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.