“Adapt or perish”, “turn new corners”, “invest in people”: yeah ok, enough already. If you haven’t already heard about the rise and rise of online news then you may not have had the pleasure of hearing such responses to the perceived challenge of the internet from media executives. But if all the hysteria and rapid investment in the web by media companies is any gauge, then there is actually some substance to what they are saying.
Countless paragraphs have been published on the implications of the digitisation of news media, particularly surrounding the fate of traditional media at hands of its precocious digital cousin.
But what it boils down to is consumer behaviour patterns – how people consume news media, how they are told to and how they want to. The behaviour of the market is what drives our capitalist system. It’s not the actual presence of the internet or the web or the ipod – it is that people are using or prefer to use these methods of information retrieval and delivery. But are we all heading towards a plugged-in future?
Personally, I enjoy the whole weekend newspaper ritual. You buy two kilograms of recently pulped Tasmanian rain forest, discard anything related to motoring, sport, advertising or the insidious tabloid journalism that is infecting the major dailies these days, haul it down to the local café and spend the next two hours skimming. I could just as easily take along my laptop which weighs about the same and utilise the café’s free WiFi, thus gaining access to all the adblocked news, entertainment and porn I could ever want at 10pm on a Saturday morning. However, until the concept of e-paper is commercially realised, a newspaper will always have the following advantages over online news:
The portability of paper is why it’s still quite popular. In fact, you can take it nearly anywhere except to places where you might indulge in a little swimming or fire dancing. And we all know that sand and keyboards don’t mix and that’s a fact. Furthermore, in the absence of sudden blindness or total solar eclipse, you can assume full control over your reading experience. There are no cords, no electricity and no download limits and you can read a newspaper in bed and on the toilet. Hoorah!
Unless you are the terminator, I’m guessing that prolonged reading from computer screens makes your eyes tired and your mind mush. Reading a newspaper is just easier. Black and white. No white on cotton blue, or 10px Arial with 80 per cent opacity, marquees or whatever some designer considered cool on the day.
The static nature of newspapers can sometimes be a disadvantage, but it is dependable. It presents you with a sequence of information that can be accessed as part of an unchanging index. There’s no danger of losing your way, and if you decide to skip or re-reread a feature on battery-hen farming practices it will be there when you return, just where you left it and unedited by a nervous copyeditor who has just received a call from KFC’s lawyers.
Newspapers and websites provide distinct reading experiences. Unlike modern news websites, newspapers don’t contain flashing advertisements or promotions tempting our brains and fingers to click away from what we really came for. Of course, a newspaper contains publicity and, at times, grossly over-sized advertisements but there are no popups or 1000 links to divert your attention from breezing past these and onto the next page. I know a great deal of money is poured into online information architecture these days however with a newspaper you don’t have to spend hours figuring out why the letters section isn’t listed in the navigation, and is linked from the right hand side of the op-ed main page.
Reading, whether on the web or through the printed medium is fun and when combined with another activity, such as sunbathing, it can be terrific!
Online news is tremendous nevertheless and gives us access to a seemingly unlimited and close-to-realtime resource of world and local news, weather and facts. And although the web’s influence on modern journalism and news production is undeniable, I am confident that we won’t see a radical decline in the stuff that ends up as birdcage liner in the immediate future. Newspapers will change the way they present information and we will see more references to online editions, but I speculate that we latte-lovers will continue to have our moments of newsy solace every weekend for a long time to come.