A couple of weeks ago I attended a panel at the Columbia School of Journalism on the future of newspapers. The panel was held in order to debate a recent piece by The American Prospect Editor Robert Kuttner. I have been writing a long response/rebuttal essay, which I will post a bit about in the coming week, but wanted to just throw out the following anecdote which exemplifies some of the arguments the essay makes.
This week, for some mysterious reason, I have begun to receive the Toronto Star newspaper, delivered daily, in hard copy, to my doorstep. Now for a news junkie, one would think this would be a gift from the gods. What could be better than beginning the day with a perusal of a large market daily? Well, a lot it would seem.
First, is the pure size of the thing. What a waste. Everyday it comes with half a dozen insert adds, some sort of quasi ‘magazine’ I won’t read, and five or six sections that are of absolutely no interest to me. After I have laboriously looked through the first section A, what do I do with the massive amount of paper? Well, straight to the recycle bin has been the trend. Unless you forget to do this for a couple of days, then the kitchen table disappears under an unwieldy mess of paper. I feel guilty just looking at the thing – talk about offending my ‘large market’ urban environmental sensibilities.
But by partaking in this ‘experience’ aren’t I strengthening our democracy by being civically engaged? Media types argue that there is something called ‘incidental reading’, that one can only get from print news. The theory goes that by flipping though the paper, one is exposed to stories they otherwise would not have sought out, thereby making them more knowledgeable citizens, and obviously strengthening the democracy in which they are now more actively participating. I won’t go into this in great length, as the essay goes into far greater, and slightly less sarcastic, detail, but suffice it to say, the theory is crap.
First, it would take an hour to go through the entire paper, all sections. Even if I do so, I am getting the news that the Toronto Star thinks is important. One source. Some democracy. This is not to say I don’t value the perspective or content of the Star, far from it, only that my relationship with them is not monogamous. Second, the internet is FAR better at providing incidental value added than a messy pile of paper. What do you think ‘surfing’ is? Even if I might want to know what the Star’s editorial board deems ‘news worthy’, I can look at their webpage (nicely redesigned I might add) and with the scroll of my mouse wheel, scan dozens of articles. How is this not exposing me to a wide range of content?
OK, I’ll save the other ten reasons why I don’t fully agree with Kuttner for the article. But how do others feel about this? Are there print news hold-outs among Oxblog readers? If so what do you like about it? (…and nostalgia doesn’t count, or proves my point, as the essay will explain)