TRACK 71 TRANSCRIPT
Listen to part of a lecture in a journalism class. The professor has been discussing newspapers.
About 40 years ago, half of all Americans felt they’d be lost without a daily newspaper. But today, only one in ten Americans say they’d be lost without a paper. In fact, today, half of all Americans say they don’t need a newspaper at all. And so people in the newspaper industry are trying to figure out how they can get more people reading the newspaper more often. They’re trying to crack journalism’s riddle for the ages: what makes people read newspapers? OK, well, let me ask you—as a journalism stu¬dent, what do you think is the answer to this question? Elizabeth?
Um, I would probably try to Improve the content of the newspaper.
Better content. Hmm. You mean like well-written editorials and articles?
Well, I mean provide more interesting content, like, I would first try to find out what readers really want to read … and then put that into the paper.
Yes, in fact, not too long ago, there was an extensive study conducted to investigate what draws people to newspapers. Uh, they found out that there’s a clear, strong link between satisfaction with content and overall readership. Those newspapers that contained what the readers wanted most brought in the most readers. No big surprise there, right? So, what kind of content brings in readers? The study found that people- centered local news ranks at the top of the list… stories about ordinary people. For example, you could write about the experiences of those who were involved in a news story, and their friends and relatives … The vantage points would be those of ordinary people, not of police or other officials … OK? Now the study also showed that people want more stories about movies, TV, and weather, and fewer stories and photos about natural disasters and accidents … So, to get reader satisfaction, you need to select the right topics, and within those topics, the right news events or stories to cover. Yes, James?
It seems to me that a lot of what you just mentioned doesn’t line up with the principles of good journalism. Catering to readers’ tastes may improve overall readership but what about the social responsibilities that newspapers have? I mean, there are some topics that newspapers need to write about in order to serve the public interest. Those topics may not always be fun and interesting for the average reader, but it’s still the newspaper’s responsibility to make that information available to the public.
That’s a good point. You need a good mix of content. You can’t just rush towards an attractive topic and forget about the reporting role of newspapers. There’s a danger of going soft newspapers do have to perform their obligations to citizens. So what newspapers sometimes do is to combine serious journalism with a reader-friendly presentation. Um, let me give you an example: When the justice department opened an investigation on the local police—some pretty serious stuff that could be boring to some readers—well, one local newspaper ran a lead story on their front page, but they also simplified the format by including small breakout boxes that presented in a nutshell the highlights of the story. That way, they could report the serious stories they needed to report, and, and still hold their readers’ attention. OK? Uh, going back to the research on readership growth we were talking about… Uh, the most vital step of all, the study shows, may be making the paper easier to use. How can we make the paper “easier to use”? Well, it means stories need to include information, such as phone numbers, times, dates, addresses, Web sites and the like, so that readers can “go and do” things based on what they’ve read.
Professor Ellington? Um, when you said we need to make the paper “easier to use,” I thought you were gonna say something about use of graphics, colors, and stuff like that.
Well, I guess those things do help in a way, but it turned out that those contemporary touches, uh, such as more attractive designs, extensive use of color, and informational graphics matter much less than you’d expect. Surprising, isn’t it?
Yeah, it is … Um, how about service? Does the study say anything about improving service? I don’t think people are gonna subscribe if the paper doesn’t arrive, or shows up late …
Or shows up wet, which by the way, happened to me this morning. Oh, absolutely. Service affects readership. In fact, improving your service is much more likely to increase your readership than making changes in your editorial content… Not only on-time delivery in good condition, but also things like efficient billing, affordability, um … Yes?
They could also, like, increase the number of sites where they sell single copies.
Certainly that’s one way to improve service.
Listen to part of a lecture in a geology class.
Um, beginning in the late 1960s, geologists began to uncover some evidence of a rather surprising kind when they looked … um … at various places around the world. What they found out when they examined rocks from about a … the period from about 750 million years ago to about 580 million years ago, they found that… it seemed that glaciers covered the entire surface of the Earth—from pole to pole, including the tropics.
Um … how did they come to this astonishing conclusion? What was the evidence for this? Especially when glaciers today are found only at the poles … or in the mountains.
Well, uh … basically when glaciers grow and move they leave behind a distinctive deposit consisting of primarily … of, at least on the top level, of ground up little bits of rock … almost… they almost look like rocks that have been deposited by streams, if you’ve ever seen those. And that’s caused because, although the glacier is ice, it is actually flowing very slowly and as it moves it grinds the top layer of rock, it breaks off pieces and carries them away. So when you have glaciation you have a distinctive pattern of these pieces of rock which are called “erratics.”
Erratics are rocks … they’re the stones that are often carried long distances by glaciers.
So, in the 1960s and onward up through the 1990s, we keep finding evidence for gla¬ciation, no matter what the latitude … even in tropical latitudes. Now, today there are glaciers in the tropics but only at very high elevations. But 750 million years ago, apparently there were glaciers even at sea level in the tropics.
How could this have happened?
Well, first… the growth of glaciers, uh, benefits, if you will, from a kind of a positive feedback loop called the “ice-albedo effect.”
With the ice-albedo effect, glaciers—’cause they’re white—reflect light and heat more … much more than does liquid water… or soil and rock, which are dark and absorb heat. So, the more glaciers there are, the more heat is reflected, so the climate gets cooler, and glaciers grow even more.
However… normally, on a global scale, there is a major process that functions to curb the growth of glaciers. And, that process involves carbon dioxide.
Now, we’re all familiar with the notion that carbon dioxide is what we call a “greenhouse gas.” The more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the more heat the atmosphere retains. That’s what a greenhouse gas does. So, the greenhouse-gas effect is kinda the opposite of the albedo effect.
Um … now as it happens … when silicate rocks, which is a very common class of rock, when they’re exposed to the air and to normal weathering, they erode. Carbon dioxide is attracted to these eroding rocks and binds to them, forming calcium carbonate.
Calcium carbonate is eventually washed into the ocean where it settles to the bottom. This process, this forming of calcium carbonate, has the effect of sucking the carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it at the bottom of the ocean.
Now, follow me here. The process that’s sucking carbon dioxide out of the air, keeping the greenhouse gas levels low, cannot happen if the rock is covered with ice.
So, while glaciers reflect light and heat… cooling the Earth, they at the same time cover rocks so there’s less calcium carbonate formed .. . which leaves more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Higher levels of carbon dioxide keep the atmosphere warm … which slows the growth of glaciers. So, it’s a balance, and the glacier growth remains pretty much under control.
Now, what happened 750 million years ago to upset that balance? It seems a relatively simple explanation actually …750 million years ago … all the major continents are rocky, bare, and pretty much lined up along the equator; they hadn’t yet moved to where they are today. So, what happened was, perhaps a slight cooling of … the very slight and temporary cooling of the Sun—which still happens from time to time—and the Earth starts to cool, the ice starts to spread on the oceans … starting at the poles.
Now, by the time the ice reaches about two-thirds of the way to the equator, it’s too late.
See … because the continents are the last things to be covered by glaciers, they continue weathering … the rocks keep eroding and the carbon dioxide levels keep falling … So, the ice-albedo effect from the glaciers is increasing in strength while the atmosphere continues to lose its ability to retain heat making glacier growth unstoppable. Now you have what’s called a “runaway freeze.” And for perhaps as long as 50 million years, possibly with some interludes, the Earth was frozen from pole to pole, like a giant snowball.