Newspapers are not dead or dying. They just have a new home. The digital age allows journalists to disseminate up-to-the-minute information faster, and in more ways, than was even conceivable as little as a quarter century to go. This transition will certainly require some adjustments, but in the end, “newspapers” will keep the name, ditch the paper, and thrive as your online sources for news and information. Here are five reasons that reading that news on your computer is better than doing it the old fashioned way
I have always thought that the people who can do origami are very skilled and very cool. The ability to take little colored pieces of paper and fold them into miniature masterpieces is an art. Unfortunately, it’s an art that I am not skilled at. Try as I might, I can never quite manage to get the Sunday paper to bend just right. I know that there are talented paper-folding experts out there, but my newspapers always end up looking like a six-year-old’s bungled attempt at building a fort.
Let’s face it – newspapers are unwieldy. A veritable Rubik’s Cube of a publication, in contrast to books or magazines, the morning paper is an unwelcome exercise in ruffled pages and frustration. Just a couple fully folded out sections reach a pretty good wingspan. Columns are inconveniently placed so that they straddle the fold, causing readers to have to flip the damn thing just to catch the conclusion of that sentence. Invariably the reader is left with flimsy paper, stubborn creases, and unyielding folds. Who needs them? Give me the smooth sailing of a couple of clicks and the scroll wheel. No assembly required.
This is the everlasting companion to the problem of folding. You’re reading an article; you’re interested in the story, and you’re slowly working your way to the bottom of the page. Then, all of a sudden, you see those four little words that make you want to just toss the whole paper aside. “Continued on page C8.” Your beloved train of thought is officially destined to go off the track in a derailment that consists of folding, flipping, and looking through a sea of words to find the follow up to the article you were reading hereto.
Now I understand why newspapers do things this way. The idea is to entice you on the front page and incentivize you to dig deeper into the paper. It makes sense from a business perspective; it’s just annoying as hell. I don’t want my digestion of the story to be interrupted halfway through. I don’t want to have to engage in another round of folding just to finish what I already started reading. I don’t want to have to flip the pages back and forth like I’m reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book. I don’t want to have to try to hold my place to go back to read the other articles that have caught my eye, only to start the whole process over again. Online articles give you the whole story, right there in one piece. At most, there is the occasional requirement that you click over to page two for longer stories. No flipping, no fuss, and no muss, the way reading ought to be. In the end, it’s faster, simpler, and far less frustrating.
3. Online News is Current
When you go to read the newspaper, you’re trying to learn about the latest developments. Sure, for most news items, the developments between the morning and the afternoon are probably not too significant, but why get less than the full story? What if you just received word about breaking developments like that Osama Bin Laden has been killed, or that Anthony Weiner is resigning, or that some studies suggest that chocolate may be better for you than once thought?
You want the details right now. You don’t want to have to deal with Wolf Blitzer hemming and hawing and cutting to fancy computerized graphics before getting to the part of the story you’re interested in. You don’t want to have to wait until your local radio station is done throwing the topic to a trio of talking heads. Moreover, your dead tree newspaper is totally and completely useless in the midst of this breaking news. Only the online article allows you to cut the crap and shoot right to the important details of the story, right then and there. Sure, the next morning’s paper will have the story, but by then it will be old news. When you want the news, and you want it when it happens, you have to log on.
2. Multiple Sources
One of the best things that digital distribution did for music is allow the consumer to buy individual songs rather than having to buy whole albums. The presence of newspapers on the internet essentially permits the same sort of thing when it comes to news. You can read the national coverage from the New York Times, the international coverage from the Washington Post, the business news from the Wall Street Journal, and the sports news from Sports Illustrated, all without having to purchase complete editions of four separate publications. To boot, you can reach all these sources without having to scavenge through horoscopes, saccharine human interest stories, and other useless filler. The internet allows your average reader to enjoy a buffet of news choices rather than the prescribed combo meal.
What’s more, news aggregator sites like Google News help to not only deliver the cream of the crop, but to identify what stories are commanding readers’ attention. This service goes beyond streamlining the process of picking out articles; it also helps to give you a diversity of viewpoints. If you think the NYT leans a little to the left and WSJ leans a little to the right, you can read coverage from both and reach your own conclusions about what lies in between. As with music, consumers now have much greater freedom to pick and choose what they’re interested in, rather than being forced to accept one package or another.
1. Multimedia Additions
Traditional newspaper articles are confined to the four corners of the page. You get a few paragraphs of description, and if you’re lucky, a black and white photograph to add some illustration to the story. Print is not only a costly medium, but a static one. Ink isn’t cheap, full color printing is costly, and the best use anyone can come up with for audio married to print are those annoying talking greeting cards.
Online articles suffer from no such limitations. They can describe the turmoil of a war torn country, and then show you dozens of full-color photographs to drive the point home. They can present a review of a band’s latest offering and then allow you to listen to the title track. They can give you all the analysis of a world leader’s speech and then show you a video of its highlights, given in the speaker’s own words. What’s more, this sort of addition is not limited to multimedia. Newspapers can report and discuss the latest court ruling and then link you to the full opinion. They can create a webpage devoted to one topic of interest, letting you look through that newspaper’s entire coverage on a particular issue. Instead of just mentioning where the newspaper received its information from, they can send you right to the source. The possibilities are limitless, and it’s just one more way that digital text is leaving the printed word in the dust. Count me in.