Another month rolls by and I open my mailbox to find the latest issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. This was a couple of days ago, mind you, but I carried it with me on the way to work today knowing I’d have time on my metro ride home to read it.
How devastated was I to flip to “From the Editor”‘ page only to find a note from the Editor in Chief talking about how SmartMoney is ceasing print publication and Kiplinger’s is struggling with the same issue! When the editor in chief writes an entire letter about his concern for the future of print publishing and soliciting ideas from readers about sustainable models Kiplinger’s can use to save the print version of its magazine, it’s time to be concerned!
This got me thinking, as the last few days have, about how people get information. In higher education, we struggled with this issue all the time. How do we get students to learn? How do we get them to retain? How do we give them information that will stick with them beyond the length of a class period or an academic semester?
This is a larger issue in our society today. How do we get relevant, valuable information out to the masses in a world where most folks are content to passively absorb whatever is coming at them? How do we break into those relaxed moments with vital info we’re just dying to share with them? (Teachers, feel free to say “Word!” … or “That’s what I’m talking about!” or “Truth!” or whatever else relieves your feelings on how you’ve been struggling with this problem for ages).
I’m passionate about a number of things, personal finance being one of them. I hate to think that the print version of personal finance magazines will soon be a thing of the past. (Kiplinger’s noted that as recently as back in the 1990s, “when magazine revenues were buoyed by a surging stock market and an insatiable public appetite for financial advice”, there used to be over a half-dozen personal finance magazines. Now there are only two, and Kiplinger’s is one of them.
Yes, it might just be a case of time moving on and new technology taking over old media forms. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned for enjoying picking up a newly printed book, newspaper or magazine, but I do find reading across paper pages feels different, feels more solid, feels more comfortable than reading across a lit up screen. Others would not agree, and I’m not knocking tablet or smartphone technology. I want an iPad specifically to read magazines like Kiplinger’s so that I can share my favorite articles across my various social media platforms in a few taps! But I also like reading off of paper. I feel I take it in better that way. Even in my classes, I find I retain information from textbooks and printouts better than any article I read off the screen. (This is interesting, because it doesn’t work the same for everything I read online. Articles in the NYTimes are actually easier for me to read online than in its printed form, and I retain more of the information reading the online version, too.)
Different people gather (and retain) information in different ways. What concerns me about a complete shift to the digital is that folks who actually retain material presented to them in print better will no longer have that option. I’m all for saving a tree, but I think its important to consider the various learning styles that exist among people. Yet, the end-goal for many of these organizations isn’t (just) education. It’s about making a profit. And selling print magazines hurts the bottom line when subscription revenues plummet.
So what to do? How to get information out in a way all types can consume?
It’s a dilemma. It’s also concerning because not everyone in this country is plugged in to the digital world. Let’s be clear: there are huge swaths of this country that are digital dead zones. There is no fiber optic cable reaching them, no cell phone towers, no cell signal, nothing. So if print media goes, what’s left? Television? Well, that’s one option but what if they don’t get cable? And even if they do, you all watch TV…you know how little decent television is out there. Even cable news networks are more like reality TV shows than programs with objective journalism. And yes, there are personal finance shows on TV but they always seem like they go to great lengths to keep it from being “just about the numbers”. Lots of lights and noises and graphics to break up the dull dialogue. Plus, I have yet to see a personal finance show that plays like a Kiplinger’s article reads.
So what’s to be done? How do we get information – all types of information – out there? And even when we get it out there, how do we get people to CARE about it? Some of this information is really important for them to know! I’m not just talking personal finance. I’m talking the latest information in science, medicine, engineering, the social sciences, international relations and more! How do we get people interested in learning more? Learning what’s new? What will help them in their personal lives?
This problem seems to be complex across all generations, but it will be particularly interesting to see how young people respond to this question. Will our generation passively accept the death of print publishing? Will we be the pioneers that push digital to new groups? Will we be responsible with our consumption so as to ensure educational material is venerated right along with fluff/feel-good/just-to-relax media? Here Comes Honey Boo Boo got higher ratings than the Republican National Convention two nights ago. Is that the end of the world? No. Does it raise a troubling point about what people are paying attention to, though? Yes. And does the flow of information directly impact these sorts of situations? Absolutely.
Image Credit: nuttakit, Freedigitalphotos.net