The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

The newspaper as afterthought

I came to a troubling realization yesterday morning as I stared at the last four days worth of Columbia Daily Tribune‘s sitting on my doorstep: It just doesn’t make sense new hans mugany more for me to subscribe to a daily newspaper.

Don’t get me wrong. I still read a newspaper almost every day. After nearly a decade on the newspaper front lines, I’ll always love and defend them. I hold a copy of the Cato-Institute published pocket-sized, paperback Constitution and Bill of Rights as I pen this, resolute in my belief the press does and must work as a fourth check on government. But I also must admit I get so much more of my news from other sources now – and not just from the Internet – that at least for me, getting a daily newspaper doesn’t make much sense.

If newspapers want to reverse years of declining subscription rates, I think their leaders must analyze how their audiences get news and what place their products can and do fulfill in that process.

For me, and it pains me to say this, the printed newspaper has become an afterthought. I look for a newspaper or a magazine or any other printed material when I know I’m going to need something to pass the time while I’m doing something else. I grab a paper, for example, when I’m going to take my kids to the park and I need something to do while they are playing. I’ll grab a free weekly or a USA Today to scan while I’m eating my lunch or, and sorry for the crudeness, I need to use the restroom for more than a minute or two.

Most importantly and probably most central to my argument here, I grab the New York Times or Newsweek when I want to understand an important issue, such as immigration or universal health care. This is NOT how I, or plenty of other media scholars, predicted the information revolution would play out. We once thought the Internet would be where the thinking person got his or her news because it has an unlimited news hole and the ability to link to all kinds of source documentation and additional resources. But we quickly realized few people want to spend an hour trying to read small type on a computer screen.

The wealth of examples of online in-depth news analysis, such as the Times’ topics section, the Dallas Morning News’ Investigative Report,  even’s e-ticket series, demonstrates that long-form journalism works on the Internet. But the ‘net’s main strength is delivering breaking news, instant commentary and interactivity. The Times’ topics section is a good example. It does a great job of bringing related stories, photos and graphics together to provide instant background  and interactivity by letting you know what other people are talking about.

I hope that when newsroom leaders seriously consider how people like me use the news, they will start a focused dialogue on better integrating print and online offerings. If this happens, maybe I will see a day when I don’t have to feel guilty about newspapers piling up on my doorstep because on the day that I remember to check, one paper will be waiting for me that will give me plenty of what I’m looking for: in-depth coverage of the issues that affect me that I can pore over at the pack, in the lunchroom or even on the john.

July 30, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

1 Comment »

  1. Just wanted to drop you a note… from one Hans Meyer to another Hans Meyer!

    Comment by Hans Meyer | August 19, 2007 | Reply

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