Why do we follow the news?

I think I follow the news for two reasons.

1: The lofty reason people like telling themselves. “It makes me a more informed citizen” and so “I can vote smarter.” As pointed out in this great podcast episode about it from Freakonomics, Why do we really follow the news?, it doesn’t really affect my life one way or the other if I know certain facts. As journalist Mitchell Stephens said:

I think very little of the news actually today is of practical value. For one thing, we don’t live in a society that has all that many threats encroaching upon us. You know, most of us live pretty safe lives. And most of us know where to find food in the supermarket. Most of us know where to look for romance, where to live our social lives. So I think a lot of the functions that news used to perform way back when in hunter-gatherer times, in preliterate societies, it’s no longer performing regularly. Yet our itch to be aware, to know what’s going on around us, remains.

2: For the story. As economist Matthew Gentzkow touched put it:

There’s a lot of research in psychology about the importance of telling stories and building narratives for people. People like to look at their own lives as a story. They like to see kind of the arc of the challenges that they overcame and define themselves as a character in that story. And to me that makes a lot of sense of why we care so much about news, because if what I’m thinking about all the time is my own life story and my own role in it, then you know, what’s happening in the world around me is the context that that story’s happening in.

So there ya go. Give it a listen.

A legitimate ad blocker?

Pretty cool new idea from Google. It’s called Contributor, and it allows users to pay not to see ads on the web.

Internet advertising works on a cost-per-view (or cost-per-click) basis. So if you’re browsing Salon.com and click on the Roto-Rooter ad, Salon gets, say, 50¢. (And Google takes a cut, too.)

With Google Contributor, you can pay Salon.com 50¢ direct, in exchange for an add-free reading experience. It all works on a budget system. So if you only want to spend $1/month, under this costly scenario, you’ll only get your ads blocked twice.

This could be great for media companies, as ad blockers become ever more common and the revenue from ads falls as a result.

It’s important to note: This only applies to ads served by Google. (Which is a lot of the web’s ads.)

Check out the story from On the Media below. It includes an interview with the Contributor product manager.

Friday Link List

1. The New Yorker Investigates
The story behind a new service for journalists at The New Yorker. It’s called Strongbox, and was developed with the late Aaron Swartz:

Today, The New Yorker is announcing Strongbox, an online tool that allows you to send messages or documents to our writers and editors anonymously. (Kevin Poulsen, who helped build Strongbox together with the late Aaron Swartz, explains it all in this blog post.) The New Yorker has a long tradition of excellence in investigative reporting; many of the fifty-six National Magazine Awards we’ve won since 1970 have honored investigative pieces, like Daniel Lang’s “Casualties of War” (1970) and Seymour Hersh’s “Torture at Abu Ghraib” (2005). With Strongbox, we hope to broaden and extend that tradition by making ourselves more easily available to sources around the world.

Via {daring fireball}.


2. Fold, Spindle, Mutilate {rough type}.

Interesting and observant post from Nicholas Carr about a lack of protest about the Imminent Cloud:

But there’s another reason, I think, that today’s internment of the self in centrally stored data has not spurred the kind of protests we saw a half century ago. In the 60s, the reduction of the self to computable numbers found a tangible, ubiquitous symbol in the punchcard. To hold a punchcard with your name printed across the top was to see your being reduced to a series of binary punch holes, a series of inscrutable ones and zeroes. Like draft cards, punchcards served as concrete touchstones for protest. Ordered by some faceless bureaucracy not to fold, spindle, or mutilate the cards, one felt a moral obligation to fold, spindle, and mutilate them. To tear up a punchcard was to liberate oneself from, as Mario Savio famously put it on the Sproul Hall steps, “the machine.”


3. The Myth of Multitasking {npr}.

More research on the multitasking deficits of self-proclaimed “excellent multitaskers”:

Dr. Clifford Nass: So [in our studies] we have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.

They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand. And even—they’re even terrible at multitasking. When we ask them to multitask, they’re actually worse at it. So they’re pretty much mental wrecks. […]

They actually think they’re more productive. They actually think they tend to—and most notably, they think they can shut it off, and that’s been the most striking aspect of this research.

Friday Link List

Homemade ice cream hand rolled in a metal cylinder by a street vendor in Yangon, Myanmar {via little baby’s facebook page}

1. Little Baby’s Goes to Myanmar {facebook}.

I’m not privy to the details, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make up a story.

Fine Fishtown ice cream purveyor Little Baby’s has been posting pictures from their trip around the world—or at least to Thailand and Myanmar—on their Facebook page. Seems like a great way to see the world (hello, tax write off) and get ideas for new flavors, methods of delivery, etc.


2. What’s Next for Lance Armstrong {npr}.

Those lawsuits, perhaps further energized by any acknowledgment of wrongdoing by Armstrong, could take a chunk out of his net worth, often estimated at between $100 million and $125 million. And they could unravel part of the web of holding companies, corporations, and investments the former racer and his partners have assembled over the years — a web that’s too complicated to describe here, but is laid out in a flowchart by Dimspace.


3. The Fallacies of Fat {npr}.

Robert Lustig joins Talk of the Nation to promote his new book about the real reasons we’re fat. From the show’s intro:

My next guest says that some of the reasons we are fat is because we’ve been sold a bill of goods about what and how we should eat. For example, he says the health-conscious among you may opt for juice over soda. In fact calorie-for-calorie, 100 percent orange juice is worse for you than soda. He says the corollary to a calorie is a calorie is the mantra: if you’d only exercise, you’d lost weight. Not only is this wrong, he says, it’s downright detrimental.


4. New Podcast from Neiman Journalism Lab

I’m really geeking out over this interview from the second episode of Press Publish, with content strategist Karen McGrane (whose website betrays her reputation as an advocate for user friendly design):

It’s Episode 2 of Press Publish, the Nieman Lab podcast! My guest this week is Karen McGrane. She’s a content strategist and user experience designer who’s worked with a number of media companies — The New York Times, Condé Nast, The Atlantic, Time Inc., and others. (She was the design lead on the Times’ 2006 redesign — which, with a few accumulated tweaks, is still the basis of what NYTimes.com looks like today.)

Democracy is Public

I wish the Democrats listened to the writings of George Lakoff a whole lot more:

What this means is that there is no such thing as a “self-made” man or woman or business. No one makes it on their own. No matter how much wealth you amass, you depend on all the things the public has provided — roads, water, law enforcement, fire and disease protection, food safety, government research, and all the rest. The only question is whether you have paid your fair share for we all have given you.

From Democracy is Public: Why the American Dream Beats the Nightmare {huffpo}