On the whole, I have heard a lot of journalists wax poetic about print media. I think there’s a lot of romanticism going on here, but there is one thing of value I’ve been mulling over, and that’s the value of having limited real estate.
By “real estate,” I mean the physical space on which words are printed. There are only so many pages one can use, and only so much space on that page. This creates an increased imperative of prioritization that doesn’t exist in digital media.
Prioritization exists in both print and digital media, but I think the increased amount comes from the limitation of finite space. With digital media, you can (theoretically) put every bit of information on your site and prioritize therein. With print media, you need to decide which information even gets to the paper and prioritize from there. The result is that there is a likely cut of stories that have a de minimis political, social or cultural value.
Another way to put it would be like having an open-book test that lets you bring a one-sided notecard. Maybe you’d be tempted to lug around your textbook or thirty pages of notes if given the chance, but the physical space forces you to only include the most important information. From there, you probably put the most likely to be tested information at the top and prioritize in descending order.
What spurred this thought was a conversation about why I don’t care much about cable news. If I have it on, it’s probably to have noise in the background, not because I think it really gives me a lot of necessary information. There have always been twenty-four hours in the day but has there always been twenty four hours worth of news? While we can certainly argue about the news value of some lighter stories, if CNN et al. didn’t have the objective of filling in that time, a lot of stories probably wouldn’t make the cut. In fact, some of these stories probably wouldn’t be proposed, as I think there’s a high likelihood that a lot of non-news is dramatized to fill that space.
Likewise with websites that, I feel, don’t have any nefarious intent or machinations to mislead or distract, but nonetheless try to occupy the space given to them, which is a lot. It’s possible we’re, as a journalism-heavy society, woefully out of practice when it comes to sifting through all the news in a given day and deciding which stories are of consequence and which are not. Perhaps if journalists and readers alike had to revive this exercise, we’d not only be less saturated in “light,” irrelevant, dramatized, or clickbait stories, but we’d also be better practiced at deciding which stories are worth consuming and which are merely placeholders.
Too simple? Low hanging fruit? Let me know. I’m curious to hear others’ perspectives.