Newspapers, in their legacy format, represent simplicity in a complicated world, which is the Achilles heel of the mobile environment, writes columnist Joe Banks.
By Joe Banks
Up until six months ago, and for roughly 30 years before that, I spent the first 15 minutes of every weekday morning with the local daily newspaper. It was always a panic, between scanning headlines and prioritizing the stories I felt I needed to read fully and finishing breakfast.
Rarely would I finish the entire paper over breakfast. And by the time I got home in the evening, picking it up again was like generating gastronomic enthusiasm for old doughnuts. It was stale.
On Saturdays, I’d luxuriate in the pages and spend time on the lengthy pieces and sections, catching up on stories I just glanced at earlier in the week. I’d skip only the Homes and Living sections.
Today, all of that time has been replaced by rolling my finger down the face of my iPhone and iPad, scrolling for tweets from worldwide brand sources, such as the New York Times, The Associated Press, BBC and Al-Jazeera. And there in front of me are similar ones from local media like the Ottawa Citizen, CBC, CFRA, 1310 News and CTV. Among all of the feeds that come my way, I have a seemingly endless source of excellent reading. All for free.
I’m inside of a demographic that’s supposed to love newspapers. But I have come to enjoy the vast variety I get from scrolling down my Twitter feed. It’s similar to that buzz derived from watching reeling images on a slot machine or an electronic ticker on a Times Square building. I can go up or down, slow the reel or speed it up. I may be satisfied with the 140-character headline or touch the hyperlink to read the piece itself.
While this is not new to society in general, my abandonment of the printed page is. I am no digital native, but the digital medium has won me over. For now.
Newspapers give me another experience but it’s always one dimensional. It’s served to me as a mandatory dish: take it or leave it. It doesn’t allow me to expand my interest in a story that, had I been allowed to edit the edition, may have ended up on page one.
On the other hand, my Twitter feed allows me to quickly see how other news orgs are reporting on the same issue. I can confirm facts or see how they “play” stories differently. For example, the Toronto Star tweeted “Ukraine troops’ penetration of rebel-held Luhansk could prove a breakthrough on thestar.com/1mXX2Fc #topstories” while the Ottawa Citizen sent “@OttawaCitizen: Ukraine says their troops have entered rebel-held city, captured police station http://t.co/BGJ8alOud5” and NBC tweeted “@NBCNewsPictures: #Yazidi volunteers prepare to fight back against ISIS” at http://t.co/zZzTG152CS.”
This puts enormous options in front of the reader to verify, for themselves, the clearest picture of what’s unfolding at that particular moment, without subscribing to the full edition of any one of the entities.
If I become fatigued from reading all of the war news, one flick of my finger might bring me to some comedy relief, which goes against the grain of the navigable newspaper that tends to bunch types of content together in sections. This is a legacy method of newspaper organization that has assumed the reader prefers their news and features in tidy, modular bundles.
So my news and information consuming has changed, and not necessarily for the better from the traditionalist’s point of view.
Yet the newspaper still survives. Why?
I believe newspapers, in their legacy format, represent simplicity in a complicated world, which is the Achilles heel of the mobile environment. Depending on where I am, the speed with which I move from tweet to the actual content can vary massively, from a single second when I’m in downtown Ottawa to up to a half minute of waiting time when I’m at my cottage. Once it’s in my possession, I can begin reading a newspaper instantly. And when I open a newspaper, I can quickly scan across two pages of material I want to see in a size and format that’s very compelling.
If a newspaper could give me on paper what my feeds give me online, I would be back to paper very quickly. Until that happens, however, I’m afraid my reading habits have morphed, with loyalty no longer to the brand, but to the story.