My newspaper’s bigger than your internet :P

I always enjoy a good discussion when it comes to publishing.  And nothing is more exciting than when I come across someone who’s point of view seems oddly slanted beyond reason.  I ran across this list of 10 reasons why newspapers are of lasting value. (Full Disclosure:  I work as an independent contractor for the same parent company).  The article itself online is behind a pay wall, so if you want to read it, you have to pay up.  Otherwise, I’d like to refute points 1-9 while agreeing with point 10.  (By the way, I apologize for the tongue-sticking-out icon I stuck in the headline.  It’s just that I couldn’t write that line without imagining a 10-year-old kid sticking his tongue out.  Juvenile, I know.)

1.  Newspapers are really old.  And traditional.

Yes, print publishing has been around for hundreds of years, much of that time as the one and only way to communicate with the public.  But just because something’s been around a long time doesn’t necessarily argue for its future.  And just because something’s been around long enough to be a tradition, doesn’t mean we should all pay blind subservience to it, either.  Take “traditional marriage” for instance.  Traditionally, marriage was a social contract by which fathers sold their daughter’s hand for the best dowry, or to cement alliances between particular families.  Somehow, I don’t think that method would work so well in the 21st century.

2.  Newspapers are great for mass communicatin’

Sure, reaching tens or even hundreds of thousands of people in print was a great tool, for its time.  But the internet allows for nearly infinite reach.  And with none of those pesky production and distribution costs to bog things down.  With a newspaper, you can only reach as many people as copies you print.  No such limit on the web.

3.  There’s no scrolling, clicking and pop-ups in the paper

True, but there’s also no bundle of circulars falling all over floor out of your computer.  Plus, I still get to read left to right online, and pop ups might be a problem if not for the pop-up blocker in my (and everyone else’s) web browser.

4.  There’s no hardware or electricity needed to read the paper

Again, technically true, but you also don’t need to find ways to dispose of reams of newsprint when all you have to do is close your browser.  After all, there’s only so many crabs we can eat or dishes to wrap.

5.  Newspapers travel well

Yes, they do fold up and go with you, but so does an iPhone, Blackberry or any number of other wirelessly-connected portable devices.  And you can read them in the dark.  Plus,  have you ever tried to crack open a full broadsheet newspaper sitting on a crowded bus?

6.  Newspapers are thoughtful, once a day

The internet provides a virtually endless array of information that people can be thoughtful and analyze in the comments section immediately after reading it.  Or blog about it later, sent out on an RSS feed to twitter, or any number of aggregators where they can be thoughtful and analytical with hundreds or other people all day long, seven days a week.  With a newspaper, your thoughtful letter to the editor might or might not get printed a week after the fact.

7.  Newspapers are a morning routine

Much like tradition, routine for routine’s sake isn’t necessarily something to be celebrated.  I’m sure some people’s morning routines included firing up a smoke right out of bed.  Does that mean they shouldn’t quit because its a comfortable routine?  Plus, I’ve actually done paying publishing work on my lap top while curled up in my recliner with a nice cup of coffee.  And no ink stains on my fingers.

8.  Newspapers provide structure

In very simplistic ways, sure.  But on the net, you can set up any number of specialized feeds on virtually any topic you desire, and have it all waiting for you as soon as you click on your web browser.  And as things change over the course of the day, the subject matter adapts and grows with it.  That newspaper is the same at 6 p.m. as it was at 6 a.m.  It’s possible to scan and seek out content more specialized to your interests quicker and more efficiently than ever before.  Plus, we don’t have to have all five sections of the paper getting in the way if we only want to read three of them.

9.  Newspapers are adaptable

Wow.  I can write 5,000 words in the next ten minutes on why this is nonsense.  The very core problem with the industry today is precisely that newspapers haven’t been adaptable, willing or otherwise.  Special sections and such are nice and all, but by the time one gets put together and hits the streets, that big event has been covered, recovered, dissected, analyzed, commented on, blogged about online and everyone’s already moved on to the next big event.  But, I guess commemorative pages are nice.  Quaint.

10.  Newspapers are tangible, physical things

This one, I agree with.  Sort of.  True, scrapbooking screen shots doesn’t have quite the impact of newspaper clippings to give the event a sense of place and history.  The act of reading a book or newspaper does have a very real tactile feeling to it that, no matter how great or on-demand the information is, no computer can match.  But as far as sharing great moments in your life with friends and family, ever heard of Facebook?

Contrary to what the above might imply, I’m a big fan of print publishing.  I’m a firm believer that it does have a future, and a sustained one, at least for a good while yet.  But this kind of stuff doesn’t help the cause.  Arguing that newspapers are superior to the internet is like arguing that walking everywhere  is better than driving.  It isn’t an issue of which side is superior, they’re just different.  Newspapers appeal to a variety of feelings in us, some of it nostalgic, some of it very practical.  The internet also appeals to us, in some ways the excitement of the new and unknown, the on-demand nature of it, the control we have as readers.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for both.  Walking is a healthy activity, and not driving cuts down on exhaust emissions.  But sometimes, you just have to be someplace.

If the internet information revolution has taught us anything, it’s that there are infinite possibilities to the world, and people don’t want or need to be boxed into small corners with limited choices.  We as readers are capable of so much more.  And we, as publishers, can use both to appeal to those feelings in each of us.  Demonizing one side or the other is a lost cause.  Only together do we stand a chance to see a future.

Published in: on October 25, 2009 at 6:12 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Article continues on Watershed Chronicle […]

  2. I agree with most of what you had to say. There may still be a place for newspapers on a local level. They will have to make some major changes to survive.

    The History Man

    • Charlie:

      On your point about perhaps there will be a place for newspapers on the local level, I’ll add a few of my observations.

      The way the publishers have managed and continue to manage these once extremely valuable holdings, it’s almost as if they want to rush the decline of their once valued products. (That’s valued in terms of real dollars of the asset and valued by subscribers.)

      These old legacy executives competed (and not much of that) in an era when they controlled the news in underserved media markets, since they were the only real outlet for news and for advertising. The profits in those days were enormous and there wasn’t much to do except collect the profit.

      That’s all changed now that most local news is a commodity, being moved over multiple platforms and streams.

      If they wanted to maintain a competitive posture in a local market, they’d do more than serve up commodity type news. But they continue cutting back on that too, reducing commodity type local news in places that have few resources to get out and cover the beat. That’s not a way to compete.

      I’m not sure what the market that is undergoing a revolution will look like in say 10 years. But someone will figure out that there’s a market for quality, insightful local news and start providing it at a profit. It’s just a question right now of where that will come from. Perhaps the legacy executives will start building on the strengths they have and start delivering a strong product. Think if they’d leveraged those five years ago, where they’d stand now.

      We’ll see.

  3. Dan:

    That piece by the editor of the Star Democrat, what’s one to say in response to that. Hmmm!

    As a life long seeker of insightful information, I developed a serious newspaper reading habit more than 40 years ago. For practically all of my adult life I’d have a stack of dailies and locals at hand to provide original, quality reading material. The scope and depth of the original reporting found on those pages, locally and nationally, kept me informed and provided a range of opinions for my consideration. It was an important part of my daily routine for one subscriber.

    Somewhere in the past decade or so, executives managing those legacy media enterprises have managed to kill off my serious print newspaper reading habit. Those senior leaders in the corporate offices, locally and nationally, had to work hard to accomlish that from a die hard reader, but they’ve almost completely accomlished the process.

    Those handsomely paid execs, the ones charged with providing vision and leadership for a changing enterprise, did it in several ways as they bumbled their way through changing habits, time, technology and a radically different economy. They never really got ahead of any of those curves or fully appreciated what was happening, until it was too late.

    While it’s complex and there are many variables associated with the decline of print, one of the largest for me is this. The disruption in my habit came about primarily because the papers pulled back in critical news coverage. Just visit the Cecil Co Public Library and ask someone to let you page through those weekly editions in the 1960s or 1970s and you will see exactly what I mean. They’re crammed full of interesting local, relevant material, the type that caused me to sit down and read the paper carefully and to reflect on its content. Oh, BTW, I’d also see the advertisements. Too when I say critical papers I mean exactly. You can worry about providing more infomercial space for politicians. You have to dig into stories and ask challenging questions. A little responsible digging, a little responsbile controversey, it’s all good for readership. It doesn’t hurt either to have politicians worry that mass media might ask tough questions.

    But that has faded with time as those executives pulled back on support for the editorial department and forgot to cover the local beat.

    Me I’d have strengthened my local coverage and done a little digging, that’s what I would’ve done to compete with these new outlets.

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