“Do you read all these newspapers?” the clerk at the 7-Eleven asked me this past Sunday. I stop in at the 7-Eleven daily for the Washington Post, and on Sundays, both the Post and the New York Times.
“Not every word,” I said, “but a lot of it.”
I could have the papers delivered, but when I’ve done that they tend to accumulate unread. Going for the paper each morning is a chore, and helps to assure that I’ll read the paper that day.
I could read the papers on my phone. I have subscriptions to the Post, New York Times, and L.A. Times digital editions. But reading the paper in the morning is one of the few times in the day when I am not looking at a screen. I like starting the day off-screen, so-to-speak.
I was reminded of the clerk’s remark while skimming an old Andy Rooney piece this morning. Often, I write these posts a day or two ahead of when they appear. Sometimes, like today, it is the same day. And when the well feels dry, I’ll turn to Andy Rooney, or E. B. White for inspiration. This morning I flipped to an old Andy Rooney column on “Electronic Journalism.” In it, Rooney was talking about newspaper reporters adapting to writing on terminals instead of a sheet of yellow copy paper. He then had this to day, which I had already underlined in my copy of the book:
If the time comes when the newspaper itself is not a paper at all but an image that can be called up on the screen of a computer in a person’s home, a lot of what [newspaper reporters] love about the business will be gone.
Is there a difference between a print newspaper and a digital version? I’ve given this much thought. On the one hand, each is reporting the same stories using the same words written by the same reporters. It is the medium that differs. Does that matter? I’d say it does for several reasons:
- The layout of a page of news in a newspaper contains information that isn’t necessarily conveyed equally well by the listing format that many digital news apps use. (It is, in some of these apps, possible to get a “page view” which helps some.)
- The content itself may differ slightly. Corrections and additions are made to the electronic version much more quickly than the digital version.
A feature of digital news is its speed. Stories can be communicated as they unfold. “Breaking news” used to be the exception. Today it is the rule. I’m not a fan of breaking news. Too often there just isn’t enough good information, too much speculation, and too much hype around stories when they unfold in real time. I much prefer the newspaper in these cases. I may not know all of the details at the time the event breaks, but the next morning, I’m likely to be much better informed by an newspaper article the reporter of which has had time to confirm their facts, chase down leads, talk to key people. The likelihood of rumor and speculation goes down considerably.
In some ways, reading the paper in the morning keeps me from feeling the need to check the news on my phone every 5 minutes throughout the day. In fact, I generally don’t feel I need to check the news at all until after dinner. Then, I’ll browse the headlines to get a preview of what I’ll be reading about tomorrow.
Of course, if evening editions of newspapers still existed, I wouldn’t even have to do that.