Publishing News: Our brains on screens

In screens vs paper, paper may have an edge; Churnalism US launches; and a chef takes cookbook publishing matters into his own hands.

Digital vs paper: ink on paper may still have the advantage

In a recent edition of Scientific American, Ferris Jabr took a look at how technology is affecting the way we read and the differences between reading on screens and reading on paper. Jabr says that though many studies have been conducted across many fields since the 1980s, the matter of digital versus paper is far from settled. Still, he notes, there is compelling “evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports” that shows a notable difference in the tactile experience of reading on screens versus paper that leads to navigational difficulties when reading lengthy texts, which may in turn have negative effects on comprehension. There’s also evidence, he says, that reading on screens may be more taxing on our mental resources, making retention a bit more difficult.

Jabr delves into the science behind how our brains process written language and highlights a physical issue with reading on screens:

“Although e-readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad re-create pagination — sometimes complete with page numbers, headers and illustrations — the screen only displays a single virtual page: it is there and then it is gone. Instead of hiking the trail yourself, the trees, rocks and moss move past you in flashes with no trace of what came before and no way to see what lies ahead.”

Abigail Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge in England and co-author of The Myth of the Paperless Office told Jabr, “The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized. … I don’t think e-book manufacturers have thought enough about how you might visualize where you are in a book.”

Jabr takes an in-depth look at several studies that explore the implications of interfering with intuitive navigation of text and inhibiting people from “mapping the journey in their minds.” Though he notes that some types of writing, such as online news articles, web comics, tap essays and data journalism projects, benefit from or even require the digital screen, he concludes that “[w]hen it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage.” You can read his full feature piece at Scientific American.

In related news, The Guardian’s Alison Flood took a look at ebook anxieties arising from the digital revolution. She explores questions emerging in the digital era, from whether or not an ebook can be sold “used” to repercussions of authors being able to endlessly update their work post publication to the fact that page numbers — if they even exist — differ from device to device.

Robert Darnton, scholar, author and Harvard University librarian, called the situation “grave,” pointing out to Flood that “[i]f you’re citing a digital version of a book, often you can’t cite the pages.” He also said that though documents have historically been “slippery,” noting there’s no definitive text of King Lear, the fact that authors can easily make changes to published works means “you take a problem like that, multiply it by 1,000, and that is the world we are in.” You can read Flood’s full piece at The Guardian.

Sunlight Foundation unveils Churnalism US

The Sunlight Foundation unveiled a new Churnalism US tool this week that helps uncover plagiarism of press releases — where instead of writing original copy, a reporter simply revises a press release, or in some cases publishes it verbatim. Rebecca Rosen reports at The Atlantic that the tool “will scan any text (a news article, e.g.) and compare it with a corpus of press releases and Wikipedia entries. If it finds similar language, you’ll get a notification of a detected ‘churn’ and you’ll be able to take a look at the two sources side by side.” She says it will also compare Wikipedia articles against corporate press releases.

Jonathan Gitlin reports at ArsTechnica that the Sunlight Foundation created its database of press releases “from clearing houses like EurekAlert and MarketWire as well as from RSS feeds that capture PR from Fortune 500 companies, important non-profits and think tanks, trade organizations, Congressional offices, and also Wikipedia.” He explains that users have several options to execute a search: enter a URL, copy and paste blocks of text, or use a browser extension. He notes that the tool not only will will identify straight copying of text, but can also “highlight cases where quotes have been selectively edited or used without context.”

You can learn more about the Churnalism tool and how it works in following video:

Building a cookbook in the digital age

In a feature piece at Medium, Chef John Sundstrom detailed his experience writing his recently published cookbook, Lark — Cooking Against the Grain. He teamed up with former chef and now programmer and web developer Jared Stoneberg, and the two decided to take control of the content creation and formed their own production company to produce the book in print and app formats. Sundstrom explains why they opted for the dual media approach:

“Producing both formats simultaneously was an approach we hadn’t seen before. It allows users to enjoy the tactile pleasures of the print book while making their menu plans in comfort, and then, when ready, to bring their tablets with them to the market, check off their shopping lists as they go, and share the results with friends and family.”

The pair gathered a team of 10 people from a variety of disciplines to cover their bases, including: a photographer, videographer, book and graphic designer, app designer, programmers, recipe co-writer and social media manager. Observing that the traditional publishing model prevented the opportunity to involve a cookbook’s potential audience during its creation and development, Sundstrom and Stoneberg chose to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the book to optimize audience engagement from creation through publication.

The group met their funding goal in 10 days and concluded that from beginning to end, they produced the cookbook and its app twice as fast as they could have using the traditional publishing model. You can read Sundstrom’s complete account at Medium.

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