There is a precipitous drop in printed newspaper readership. Digital media delivers the same information more quickly, more efficiently and of course in an interactive manner that paper can’t touch. But touch is an important distinction. You can touch a newspaper. How many of us love to wake up Sunday morning and reach for a cup of coffee, the paper and settle into a comfy chair? It’s been a ritual for decades for people all over the world.
There’s something tactile and tangible about opening a newspaper and hearing that familiar crinkle sound, and folding it again and again to find the most interesting articles. A form of cerebral origami. It takes hundreds of people to create, print and deliver a newspaper to your home everyday. Holding a paper reminds us of that collective toil and helps give more weight to the difficult task of writing to inform and entertain.
Making a great paper is expensive and requires great skill. Creating a blog or obtaining a web address and then merrily type on your keyboard (just like I’m doing now) is easy. We came to rely on journalism ethics and reporting. There was a confidence when you “read it in the paper.” Much more so than when you type a term into Google and out pours 9,000 results. Who wrote all that stuff? Can I trust it?
Growing up we actually got the paper twice a day. The morning version and then an evening edition. That’s almost unbelievable to me now and I lived through it. When The New York Times began their online version of the paper, they held a reader’s contest to select their online news tag line. Off line it was “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The prize was the same nominal amount that was awarded when they held the identical contest for the newspaper. The winning entry urged the Times to keep the same tag line, and they did. It was an important nod to preserving integrity and a high level of quality.
As any reader of this blog knows, I get The New York Times delivered to my driveway each and everyday. And I never let even one edition find its way to the recycle bin until I’ve gone through it page by page. Sometimes I have two or three weeks worth piled up. It doesn’t matter. I simply stage a reading marathon until I’m finished. It was a habit that I learned from my parents, and I am hoping to pass it down to my children. But the fact that many cities are losing their papers, means that storied tradition could be lost. No more clipping articles and pasting them in a scrapbook as memories for future generations to leaf through down the road.
Newspapers have been deeply embedded in our society for so long, but it seems inevitable that it will be transformed into digital files on a hard drive. So if that’s what is coming, then we should focus on the future. The obvious place to start is with the interactive nature of online newspapers. Web 2.0 advances have taken this to new levels observed last year in this space here. Digital mediums are much more easily searched, don’t require trees to make them, don’t need to be physically delivered, take up almost no physical storage space and perhaps most importantly are becoming social networks.
These social aspects may have the most profound effect on this media transformation. We can read an article online and post our own personal reaction. They can be social bookmarked to dozens of sites and converted to tiny URLs and proliferated through Twitter. You can even get email responses from the journalist if your timing is right and your question compelling. If an error is made in a story, it can be corrected on the fly and the next reader will see the proper version. This has already become a standard practice at the Times.
So what is to come of the traditional paper? It might find itself fitting into a format that is more like a Sunday magazine to ease people away from the daily edition. But this will most likely be a short lived phase, followed by complete extinction for most of the country. I do believe that in large metropolitan cities the paper will still be printed and remain a viable medium. But don’t be surprised to open the door of your hotel room and not find a copy of the USA Today at your feet.