Personal information processing, and I’m looking into golf shirts…

A couple thoughts occurred to me as I read this piece in Wired about the decline of the newspaper as a branded source of news:

From the perspective of publishers, the 18- to 34-year-old demographic is highly prized by advertisers — the people who make writing, editing and working at a newspaper or magazine a vocation, not just an avocation (like it is for most bloggers.) But there is trouble afoot. The seeds have been planted for a tremendous upheaval in the material world of publishing.

Young people just aren’t interested in reading newspapers and print magazines. In fact, according to Washington City Paper, The Washington Post organized a series of six focus groups in September to determine why the paper was having so much trouble attracting younger readers…

Imagine what higher-ups at the Post must have thought when focus-group participants declared they wouldn’t accept a Washington Post subscription even if it were free. The main reason (and I’m not making this up): They didn’t like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their houses.

Don’t think for a minute that young people don’t read. On the contrary, they do, many of them voraciously. But having grown up under the credo that information should be free, they see no reason to pay for news. Instead they access The Washington Post website or surf Google News, where they select from literally thousands of information sources. They receive RSS feeds on their PDAs or visit bloggers whose views mesh with their own. In short, they customize their news-gathering experience in a way a single paper publication could never do. And their hands never get dirty from newsprint.

My first thought: I’m almost aged out of the prized 18-34 category. What’s next? It must be the less-prized 34-50 one… Life goes marching on, even when you’d prefer that it slow down and take a break for a bit.

Once I had ceased longing for my soon-to-be-misspent youth, I had my second thought… if this trend away from authoritative relationships with news sources is indeed happening, might we see parallel transformations in other fields — say, higher education? I know that at least some of the smart folks I link to on my sidebar have been saying so for some time.

It’s easy to take the analysis too far. For one, as Darren Barefoot observes, “Wired is the sort of place you’d expect to read about the death of the Old Media, and the article isn’t particularly long on facts.” (I would add that Wired has a history of self-serving over-reaching when it comes to prognostication.) Higher education institutions still hold a monopoly on credentialing, and the university experience offers benefits such as an immersive form of enculturation that’s probably more valuable than the putative instruction (though we’re still working on how to provide that benefit online).

So is this an apt comparison? Where is it all leading? I have all sorts of conflicting impressions, none of them particularly compelling.

These are the types of posts I write when my son gets me out of bed at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. And I’m passing the grogginess on to you…

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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