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Some thoughts on print newspapers

When people who otherwise know me and Wendy very well come round to our house, they not infrequently express surprise at newspapers lying around the place. But, whatever others might think, both Wendy and I like a print newspaper. For both of us, the serendipity of newsprint is inspiring: we often find our views challenged by a newspaper presenting something that we hadn’t previously considered, or highlighting an alternative angle on something we thought we knew. This is the newspaper playing the role of an anti-Facebook: not presenting us with stuff we are likely to like, but instead presenting us with stuff which is well outside our field of knowledge and experience.

On top of this, there happens to be a large overlap in the Venn diagram of good journalists and journalists employed by print news organisations. So as well as reading print newspapers, I also subscribe to a number of digital versions of newspapers from the UK and the USA, often to follow specific journalists. There are some journalists whose byline on an article means it’s worth reading, even if it’s about something I would never normally be interested in: Will Storr is an example. There are some journalists who are so expert and well-connected in their field that their byline means an article will provide new insight into a topic: Tim Shipman is an example. There are some journalists who understand the value of explaining the significance of a story, don’t cry wolf, and aren’t afraid to explain that the frontpage splash is really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things: Matt Chorley is an example. And, at the other end of the spectrum, one quickly gets to know the bylines to avoid, the journalists who will almost certainly have failed to understand the material they are covered, whose work will almost inevitably contain at least one major error of fact: it seems rude to give an example.

Another advantage of traditional print is that it is slow. Breaking news frequently demands our attention but is rarely worthy of it. The implications of news are rarely understood at the moment it breaks, not least as so little is generally known. Speculation is often worse than unhelpful, separating fact from fiction is rarely possible in the moment, and vacuous commentary often precedes facts. Farhad Manjoo’s article for the New York Times this week discussed relying solely on print newspapers for news and was particularly clear on this. Delayed Gratification is even better than newspapers for this: it presents news on a three-month delay, allowing much fuller analysis and discussion than anyone could hope to achieve in the first three minutes.

Of course, both me and Wendy also regularly read news online and on our phones. We don’t exclusively read newspapers. But I think, for both of us, they form an important part of our news ‘diet’.

I was set thinking about all of this after seeing a data story by Kirby Swales in April’s Prospect. Swales’s suggestion is that the BBC News website has essentially cannibalised the tabloid newspaper market (perhaps the reason the BBC feels it necessary to write full articles on a reality star’s Instagram post and ‘listicles’ about Twitter storms). To me, the biggest surprise in that data is that less than half the adult population of the UK regularly reads news online.

I don’t really have a point to make in this post. I suppose I’m just musing without conclusion that I like newspapers, their circulation is falling, and with ever-more news available online, the proportion of people engaging with it is really quite small. Maybe society is disengaging from journalism. Or maybe habits are changing in less dramatic ways. I don’t know.


The picture at the top is from Jeff Eaton on Flickr and is used here under Creative Commons licence.

This 2,428th post was filed under: News and Comment, Posts delayed by 12 months, , , , , , , , , , .

Weekend read: The post-hope politics of House of Cards

I have enjoyed both series of Netflix‘s remake of House of Cards. I’d argue that the second series was better than the first, but both are better than almost anything else I’ve seen on TV in recent years.

If you, too, enjoyed the series, you’ll likely also enjoy Adam Sternbergh’s discussion of the show, its philosophy, and how it came to be. It was published in the New York Times Magazine. And if you are not already a fan, I’d probably advise watching the first series before reading, as it’s laden with spoilers.



This post is sponsored by House of Cards on Amazon

This 2,258th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , , , .

2D: Apple (again)

Published a fortnight ago, my last 2D post offered two articles about technology giant Apple. With an originality rarely surpassed by this blog, today’s 2D post is about… Apple.

Having come across two more brilliant articles about the company in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t want to deny you the pleasure of reading them simply because I’ve done something similar recently.

My first selection today is this recent Guardian article by their technology editor Charles Arthur. He makes the point that while the Apple Maps app is often a source of ridicule, within the US at least it appears to be winning the long-game, with Google Maps losing millions of users to Apple’s version. It’s one of those interesting articles that explains why the cultural narrative around a certain story borders on counter-factual.

My second selection is this article from The New York Times published last month, and written by Fred Vogelstein. It’s been pretty widely shared, but I only got round to reading it last week. It’s a remarkable account of the development of the iPhone, and – perhaps most interestingly – the development of the iPhone’s launch announcement, and how buggy the iPhone was at the point it was announced. It’s a remarkable tale.

Next time round, I promise you something that’s not Apple…!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,084th post was filed under: 2D, , , , , .

2D: Working late

My last 2D feature was on being late… and this one continues the theme of “lateness”. I hope you won’t conclude that I’m obsessed!

My first recommended read on the topic is “Oh, stop your whining!” by Jean Adams on the Fuse Open Science Blog. Unlike my usual 2D selections, it’s not a long article. But Jean’s reflection on her own changing perceptions around people’s work:life balances made me reflect on my attitude.

I think, like many people, this is something I struggle with to some extent. I don’t feel I overwork (at least not very often), yet I frequently stay in the office until late into the evening or arrive early in the morning, I frequently read and respond to work emails at weekends and on holidays, and struggle to say “no” to anyone offering extra work.

I don’t expect others to do the same. In fact, one of the pleasures of catching up with work out of hours is the lack of distraction, and the fact that I can reply to emails without them bouncing straight back. If everyone did the same, it would be far less satisfying!

Occasionally, I’m given cause to reflect. I recently got annoyed at someone who, when realising I was on holiday, refused to continue an email conversation. When someone called my view of time off “abstemious” – as a compliment, I think – it played on my mind. And when I saw Jean’s post, I wondered again about my work:life balance.

I rationalised, as I always do, that if I’m happy then the balance is good. But perhaps an occasional pause for reflection on the topic is no bad thing.

My other selected article on this topic looks at working “late” from a slightly different perspective: in the New York Times, Steven Greenhouse writes “Working late, by choice or not” about those working beyond the typical retirement age in the United States.

I was particularly struck by the story of Dr Rafael Garza, who is still doing ward rounds at the age of 87… having moved to a new specialty at the age of 74. I suppose that if I’ve still got (at least) sixty years to go in my present career, I’ve got plenty of time to work out the best work:life balance…!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,067th post was filed under: 2D, , , , .

Weekend read: Dancing with black widow spiders

As someone who isn’t a fan of spiders at the best of times, this Weekend Read slightly freaked me out – yet intrigued me at the same time. Jeffrey Delviscio writes in the New York Times about being bitten by a black widow spider.

This 2,066th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , , .

Weekend read: Deciphering illegible addresses on postal items

This weekend’s read is a fairly short article from the New York Times by Ron Nixon. It describes one of those jobs that I was conceptually aware must exist, but to which I had never really given any thought: the job of deciphering addresses on postal items which machines cannot read. The workers have to process items at quite incredible speed – an average of three seconds per item. This article is worth spending a little more than three seconds reading!

This 2,019th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, , .

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