I’ve devoted more than a few lines in this blog to discussing the state of the newspaper industry, and have spent time thinking about how a once proud, now dying industry can be resuscitated. But I have yet to articulate my thoughts on whether the newspaper industry is even worth saving. The answer, in my opinion, is no.
To be clear, the following will be reasoning for not saving hard-copy newspapers. I have no problem with newspapers existing online; however, unless they decide to start charging for online content, papers will be unable to survive in an online-only format.
Here are my reasons for allowing hard-copy newspapers to fade away:
- Hard-copy papers are always outdated. By the time you read a newspaper in the morning, you are generally reading a story that had been written at least 5 or 6 hours earlier, and sometimes even more. Things change, particularly with big, breaking news stories. Why does anyone need to read old news on a piece of paper when they can get up-to-the-minute coverage of the same story online or on their phone? The answer: they don’t.
- Papers are slaves to the word count and copy space. Since a broadsheet is a finite thing, journalists have to limit the content in their stories to fit within the design of the page. This means they are generally unable to use all of the information obtained in reporting on a story. While this might seem like a good thing for the reader, who is then given a version of the story highlighting the most important details (often the role of the journalist), it also puts power and trust in the news judgment of a) the reporter and b) any editors who have a chance to tinker with the story. But this might lead to the omission of details that readers want to know. So why not use the unlimited space of the online world to include everything that’s important in a story, allowing the reader to take away the most important details?
- The limited space in newspapers also prevents the necessary contextualizing that big stories require. Readers are inherently curious about the opinion of journalists, which is often found in small doses on blogs (without compromising objectivity, of course). These blogs might make for good post-scripts on a story or might allow the writer to put a story into perspective. These things are rarely possible in newspapers because of the need to save space for advertisements and pictures. A lack of context for big stories won’t give readers the tools they need to properly digest and understand what is happening in the world around them (television newscasts struggle with this as well). But having an online story, plus links to blogs and other sidebars to help the reader put the story in perspective, makes infinitely more sense to me.
- Speaking of links, newspaper stories are dead end copy. There is nowhere for the reader to jump to from a story, except the next story on the page. They can’t find out more information about a person, organization or event in a newspaper instantly, for the obvious reason that newspapers can’t link to the massive online database that is the Internet. Instead, those reading newspapers are stuck with what’s given to them, without the ability to dig deeper into a story on their own.
- Newspapers are clumsy and difficult to maneuver. Instead of using simple tools such as tabs and search bars, newspapers require folding and waste the readers’ time perusing for a desired story. Tabloid papers are a little easier to navigate than broadsheets, but the stories in tabloid-style newspapers are generally even shorter and less in-depth. It’s very annoying to sit on a train or bus next to someone struggling to fold over a big newspaper, making noise and brushing the paper against you. Maybe that’s not a huge concern for some, but I can’t stand it. Though, I have a lower tolerance for annoying things than a lot of people.
- Hard-copy papers make revenue based on flat, boring, non-interactive advertising. This is the type of advertising that is ignored in today’s digital world, particularly by the demographic that these advertisers are trying to reach. Why would companies choose to advertise in boring print when they can use flashy videos and games in the online world? Newspapers were slow to come around to this realization, but advertisers are starting to catch on, as evidenced by research in social media advertising budgets. Brands don’t want to try to shape their message through old-world means, so they are pulling out of newspapers. Thus, if newspapers do collapse, the companies will be no worse the wear.
- Though there have been no conclusive studies done on the environmental impact of newspapers vs. their online counterparts, it seems like common sense to me. If you don’t print off millions of sheets of paper every morning for all of the world’s daily newspapers, you’re going to save a ton of trees. And I doubt that web traffic on a lot of these news sites will increase enough to offset the environmental gains with the added energy needed to host the extra web hits.
- The more pervasive PDA’s and smart phones become, the more on-the-go society will become. Whether or not this is a trend with which you are comfortable, the fact is that people, in ever growing numbers, are going to get their news on the train, in their car, while walking in the park or at their kids’ soccer games. The idea of a bulky newspaper, printed every morning without the ability to update itself, seems completely incompatible with this trend. So why continue to fight the quickening current of news on-the-fly by stubbornly printing thousands and thousands of newspapers each day, that within an hour of printing are already grossly outdated?
The only good reason I can think of for keeping hard-copied newspapers is for tradition purposes. Some people (mostly of an older generation) like the feeling of a newspaper in their hands, and enjoy reading their news over breakfast or on the train. To those people, I say: tough break. Some traditions need to be let go of in the name of progress. I honestly believe that the day of the hard-copy paper is almost over, with its sun set to fully shine on the digital media world.
I’m curious to hear what you think. Should newspapers go by the wayside, or is there a compelling reason to keep printing off the daily copies? Leave a comment below.