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Why News-in-papers?

January 6, 2010
Why should publishers use paper?

If you really want to get a deeper look into this problem, I suggest you read (the 75 pages of) Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal, by William Powers, or you can check the excerpts in italics down below.

W srednim wieku by Wiewslaw Walkuski
Courtesy of Polish Posters

This question brings me back to Heidegger’s assertion, the great philosopher of the 20th century, that we are truly very complex creatures. So complex, according to Dreyfus, that we may never be copied by computers.

The following cloud of concepts gives us a good overall feeling of how media outlets differ:

Print Online TV
in the flow annoying captivating
limited powerful glamorous
settled down search and destroy entrancing
immerse fleeting fleeting
thinking & planning quick read attractive
closed and finite immense transient
select inscrutable
motionless unstable
immutable unwieldy
satisfying overwhelming
easier editing difficult editing no editing
light reflecting light emitting light emitting
easy on the eyes toll on eyes and brain
easy navigation tolling navigation minimum navigation

Like the hinged door, paper magazines have thrived deep into the electronic age because the way they convey information remains, for some purposes, more useful and satisfying, in ways that can be hard to describe except anecdotally.

Paper not only conveys tranquility by being immutable, but there are times, when we need to think with our hands. I still prefer to get my bank statements in paper. I also jot down telephone numbers and ideas, as well as, do some note taking and planning on paper.

And although digital servers have made paper storage obsolete, or libraries cannot compete with digital database sorting and others, paper is still an excellent communication device. I print my digital travel itineraries, kids’ homework and copies of important presentations. And, I would only send condolences in a hand written note —no e-mail here.

Which brings us to recognize maybe the most notable property of paper: it adds a distinct “value” to its message.

Paper has intrinsic qualities that: 1)make it easy and enjoyable to work with, 2)help us make sense of information and 3)are conducive to certain kinds of reading and thinking, —properties that new media, for all their wonders, have not yet been able to match.

Lazy Sunday morning, late breakfast in bed,
reading our favorite section of the newspaper.
It’s amazing to realize that magazines and newspapers have clear advantages over online and TV advertising, precisely, because of its lack of hoopla. The magazine and newspaper experience is a quite one, —readers view their ads when they please and within a peaceful Zen attitude. In contrast, readers tend to avoid ads in Online’s speed reading and TV’s entrancement environments. In the former, readers are too focused in their urgent search; and in the latter, they react annoyed by skipping channels, —TV ads interrupt their entrancement.

And this is why news-in-paper alongside ads-in-paper persist in making a golden couple, —it’s good company. By the way, the market cap increase for newspapers for 2009 was spectacular.

Wish you well.

My Blackberry abridged edition:

Sellen and Harper found that paper has four affordances that specifically assist reading:

(1) Tangibility. This refers to the way that we navigate a paper document or book using our eyes and hands together. “When a document is on paper, we can see how long it is, we can flick through the pages . . . we can bend over a corner while searching for a section elsewhere. In other words, paper helps us work our way through documents.”

(2) Spatial Flexibility. When working with multiple paper texts, they can be spread out around a large area or reduced to fit a smaller space, depending on our needs.

(3) Tailorability. With paper it’s easy to underline, scribble in the margins and otherwise annotate a text we are reading.

(4) Manipulability. Because paper can be moved around, one can shuffle effectively among different paper sources, for example putting one page aside in order to concentrate on another.

The first of these, tangibility, isn’t available at all on a two-dimensional screen. The others are more difficult to achieve with computers and other electronic media, as anyone who has “written” in the margins of a digital document can attest. As the authors put it, “It is as if people need to use their hands and eyes to fully grasp the meaning of the text in question. People really do understand what a document conveys by physically getting to grips with it.

“[T]he physical feel of the paper meant that little attention (and especially visual attention) had to be given over to the task of page turning. Much of the information needed to navigate was both implicit and tactile. Similarly, physical cues such as thickness of the document provided important tacit information about where in the document the reader was. All of this . . . meant that readers were not distracted from the main visual task.”

In contrast, one of their subjects had this to say about online reading: “I was getting very annoyed and clicking on those things and shouting at it . . . . I just found that it took ages and ages. I was losing interest – it was distracting me from the point.”

Thirty-six consumers were interviewed, half of them frequent magazine readers. The other half were people who watched at least two hours of commercial television a day and also read at least one magazine a month. The study found that the way consumers react to ads in hard-copy magazines is in fact very different from how they respond to commercials on television.

The distinction came down to a matter of control. Because viewers cannot control when TV commercials are shown or how long they will last, they tend to feel trapped by the ads, which those in the study spoke of as disruptive, distracting and annoying.

Meanwhile, the subjects had largely positive views of ads in magazines, and the main reason seemed to be the sense of control that paper inherently affords: The reader turns the pages at will, deciding what to look at and for how long. One subject said: “A magazine ad is like a glass of wine because I have the time to sniff it and appreciate it . . . It’s there, I can take it or leave it . . . . Because I have control, I can take the time to make particular decisions [about] which ads I will savor and absorb.”

In the last decade, digital reading has become a part of everyday life, yet it hasn’t replaced reading on paper. McDonald says that at the moment screens are not used predominantly for flow-style reading – settling in and losing one’s bearings – but for a kind of high-intensity foraging. “When one is reading on the screen, it’s sort of like speed reading, information-retrieval mode. ‘I’m looking for something. Now I’m looking for something else.’ It’s very purposeful, it’s very utilitarian. . . . There’s something about it being on the screen that signals to people to hurry. It’s pushing the page-down button, just having your finger on the clicker and scrolling. It’s a higher speed, more nervous kind of thing.” Screen-based reading, he says, is “very much about ‘search and destroy.’”

The paper news should provide long-form, in-depth coverage, while the Internet should be interactive, immediate, provide an open dialog with the audience and throw in all those nifty doo-dads and videos people love to play with.” This distinction is not so much generational as operational.

The digital medium serves up content differently from paper, and we go to it for different kinds of reading experiences – “search and destroy” versus “settle down.”

It has little to do with age and everything to do with the human mind, which does not evolve so quickly that those born after 1980 read and think in a fundamentally different way from everyone who came before them. In effect, the content that works best on the Web, for readers of all ages, has migrated there, while the “long-form, in-depth” stuff clings tenaciously to paper (even when it’s on the Web, people are less likely to read it there).

Thus the public exodus from newspapers is not a rejection of paper, but an objection to using it for hard news and other utilitarian, quick-read content (including, not incidentally, classified ads) that gains little or nothing from arriving in that format. It’s because this content has always been the core mission of newspapers – they’re called newspapers, not “essaypapers” – that the industry finds itself in the tough spot it’s in. The two sides of its culture have been pulled apart, and the side that drives the franchise wound up in a not-so-profitable medium.

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