It’s a Different Kind of News Organization

Today we will conclude this grand experiment in yet another medium—does a column count as a different medium from a chat transcript? We’ll have to ask Jack—on Slate’s first annual Future of Newspapers, Democracy, and Other Worthwhile Things podcast. Maybe the fact that we can hear one another’s voices will make it easier to hash this out.

In the meantime, our four contestants—pardon me, our four research subjects—will check in this morning with their lessons and impressions. (Emily already has.) As part of the control group and one of the lead scientists on this study, I’ll say this: I think we may have got it slightly wrong. The question is not whether newspaper readers or Web surfers are better informed. It’s which medium is better at organizing information.

And the answer to that is two very unsatisfying words: It depends. Part of it is simply habit, of course: what you’re used to. But form is not irrelevant. If you missed a story and want to catch up, or if you’re obsessively following a story and don’t want to miss any nanodevelopment, the Web is better. For all other purposes—in other words, for anyone who wants to be reasonably well-informed, which is to say the vast majority of us—daily newspapers are just fine, thank you. Theoretically, at least, the Web is just fine for keeping reasonably well-informed, too. But as our experiment showed, it’s hard to know where to start online. I suppose we could have had Seth and Emily set up RSS readers or created personal news aggregators using Google or Yahoo. Maybe we can do that in our follow-up study, once we get our NSF grant.