Even though I’m from the Class of 2020, I’m going to propose something to you that’s so old-fashioned and outlandish that you might mistake me for a member of the Class of 1920. You should read a physical newspaper.
I have no special vendetta against trees and I have, in fact, heard of this new fad that they call the World Wide Web. Instead, I believe print news offers three distinct advantages: it is better for accountability, it is immune to some troubling new advancements in information warfare and it even helps make you smarter.
First, accountability. Did a politician really use that dreadful slur? Did a media outlet actually make a slanderous accusation? While it’s possible to update a website or delete a tweet before screenshots can record it, good luck trying to round up all the printed evidence.
Second, print newspapers can never microtarget content with the same precision of online algorithms. Your virtual news feed can be curated to exactly match your views, leading to each person consuming content in their own highly personalized echo chamber. Yes, I’m aware that print newspapers can still attract distinct populations and write with bias. Try reading about the same topic in both the Irish Rover and the Observer! But a print newspaper can’t disseminate disinformation with the same surgical intentionality of a Russian-made fake video of the Ukrainian president surrendering, distributed to only the people most likely to be convinced by it and nobody else. Yes, that really happened.
Lastly, dealing in paper and ink actually makes you smarter. A 2018 study published in the Educational Research Review found that “paper-based reading yields better comprehension outcomes than digital-based reading.” Your brain can better recall what it read by remembering tactile cues (the feel and weight and even smell of the pages flipped) and where on a printed page it saw something. In contrast, virtual reading has fewer cues and more distractions like app notifications or pop-up ads.
Should you never scroll through the Observer’s website ever again? Of course not. But the next time you head to the dining hall, consider grabbing a print copy instead. If nothing else, you’ll find the results to be much less catastrophic when you spill your cereal on that old-fashioned version.
Andrew C. Jarocki
Class of 2020
This letter to the editor is the views of the author and not necessarily of The Observer.