News habits die hard

Posted on 29/04/2012

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a tree reflecting in a CD

Back when I worked for Thomson Reuters, they had an internal blogging network. For a behemoth of a company it was a great idea, but sadly under used. (There’s nothing more forlorn than a ghost website that hasn’t been updated for months – on the surface it looks new and vital, but really it’s dead inside). Fortunately there were some smart and passionate people who managed to keep a few of these blogs alive.

The only blog post I still remember is “How to wrap your fish (and one hundred other uses for a newspaper in the digital age)”. What better way to learn about the decline of traditional journalism than from the people working on the Reuters news desk who made it happen?

Of all the things they suggested, the most interesting idea was that newspapers might actually survive the onslaught of social media and blogger journalism. It had never occurred to me that well written and tightly edited news was still a viable product, and although 4 years later newspapers are still struggling, they’re very much still here.

As someone who spends his day glued to the Internet, and is always packing some bit of technology, it might be a surprise that I still love my news served on paper. Unlike eggs, newspapers don’t come with an expiry date. Which is strange: you’d have thought the name (NEWspaper) would need one. Surely today’s edition becomes just “paper” in a matter of hours?

Why in a world of 24/7 news would a newspaper, which is out of date as soon as it hits the stands, still viable?

  1. Feeling of completeness. Reading the entire paper which someone has carefully edited gives you sense of achievement and makes you feel slightly more informed.
  2. Ability to catch up on information and know exactly how up to date you are. The saturday newspaper goes to press about 3 am on a saturday. I know where I stand. A news website is like a bottomless – you’ll never run out of stories.
  3. Breadth of information. We’re all drawn to certain topics / sections in a newspaper, but personally I want something a bit more well-rounded. I don’t enjoy reading finance news but if it’s there I’ll give it a try. Online can’t provide this overview because it’s entirely self-directed. If you like something, you tend to read all there is to know about it. A newspaper limits you and presents you with the sections you wouldn’t normally visit.
  4. The brand experience. The layout, look and feel that you get online just isn’t the same as a newspaper. Websites are improving and tablets are developing their own visual style, but right now I prefer paper.

“The world might be digital, but people are analogue”

Rishad Tobaccowala

So what did we learn? Old habits die hard and old formats, even harder. I received a load of comments following my last “whatever happened to the filofax” post and discovered an online community around the Philofaxy blog. Thousands of people are still passionate about the filofax and have found surprising ways for it to work alongside smartphone and computers.

Maybe it comes down to what something does. A filofax allows people to manage and access information in their own way. A newspaper collects and shares news. Om Malik’s post-last week Physical media is dead; long live the app is right about a couple of things: that “we need to rethink these containers for a brand new always-on world”, and that apps seem like right metaphor for future media. As digital communication shifts from personal computers to mobile devices, media, content and information consumption is going to happen more and more through apps. But Om’s wrong to declare physical media dead, and to assume that the app will be all-consuming. Physical media will not die just because there is a newer, more dynamic medium – people are people and centuries of habits and practices around printed media cannot be erased overnight.

Until old formats evolve into something entirely new, we’ll still talk about books, newspapers and music albums. As long as they can each do what they do just as well as digital media (or perhaps better), then old media and their physical formats will be around for a while yet.

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Posted in: Digital, Media, Technology