As newspaper viewership declines, more and more content is being dropped into the world wide Web. On here, viewers find anything from 140 character tweets to professional New York Times columns. The world of digital media is endless, a black hole of information. Not only is it a black hole of information, but more or less a spider-like web of content, as one link takes you to another link which, in turn, takes you to another link.
What’s the problem then? Infinite amounts of information given to you with the click of a button, how could anyone complain?
Science bloggers worry that they are stuck in an echo chamber. Now, if you didn’t have the infamous Professor Downey for your first journalism class like I did, you might be wondering what an echo chamber is. It is just the way an echo works, the news story bounces around the same area, maybe sounding a little different every time, but staying in the same space and viewership. Science bloggers worry that digital media phenomenon is affecting their ability to reach a mass audience with special-interest topics.
Ed Yong, an award-winning science blogger at Discover said, “With newspaper sales on the decline, people aren’t exposed to science stories nestled among other topics at the turn of a page. It’s hard to achieve the same effect in the heavily tagged and increasingly specialized world of the Internet. Surely, it is said, only people already interested in science will subscribe to a science blog’s RSS feed, or click on the Science section of the Guardian or the New York Times.”
Re-summarized, instead of viewers being forced to read about science in their newspapers, digital media gives them a chance to tune out any news that isn’t of interest to them. It is a lot easier on the internet to filter what types of news are being fed to you, and which ones you want to stay away from. Yong says that science related media will still be read by those with that interest, however those not interested can much more easily stay away from it.
What does that mean for society? What kind of well-rounded society are we if we don’t dip into different issues out of our ordinary interests and learn about something new?
Yong also demonstrates the other, more optimistic side of digital media; “When I link to a post on Facebook or Twitter, it reaches a few thousand people. Some of them pass the link on to their friends and followers, and it ripples outwards. At every iteration, the stories land in front of more potential eyes, with increasingly diverse interests.”
You can’t expect people to come to you, said Yong, you have to go where they are, or better yet, get other people to take them there.
“Digital media give us lots of new ways to engage our audience,” said Mariette DiChristina, editor of Scientific American.
Yong’s argument started after the ScienceOnline 2011 conference which was centered around science writing online. Another writer that sparked the issue was Emily Anthes a writer for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) blog Wonderland. Her post was entitled, “As Science Bloggers, Who Are We Really Writing For?”
Just as digital media can create an echo chamber, it can just as easily escape it with a little bit of innovative thinking.
This article began as an issue for science related media stories that writers worry aren’t getting out to a wider audience. However, it related to all special-interest stories whose viewership remains constant, reaching people only with the same views and interests.
As digital media tries to break out of the echo chamber, I leave you with a challenge. Take 5 extra minutes today and read an article that you don’t have a special interest in or a good amount of knowledge of. Who knows, you may just learn something new.