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Newspapers, a follow-up

I wish I could go back and rewrite my article from the other day about books. I wish I had discussed the subject more as literature in general, no matter the medium within which said literature appears. The fact is that while books (or ebooks) and the web are my main source of information and literary musings, newspapers and periodicals are just as valid of mediums as books and their slow but sure transition from physical (paper) manifestation to digital has taken just as much of a toll on those who are affected by it. The recent purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos has again shined a light on the newspaper industry, as some see the purchase as a boon to a dwindling business, especially given the Post’s history of Pulitzer-Prize-winning prose and photography. In addition, I have watched as my hometown’s newspapers have hemorrhaged money, cut their photography departments entirely, and attempted, unsuccessfully to rebrand themselves. Meanwhile, magazines are beginning to go digital-only or go under and the majority of these content distributors simply don’t know how to monetize their web offerings without the annoyances that come with obnoxious web advertising. Personally, I have two anecdotes that have, in some ways, given me pause about the move to digital in these forms of media and, again personally, have moved backward to recapture something I don’t know how to explain.

Newspapers in real life

My parents live in my aforementioned hometown of Chicago. Ever since I can remember, my parents have received a daily newspaper, almost always the Chicago Tribune. Part of their routine each day is to take time out and read the newspaper.1 I am honestly surprised by how much I envy my parents in this regard. I am of a new generation that gets their news online, through social media or through news networks on the web. I am constantly connected and, often, I can get up-to-the-minute reports of what is going on in the world just by focusing on a specific part of my screen.2 I envy the fact that my parents are relatively disconnected from the world of news throughout the day; I have heard it is actually healthier to be this way. For this reason, I have often been tempted to subscribe to such a daily or weekly news outlet. I can honestly say that I will never actually pull the trigger because my local newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, is a complete waste of space and all of the provided information is available elsewhere, normally for free. Henry Blodget said it better than me, so I will quote him and tell you to read the full article:3

“Stop giving away for free news and information that people will happily pay for.”

-Henry Blodget, “Mr. Blodget buys a newspaper”

Magazines, too

The second anecdote has to do with periodicals. My wife recently got a really good deal from school that allowed her to subscribe to a number of magazines for the paltry price of $2. When she called to ask if I was interested in something, I immediately said no, but then called her back when I realized, “Why the heck not!?” I received my first copy of Wired Magazine last night and started reading it. While I do read the Wired site when it is linked to by others, I do not often frequent it unsolicited, nor do I generally seek out information on their site. Therefore, I thought it a safe bet that, even if the news cycle within the magazine was a month-old, I would probably not have read the majority of the articles contained therein; I was correct in this presumption. As I read the magazine last night, however, I was taken aback by how introspective I became about the whole experience. Reading the magazine was comfortable, immersive, and a visible/physical reminder of a simpler time. I know I will read the magazine when it comes because otherwise it becomes visible/physical clutter (and my readers how much I hate that).4

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not going to get rid of my iPad and stop buying digital media because of my first-world problems, but the reminder that is inherent in the above two stories to me is that paper can coexist with digital. In addition, each of the mediums have their place—just as iPads are not really meant to be used in direct sunlight, paper media cannot provide the same experiences as multimedia tablets. Just as I stated in the original article to which this one should have been an addendum, we are witnessing the changes that will shape how the current, upcoming, future generations will learn, read, and communicate.

  1. A recent discussion of The Washington Post sale on John Gruber’s “The Talk Show” podcast reminded me that this was a norm of a past generation, where reading the newspaper was naturally (read: assumed to be) a part of daily life due to the nature of how people got their news.  ↩
  2. The part of the screen where Tweetbot (my Twitter client of choice) exists.  ↩
  3. You should have already read the full article since I linked to it over two weeks ago, but I can forgive if you missed it.  ↩
  4. As an aside, I read Glenn Fleishman’s, formerly Marco Arment’s, The Magazine religiously when it first started publishing. I read every issue, every article like my life depended on it, but I fell behind and recently ended my subscription because I had reached the point where the current issue I was reading was showing up for free elsewhere. The problem, first world, I know, was that there was no visible clutter, no reminder that I had something to read, and my Instapaper queue was one click away, instead of two.  ↩