500,000 people not working as a result? Employment is important because it builds skills and lets people eventually move to higher paying jobs. But working at a level that doesn’t make ends meet can also make things seem hopeless for the people in those positions. It is a difficult decision.
Government issues, particularly those that affect the economy, are actually full of tradeoffs that we don’t usually discuss. Studies show that unions destroy jobs, yet get higher pay for those who are employed. An article about North Carolina’s unemployment benefit experiment shows that killing benefits did encourage more people to seek work, but many of those people are employed in jobs way below their skill level just to make ends meet. A recent study showed that inequality, which is supposed to be the main topic of the next election, might more to do with changes in mating patterns in the U.S. rather that the traditional rich get richer rhetoric. Love vs. Money tradeoffs.
The truth is that these issues, and most interesting issues really, are very complex and difficult to understand in a 140 characters, or even a 700 word editorial. As a nation, I’m hopeful that this CBO discussion of economic tradeoffs will encourage people to talk about politics and economics in this way going forward. It’s all about nuance and tradeoffs, and unless we understand and embrace that, we can’t be successful at solving the problems we face.
There is a great Ted talk about Grit, given by Angela Duckworth but based on initial research by Carol Dweck. The “meta” takeaway from Dweck’s research is that mindset matters. The way people think about something affects how they act. Dweck proved this by showing that students who believe success is based on hard work do much better when challenged than students who believe success is based on intelligence.
I was thinking about Dweck’s research this week when I read this infographic about the view of Inc 5000 entrepreneurs think about the economy. Spoiler alert: They tend to lean right, not left. Sixty three percent of them voted for Mitt Romney. Ten percent consider themselves politically liberal. Seventeen percent are registered Democrats.
It made me wonder… why, in a world where the government constantly speaks about the importance of entrepreneurship, how we need more entrepreneurs, and how they make up the backbone of our economic growth, why do we praise these entrepreneurs so much but then pass off their economic and political views as old fashioned rubbish? Why do we, as a society, think much more highly of the economic ideas of someone with no relevant experience (a populist like Elizabeth Warren for example) instead of listening to the ideas of the very people who are in the trenches and we claim are the lifeblood of our economic growth?
I wonder if these two ideas are tied together. I wonder if entrepreneurs are like the students who have grit. I wonder if holding the belief that the economy is a meritocracy actually promotes economic growth by encouraging people to go out and start companies. I wonder if the opposite mindset, the idea that you’ve worked hard and are owed something, but big companies and rich people have ripped you off, is the kind of mindset that could hold you back.
We know mindset affects expectations of performance. We know expectations of performance affect economic decisions. Maybe our economic problems are just as psychological as they are structural.keep looking »