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Dec. 15, 2008, 6:04 p.m.

More Zuckerman on serendipity

Ethan Zuckerman — the gentleman we posted about earlier today — has written a smart piece for the next issue of Nieman Reports on the importance of serendipity in news consumption. As he puts it:

The number of choices an engaged citizen has for reading or watching news has exploded in recent years, and this increase may, paradoxically, mean we encounter less challenging news, and fewer foreign viewpoints, than we used to…

Serendipity is tricky to engineer. It’s difficult to provide information that’s both surprising and relates to a reader’s unstated interests. Librarians engineer serendipity in open stacks by organizing books by topic, allowing eyes to stray from the requested volume to related ones. Retailers hope to increase purchasing by making it easy to stumble upon items you were surprised to remember you “needed” — the beer display at the end of the diaper aisle is an attempt to create a serendipity for the father sent to the store for baby supplies.

For me, the dozens of bloggers I follow in my RSS reader more than fill my daily serendipity quotient — they are a constant source of interesting surprises my local paper just can’t match. That said, I’m fully aware 99.9 percent of the world doesn’t share my media consumption patterns, and for those folks the curated front page has historically been a serendipity machine.

It’s an interesting read. You can download a PDF of his piece here, or look for it in the winter issue of Nieman Reports.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email (joshua_benton@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     Dec. 15, 2008, 6:04 p.m.
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