Should we even try to save Newspapers?

newspapers

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  • Hard-copy papers are always outdated.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.

ny post

  • 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.

man on blackberry

  • 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.

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8 responses to “Should we even try to save Newspapers?

  1. I’m going to have to completely disagree with you here.

    Papers are slaves to word counts? That’s a good thing. Instead of reading thousand word rants on the state of the newspaper industry from the perspective of a college student, readers get the newsworthy facts. What paper folded today? Why? How much money were they losing? Will they continue to provide content online? Where is the editor going? What are the trends within the industry? Those important questions are answered in the newspaper article, in a small enough package where the reader gets those points, without skimming through some irrelevant opinion – like, for example, newspapers should no longer be printed because they’re annoying to fold. The journalists who choose what to include where trained for many years as to what is newsworthy, and what is not.

    And that is a great argument against your next point. Newspaper stories are inherently contextualized by what facts are included, and where it is placed in the paper. Obviously a front page story’s context speaks for itself. Newspapers cater to informed citizens, who don’t need to have the basic facts “needed to digest a large story” in every smaller story about it. They read it everyday. If readers want context, simply flip to the “op-ed” page. Where instead of shouting opinions on every, and any, news item, the most important issuers are chosen and discussed.

    Your point that print newspapers limit the way readers can jump from story to story, is precisely why hard-copies are better for those citizens who wish to remain informed on all sides of an issue, rather than on Paris Hilton’s latest fling. Online readers read only what they want to read, meaning that their opinions and views are often never contradicted, but only reinforced in the stories they read. For example, a person whose stance is pro-Israel in the Middle East conflict, will choose only to read writers they know are pro isreal, or stories that make great points for why Israel is acting correctly in the conflict. You’re more likely to encounter, and at least skim, a story that opens your eyes to a new issue or another viewpoint if it appears on the same page as a story you’re already reading. In short, the next time you pick up a hard copy, notice how many more stories you invariably read, because something catches your eye. Online, you simply choose a headline without the text or the picture there to draw you in.

    Finally, while good advertising is essential to the success of newspaper those “boring ads” you refer to are a lot less intrusive and better-received by readers than your newfangled popups – and as for the environment, all but a handful of papers are printed on 100% recycled paper.

    Hard copy newspapers are crucial to maintaining an informed citizenry, uninterested in opinions spewed off by the masses. In fact, I don’t need to read others opinions if I’m presented with all the important facts – as a good newspaper will do – because I can just form one on my own.

    I bid you farewell, and good luck reading news on your phone while on an airplane, in a subway, or while eating a bowl of cereal (trust me, its a lot easier with a hard copy). On a personal note, comics are a lot easier to clip and put up on the refrigerator from a hard copy paper, and I can thank hard copy crosswords for getting me through many a boring chemistry lecture in high school.

    • andrewgothelf

      Let’s take a look at your arguments regarding my post. I find it very curious that you decided not to address my first and most salient point, which is that newspapers are outdated as soon as they are printed. By the time you get the newspaper, things have already changed in regards to the story you are reading. Some of the games you might want to check may have gone too late to be printed. This is something worth saving? Even if a story is not changing, generally the articles are giving you the who/what/when/where/why stuff 15-20 hours after it already happened. Most people know this already. And if they don’t, they probably aren’t all that interested in being an informed citizen, anyways.

      I agree that journalists are trained to pick out the newsworthy stuff, but often times there is a disconnect between the reporter and editor, which might lead to some things being cut from the story that the reporter wanted in. This problem is solved by putting everything online. Editors, reporters and readers alike are happy.

      You also did not address my point about newspapers being dead ends. Links and videos are a very important point of online content, and often allows people to learn more than they would ever learn in a traditional newspaper by investigating things themselves. This goes a long way in helping people take interest in the news. They can draw their own conclusions.

      I think you and I share a different opinion of context. I was referring to a combination of stories, blog posts, sidebars and videos that not only tell the facts of a story, but also discuss situations surrounding the event, including, but not limited to, history of the subject/event, other relevant articles and videos/slideshows highlighting other relevant events in history.

      I don’t agree that online users only read what they want to. If they go to the HuffingtonPost or another politically slanted website then yes, but if they go to a non-biased news site, which is the assumption here, they will see all of the headlines, just as they would in a newspaper. Only, it’s a lot easier for them to pick out the stories they think are important.

      Your claim about advertising is completely false. The ads are less intrusive because people don’t pay attention to them. It’s wasted money. I’m not necessarily referring to popups; rather, the new wave of advertising through facebook, myspace, twitter, etc. that is proving to be very effective.

      It also appears that you did not click on the link regarding the environmental impact of newspapers, because it’s significant.

      If you really want to put your comics on your fridge, print it out and use one piece of paper instead of 100.

  2. Without letting this carry on in the form of another huge comment. I want to make a few quick points.

    1) If i addressed every point, my comment would have been even LONGER, so yes I left some points out. Obviously, the internet is updated more regularly, that is certainly the advantage there. i contend that hard copy newspapers have more advantages overall though. However, the internet is updated so frequently that often facts aren’t checked as closely., or maybe inaccurate. That’s the trade-off.

    2) you assume readers want ALL the information, I assume they want the most relevant facts. that’s a toss-up, but if a significant number of readers agree with me then clearly there’s a place for newspapers.

    3) newspapers are dead ends in the sense that there aren’t links, understood. but often sidebars and graphs are included, i don’t click on every link (but i did click on your environment link long enough to read the first paragraph: “In fact, there are learned experts who contend that traditional newsprint ultimately comes out ahead”), and when I do i’m not going to read every word. the advantage of newspapers is the comprehensiveness in limited space. that’s more than enough for many readers.

    5) finally for the very reason you mentioned, newspaper ads are better. i can ignore them, if I pelase. Which once again means – advantage: reader

  3. deleted point 4 there, sorry those numbers don’t match up. like many web stories, i didn’t have enough time to check it, because i wanted to make sure it got out in time.

  4. A few things I noticed that I felt was worth bringing up:

    Gotti, your point about putting more of the story online than in the print version is true, and I did that with a few of my stories at the Sun Sentinel, but you forget that the general trend is not for longer content online, but abbreviated content — lists, countdowns, bullets. If the content is too long, the reader will go someplace else, just like in a newspaper.

    As for the reason the paper’s still exist — it’s the only way the newspaper companies are making money. Fewer people are reading the newspaper, yes, but newspaper companies have yet to figure out how to make online content profitable. If the Tribune Co. just eliminated the paper version of the news today, they’d cease to exist, because they couldn’t make enough money off of online ads to survive. Eventually all newspapers will have to charge for content, but that will have to happen before the printing presses fall silent.

    And Fus, judging by your comments, you seem to fall into that category of the “dying-but-still-reads-the-paper-with-coffee-in-the-morning” demographic. I love reading the comics too, every Sunday, and it’s not the same reading them online, but the reality is eventually online is all there will be. It’s going to suck, because no one has figured out how to make online as comfortable as the newspaper, but it’s inevitable. Keeping paper versions out there for the nostalgia is just not profitable, which is why they unfortunately have to go.

    But like I said, I think before paper versions go, companies must figure out how to sell the news online, instead of give it away as they do now.

  5. By the way, I just saw a local ABC News report (I’m in L.A.) about the death of Gidget, the 15-year-old chihuahua who was the spokesdog for Taco Bell.

    I think that puts this silly little discussion about newspapers in perspective. It was damn fine television reporting. I expect that out of you some day, Gotti.

  6. I don’t have a lot of really smart counterpoints, but I will say that reading newspapers online hurts my eyes and makes me tired. And, I agree with Fus that hardcopy crossword puzzles are awesome and have gotten me through many a class (and I cut out comics too, Fus!). They’re also a great way to act really busy when you see someone you don’t want to talk to coming into Norris. If we get rid of hard copy newspapers, what’s next? I have to start reading books on Kindle? Ugh, no thank you.

    P.S. Still your #1 fan.

  7. Interesting article regarding the ads that are featured online as opposed to in hard-copy newspapers: http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/aug2009/tc2009082_486167.htm

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