Thursday, August 23, 2007

Time-shifted readers

Slate's media critic Jack Shafer is an idiosyncratic commentator who often hits right at the heart of things. Especially on occasions when (like this time) he agrees with me.

This recent column (Already Chewed News) from Slate echoes points we've been discussing about what role printed newspapers will play in the hybrid company we're rapidly becoming: as a briefing, an orientation and entertainment.

It's worth the read. Here are a couple of key graphs:

But even if all I've pre-read from the Web are the Page One headlines, the print stories don't really pop out at me unless they're packaged with a terrific photo I haven't seen before. Horrible as it may sound, on many days the newsprint front page tastes of already chewed gum.

I'm not the average reader, but anecdotes convince me that the average reader is becoming more like me every day—reading tomorrow's news today. This time-shift is as historically significant as the great migration of newspaper readers from afternoon to morning dailies, or the adoption of AM news radio by sequestered commuters. Where the newspaper was once considered the day's complete news, it's now just all-the-news-that-fits. The genuine news enthusiast trolls the AP wire, foreign news sites, and the usual aggregators for the biggest picture ...

... [but as] good as the Web is at keeping apace with the current, it isn't very good at telling me when my news tank is full. The final editions of well-edited newspapers still do a better job of conveying the most vital news than does a browsing of the Web. It gives readers a yardstick with which to measure the news before they dive in. If I had just 10 minutes to catch up on what's happening, I'd rather fan through the paper pages of the Times and Post than click my favorite sites.

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