The Illusion of Information

Is the golden age of print journalism over? While printed magazines and newspapers are certainly not dead, the landscape has changed significantly from the early days of the first moveable type printing press in the 17th century and the print domination of the 19th century. After all, a few taps on a phone that already spends the day traveling around with you in your pocket is much easier than worrying about an oversized wad of papers susceptible to being crumpled, ripped, with nowhere to fit it into. With each passing year, news sources shift even more heavily to digital platforms which are oftentimes more convenient and accessible than print magazines. The biggest shift from print to digital media has taken place over the past two decades, according to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau, which found that the estimated weekly circulation of U.S. daily newspapers and revenue had more than halved, from a high of 55.8 billion to 24.2 billion by 2020. And while print issues remain resilient and more trusted than their digital counterparts, with 46 percent of U.S. adults trusting print ads in comparison to just 19 percent for social media, the generational shift from print to digital media holds implications for how we understand media and stay informed in the 21st century. 

Although over 70 percent of students at Andover consider themselves to be at least moderately informed on politics and/or current events, 25.3 percent of Andover students selected social media as their primary news source, according to the 2024 State of the Academy. While the accessibility and speed of social media can allow important news to reach greater audiences at faster rates, the unregulated and immensely broad user bases of platforms also fosters abundant amounts of dangerous misinformation and biased reporting. Andover students and, more broadly, our younger generation are thus left highly susceptible to the illusion of considering themselves as well-informed in global events and news when, in fact, their perceived understanding comes largely from superficial engagement with social media posts, with a notable lack in interactions with diversified news sources.

The nature of social media platforms is to form connections between friends and family, yet the way that they are developed and algorithmically run often perpetuates the presentation of ideologically homogeneous content to individuals, meaning that a particular user’s followers and friends likely share similar beliefs to them. This inescapable fact of social media, compounded with the fact that 89.7 percent of students believe that the Andover community holds a political leaning to the left, results in little opportunity for students to be exposed to outside views. Moreover, while the ease of uploading on a digital platform remains one of its most appealing characteristics, it also lends anyone from anywhere with any background or degree of qualification the ability to publish “news” and claim it as accurate or true. With the uncertainty of source credibility and the consequent challenges of verifying the accuracy of information found on social media, it is an important task for students to double-check the news they are reading on these platforms. However, critically, this is an extra step that many often find themselves too tired, or simply too lazy, to do.

While the breaking echo chambers and epistemic bubbles poses challenges, it is entirely possible and can come in many different forms. Even today, whether it be in the lobby of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library or spread out across the table of a restaurant downtown, print editions of an array of newspapers lay waiting to be opened. Difficulties that are often present with digital platforms can begin to be remedied by engaging with print media. The “death” of print journalism does not spell the end of reliable news, but rather should signal to us that it is time to adapt and evolve the way we think about staying informed. In the same way that we don’t consider reading one genre book to understanding all of literature, we shouldn’t think of looking through the posts of a single source as adequately informing us. The digital age has undoubtedly streamlined and simplified our lives. But it is also, crucially, a double-edged sword, and we must be careful not to be cut by the sharp blade of misinformation and biased reporting.