Sunday, May 06, 2007

Paper Is A Great Medium?

It seems only fair since I linked to The Denver Post earlier this week to also blog about an article in Denver's other paper, the Rocky Mountain News. This article is actually a column from John Temple, who is editor and publisher of the paper. (He also has a blog, but he hasn't posted since January.)

The Rocky Mountain News has been doing some interesting experiments with their use of the web (including YourHub), and Temple writes about it fairly frequently and transparently. I think they are really trying to get their collective heads around how best to use the Internet - and of course how to stay solvent - so I'm not trying to be critical of their overall efforts. But this paragraph in his column made me stop and think.
. . . reporting a story online while it breaks doesn't weaken coverage in the newspaper. If anything, it actually strengthens it. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, by writing about events as they happen and as new details emerge, we learn how to shape more thoughtful packages for print. The Web is a great medium for breaking news. That's where you should turn to us to find out the latest. The paper by definition can't be real-time. It's at best a few hours old. But the paper is a great medium for analysis, perspective, depth and memorable storytelling, both visual and in words.
I pretty much agree with all of this. But that last sentence really makes me wonder,
But the paper is a great medium for analysis, perspective, depth and memorable storytelling, both visual and in words.
While that certainly is often true, I don't see where the "paper" part is critical to that sentence. Because can't they offer "analysis, perspective, depth and memorable storytelling" online, and actually offer more of it? With links to even more information? And then when you throw in "visual," doesn't the web offer much more opportunity, "space", and medium choices to the mix? To a larger audience? With more timely, convenient, economical, and environmentally-friendly delivery? And when you throw in blogs or other Web 2.0 tools, doesn't it offer the possibility of much more interaction than the print version? Then toss in search and pretty much unlimited archive capability, and doesn't that sentence strike you as perhaps missing the mark just a bit?

I know that many folks still prefer to read a newspaper in print rather than online. In fact, when I read a newspaper (which I do less and less of, at least in the traditional print sense), so do I. And the portability and readability of paper still triumphs technology for most people. But I think the technology will advance sufficiently in the next 7 to 10 years that that may no longer be the case. So I found it interesting that in an article about the changes they were making, and specifically about how they were trying to better integrate the web into their work, that the "justification" if you will of the value of the print edition wasn't really much of a justification (at least to me). In fact, it could've just as easily been a "justification" for an announcement that they were ceasing publication of the print edition altogether and moving to just an online version.

So, ignore the "I prefer to read it in print rather than online" issue for the moment (since I'm focusing more on what he decided to include in his column, and he didn't include that). Please read the entire column first to get the big picture of what he's saying, then what are your thoughts - does this strike you the same way as it did me?


  1. One of my first reading experiences as a child was sitting on Dad's lap as he read the "Star Ledger" (New Jersey's #1 Newspaper) in the morning. That helped foster my life-long love of reading and current events, long before there was a computer in the house.

    While I agree with you that the web provides more extension and connection of news as well as alacrity that a newspaper doesn't provide, I can't deny the "non-measurable" joys of a print newspaper. They include the morning routine of walking out to my driveway to retrieve it, perusing headlines and sports scores while I cook and eat breakfast, the tactile piece of holding a physical piece of reading material, and my enjoyment of local news, comics, the crosswords...and my daughter sitting on my lap as I read the paper. I don't think viewing the New York Times on my laptop would be as fun or as memorable.

  2. Barry, I agree, but who said anything about a laptop? I think there's a good chance we'll have a an ereader type device within the next 10 years or so that will provide the same tactile experience as a print newspaper. (Well, actually better, because the ink won't rub off, the paper won't get wet in the driveway, etc.).

    But, again, I don't want to focus on the "I prefer to read it in print, not online" since the editor and publisher of the paper chose not to mention that in his column. He simply said that the paper (meaning the print version) was a great medium for those things. That's what I'd like to think about some more.

  3. They have had financial problems and are moving people around, maybe laying some off.

    Printed paper is still a bigger source of advertising revenue than digital media.

    As long as this remains, there is a place for print.

  4. Kurt sorry but you are turning things around.

    Selling ads doesn't make the papers exist longer, having readers does. And readers are leaving.

    Ads do not have a future in the way they are presented today. Ads will also change dramatically and print will not be able to measure those criteria.

    Print ends when people stop reading it.

  5. "...can't [online] actually offer more of it?"

    Paper per force requires the writer to be concise, to be clear and tidy. Analysis, Perspective, Commentary are worthwhile, of utility, when they have been thought through, I think.

    Compared to terabytes of low-cost Intel memory chips, the 10 broadsheet Newspaper can give a much better informational and communication bang for the buck (to the reader, and even more to the advertiser).

  6. Padmanabha – I agree that paper can help a writer to be concise and think through their commentary, I just don’t see a ton of evidence that it does on a day-to-day basis in our newspapers. Similarly, just because the unlimited space of the web allows for long-winded, rambling commentary, doesn’t mean that articles have to be long-winded and rambling. They can be just as well-written as the print version, and link to a multitude of associated resources (including multi-media resources) that the print resources can’t (or won’t). To me that seems to be once again blaming the medium for the faults of the writer.

    As far as advertising, I think online wins hands-down because of its ability to target the advertising. Newspapers are a broadcast medium and therefore can only do limited targeting of advertising. Online advertisers can advertise children’s clothes next to an article about toddlers, hybrid cars next to an article about global warming, and private schools next to an article about school choice. That seems to be to be a much better "bang for the buck."

  7. True, just because the newspapermen abuse the paper doesn't mean the paper cannot do the job.

    To return, the medium has always been the message. I would argue that the paper has both informative and communicative properties. In comparison the web has a higher informative property but a lower communicative property.

    The reasoning is this: having more information (I) to be processed without an increase in the time (t) available, results in less knowledge than if either I was less or t was more. Assuming time-scarcity and that an individual is interested in information as an input for knowledge-production (which s/he applies for communication, and assuming communication as the goal of all enterprise), the paper would be more helpful than the web.

    The Daily itself is a recent innovation, and given the complexity of our organisations and world today, I would think there is a greater market for weekly or monthly maybe even quarterly prints. Indeed the sales trend does seem to support this, atleast in India. On the whole there has been constant growth in the consumption of weekly, monthly papers.

    Regarding the Advertisers' needs, I would argue the yield is better with paper. By its nature, it is hard to discern if the webpage reader is a potential consumer, an analyst, a surfer, an advisor, or whatever. With paper, the filtering is automatic. The Advertiser knows that her advert will be read by a majority of those who choose to read that page. There is a self-selection that happens with paper, which works to the profit of the advertiser; Adsense technology can approximate such filtering only if it is informed of the entire system. The entire system -Google has an interesting goal but it won't happen because we are prone to doubt more than trust and that gap cannot be filled anyhow.

    Do I think paper will survive? It can if the newspapermen know their medium. It's one thing to theorise but quite another to see it in practice. That very natural tendency to doubt draws everyone of us towards more and more information. So the web will prosper as a business, while readers may not enjoy more yields. Meanwhile if really good papers are printed, perhaps as non-Dailies, it will be hard for them not to prosper, I think.