If printed media is really slipping into the past, the newspaper is the first to go.
There’ve been some goings-on in Egypt that have captured worldwide attention. With an Internet connection, it’s entirely possible to get minute-by-minute news, mostly with a lack of bias. Facts are stated and links given. Twitter’s especially good for bite-sized samples of data leading to full-course discussions on the unfolding events. “Mubarak supports hurling rocks into crowd.” “Tank sortied by military to Tahir Square.” “Anderson Cooper punched in the face.”
Walk into any hub of mass transit or eatery and you’ll see the end-users getting their data. Laptops, cell phones, mobile devices that defy convenient description, all hooked into the formless data streaming through the airwaves into their hands. Sure, some are checking on NFL scores and others are looking for celebrity gossip, but the current news is right there, fresh and fragrant as rolls plucked from brick ovens.
The newspaper, on the other hand, has been sitting there since the day before.
This isn’t to say that the writings in the newspaper aren’t pertinent, factless or biased. Well, some of them are, but that’s beside the point. My point is not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the newspaper in term of content or presentation. It’s the timing. It takes time to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of the morning edition, and by the time those editions are slipped into mailboxes and tossed onto front steps, the news on the front page is at least a few hours old. Sure, people who don’t work near or subsist on the Internet might not have heard about what’s happening yet, but with the proliferation of ways and means to access the data that’s out there, the number of people who find the news in newspapers pertinent is shrinking.
I do consider that a shame. Newspapers often struck me as places of integrity, where the facts and the truth came before making money. Now, that isn’t true in all cases, as rags like the Daily Enquirer and Metro seem to pander as much as they report, if not moreso. But many of the big-name papers seemed to want to put the facts up front first and foremost, free of opinion and bias (that stuff’s on page 5). It’s an ideal romaticized in films like State of Play and All the President’s Men. Heroes like Clark Kent and Peter Parker worked at and for newspapers because they, like the papers, are interested in the pursuit of truth.
Again, none of this is the fault of the papers. Some of them are rolling with the punches, expanding the functionality and appeal of their websites and putting their news out into social media outlets. Others are struggling to survive, counting on readers set in their ways and the shrinking minority of people without some means of faster news updates dropping a few coins into a corner machine to stay current and informed. While I think there will always be people looking for physical copies of the news, the feel of paper crinkling in their hands and the smell of fresh ink, the papers that survive will be those that roll with the punches and continue to evolve. I’d like to see them make it in this new age of information at the speed of light and conveyed in 140 characters or less.
That’s probably just the romantic in me. I’d also like to see print books survive. Even if I am thinking seriously about self-publication.