Monday, November 19, 2007

Reading Fades

I'm a little late to the party on this one today, but this is certainly dreary, on a day already filled with glum news.

Fewer people are reading, we learn. Meantime, newspapers are racing each other to the web where too often videos substitute for reading. I've used videos myself, as you can see, but can defend the occasionally video where appropriate (Erin McKean is a joy in print but to see her in action at a conference is all the better under the right circumstances). It's not that the web eliminates reading. It most certainly does not. But the huge amount of material available on the Web, along with the entertainmente factor of just watching things happen instead of actually reading,, as computers turn into TV outlets, provide games, music and more, cannot be good for us who depend on the word, not only for a living but for our own enjoyment.

We're busy giving away the franchise. At the very least, we certainly aren't helping ourselves.

Maybe the corporate people are right: Digital media won't be a sideshow in the future

and what San Jose may do is what we'll all be doing:

"The very top of the organization is saying, blow up the newsroom," says Chris O'Brien, a reporter immersed in the overhaul effort. Under one prototype, the paper would be cut back to three sections: Live, Play and Innovate. In a second blueprint, it would junk everything except Silicon Valley business news.

But, back to the reading problem:

A Troubling Case of Readers' Block
Citing Decline Among Older Kids, NEA Report Warns of Dire Effects
By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007; Page C01
Americans are reading less and their reading proficiency is declining at troubling rates, according to a report that the National Endowment for the Arts will issue today (Monday). The trend is particularly strong among older teens and young adults, and if it is not reversed, the NEA report suggests, it will have a profound negative effect on the nation's economic and civic future.

"This is really alarming data," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "Luckily, we still have an opportunity to address it, but if we wait 10, 20 years, I think it may be too late."

Titled "To Read or Not to Read," the report is a significant expansion of the NEA's widely cited 2004 study, "Reading at Risk." The NEA based that earlier study exclusively on data from its own arts surveys, and as a result, that analysis focused mainly on so-called literary reading -- novels, stories, plays and poems. This led some critics to downplay its implications.

The new report assembles much more data, drawing on large-scale studies done by other government agencies (such as the Department of Education) and by non-government organizations. These studies tend to use broader definitions of reading, said Sunil Iyengar, the NEA's director of research and analysis, with many looking at "all kinds of reading," a category that includes reading done online.

The story the numbers tell, Gioia said, can be summed up in about four sentences:

"We are doing a better job of teaching kids to read in elementary school. But once they enter adolescence, they fall victim to a general culture which does not encourage or reinforce reading. Because these people then read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they do more poorly in school, in the job market and in civic life."

Particularly striking, Gioia and Iyengar both said, are the declines that occur between age 9 and age 17 in reading proficiency scores and time spent reading.

Oh, heck, I give up tonight. The Google-AP deal explained, for those who don't/can't read.

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