One thing that pisses me off more than Iran’s “election”, more than Afghanistan’s “election” more than Apple and Steve Jobs, more than Republicans and more than TV networks cancelling high quality shows way too soon, is people talking about this idea that newspapers are going extinct. This is simply not the case.
Why do people think that? Well isn’t it obvious? The Internet is taking over, making newspapers obsolete (he writes sarcastically). Plus it was mentioned on The Simpsons. While it is true the main sources of revenue for newspapers, ie. full graphical and classified ads, are being taken over by Google and craigslist, this is merely a funds problem which can be rectified by coming up with a new business model, which I will not do here because I am not an expert on anything much less business, let others figure that one out. However I would like to say there was a time journalism wasn’t about the money, it was about doing a public good. It was considered a loss leader and a civic duty.
But what I will do is state why print, aka, newspapers, will continue to exist despite the Internet and debunk the idea that newspapers are obsolete.
I’d like to start by looking at a piece on HyperLocal 101. A website devoted to…hyperlocal stuff. I was directed to this site when I asked @scottbrooks what hyperlocal truly is. I’m still not sure what it is. Local but faster? I don’t care, I’m getting off topic. Anyway, I found this piece, entitled 50 Reasons Why Newspapers SUCK on the website’s front page. The title alone should show you the eloquence of the writer. The piece contain many pointless, immature, subjective and repetitive points regarding newspapers. But I am not going to simply bash this writer, because I know not all people making these arguments are this stupid, and some deserve an honest look.
One of the arguments is that by the time a paper is released, the news is already old. In today’s world of 24-hour news, it is easy to see why this would be the case. In an episode of Eli Stone a news story about unsafe working conditions at a local auto plant gets bumped by a “more compelling story.” When the editor is asked why the story was not run the next day he called the story “yesterday’s news.” Anyone with half a brain knows that makes no sense. Yesterday’s news is only yesterday’s news if people knew about it yesterday. Stories can continue to be relevant days, even weeks later, especially when people don’t know about it or more information is added.
Another point made is, newspapers are lame, only losers and old people read newspapers. I think we, as a society, need to get past the idea of what is cool and what is not. The idea of “coolness” is basically a result of our desire to get people to like us. We need to get past this, because what is cool is not necessarily smart. The most popular MP3 player is the Apple iPod, but it is not the best device, certainly not in terms of sound quality or versatility. So why don’t we stop looking at this idea of “cool” and start thinking critically.
Another point is websites keep archives, newspapers don’t. Most newspapers do keep archives available either on the web or at your local library, or both. If you know where to look, you can find it.
There is also this idea that newspapers kill trees, and that may make sense to some, until you realize that the trees that are used to make paper are trees that were planted for that purpose. An analogy I heard once before and I think works well is potatoes. We don’t complain that we are killing potatoes because we eat french fries, so why do we do the same for paper? The trees that are harvested are all replaced with new trees and the cycle continues. If it wasn’t for paper production, the land used for those tree farms would be used for something else, and I have no problem with trees.
Next there is the idea that major corporations are taking over newspapers and their independence is being threatened. This is a real concern but it is not isolated with newspapers and it exists in all news media, including television.
Newspapers are here to stay and one of the reasons is the type of content printed. When something is on a screen it’s harder to read it for a long period of time. Case in point, this piece, which would be better in print. I once heard one of my journalism professors talking about “web writing” where things follow a different style. Things are shorter, more concise. You want more information, more detail, go to paper.
Next, it is difficult to read the news on the bus if you only look online. For this, nothing beats paper and no one can debate that. The only threat in this department could be the e-book readers, but it will take a while before those devices become widespread, and you will also need a Wi-fi connection.
Another complaint about newspapers is the lack of comment threads, or how the nameless writer put it, “If I can’t have a voice in sharing my point of view, why would I be interested in reading your yours.” (I’m 95 per cent sure this guy is dyslexic.)
First off, they are not reporting on their opinions, but on the facts (unless it’s the opinion page). People forget, true journalism is unbiased. True journalists don’t report on their opinions. That stuff is segregated.
Secondly, if a writer is sharing his opinion it probably comes from 20 odd years of observing and reporting on events in either court, politics, industry or what have you, experience you do not have and it is pretty self centred to say that your opinion is just as valid as theirs.
Finally, you do have a voice, it’s called a letter to the editor, if you really want, you can make it an email, and a letter to the editor can often make it in the actual paper. How often do people read comment threads, I mean actually sit down and read them? I know I don’t, and even if I did, one comment is going to be drowned out by the remaining 5200 comments, so I won’t remember it. But if I read a letter to the editor, it might stand out a bit more because it could be one of only a few.
Which brings me to my final and most essential point. There is a prestige with newspapers. Let’s face it, today, any idiot with ten dollars can make a website and post stuff on it. You don’t need to be special, and when everyone does it, no one cares about yours. But when someone prints a newspaper, it shows they are serious, and they will be taken seriously. When I wrote for the Northern Ontario Business, I wrote five stories for the website and only one made it to print that month, a story on pesticides. That is the only story I really care about. Because I know out of all the stories I wrote, that one was good enough to make it to print. Another of my stories made it to print the following month (I just found out) and I am excited for that one too, not the least of which because it was the only tech story I have written, and it would hardly have been read if it was only on the website.
On a episode of Spark on CBC Radio One, Ben Terrett, the creator of a paper called “Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet 2008” talked about the relevance of newspapers. This graphic designer got some time on the tail end of a newspaper press and took several blog posts his friends made, without their permission I might add, and made them into a newspaper. His friends reaction? They liked it, in fact they loved it, it gave their work more legitimacy.
Print is most importantly the most efficient medium for dispensing information. Unlike television you can view it at your own pace. Absorbing the information at a rate you feel comfortable with, and if you miss something you can easily go back and reread it. While it is true you can do this with online video it is not as easy or natural. Also, for the reporters, they can put in less work and give you more information which is the true purpose of journalism.
When it comes to print journalism, I can say with confidence it will never die. We will always have the newspaper in some form, and while it is necessary for the industry to change it’s business models and soon, the newspaper itself will remain as a viable news medium for decades to come.