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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 2,427th post was filed under: News and Comment, Posts delayed by 12 months, , , , , , , , , , .

2D: Media rigour

Newspapers

In some ways, watching a dying industry attempt a caterpillar-like metamorphosis is as fascinating as following a nascent one. It’s genuinely intriguing to see the choices different players make about which parts of their former selves they retain, which they reject, and what new elements they add to their products. For this 2D post, I’ve picked out two articles which look at very different responses to those challenges.

The first is an article from the Columbia Journalism Review by Peter Canby about the fact-checking process at the New Yorker, and the way in which that process has morphed under economic pressure. I’ve never before seen such a clear admission from anyone – other than, perhaps, The Guardian – that mistakes happen.

Ultimately we make mistakes. I wish we didn’t, but they are inevitable and constant.

Admitting a problem is, as they say, the first step to addressing it. This article suggests to me the the New Yorker has invested a great deal of effort in working out how to minimise errors without maximising costs, and continues to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum, as Martin Robbins describes in the New Statesman, the Daily Mail has taken a rather different approach, seemingly involving a rather strong dose of hypocrisy.

The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

I personally find the Daily Mail‘s approach distasteful, but it’s hard to deny that it has been successful. Mail Online is now the world’s most popular news website (perhaps “news” should be in inverted commas), with almost double the number of unique browsers of the BBC News website. Vox populi, vox dei – or at least vox populi, vox argentum. If this is what most people want to read, perhaps we should be a little more respectful towards their art in our tone, even if we make the argument no less forcefully that the protection of the individuals concerned should be paramount. Or perhaps we should focus on the underlying problems of society, rather than the newspaper-based symptoms. I don’t know.

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! The photo at the top of this post was posted to Flickr by Jon S and has been used under Creative Commons Licence.

This 2,030th post was filed under: 2D, Media, , , , , , , .

When I correctly predicted the rising of the Sun

This evening, The Guardian reports:

The title will simply be called the Sun, with an identical masthead to the daily, and insiders have been at pains to make it clear that the newspaper is not a “Sun on Sunday” – but instead simply a Sunday edition of the newspaper that will have some “specialist staff” but without its own editor.

This has come as a surprise to many media commentators, but not so much to me. You’ll note that I wrote the following last July:

Why does it need to be “Sunday Sun” or “Sun on Sunday”? What’s wrong with, erm, “The Sun”? [7th July 2011]

Surely the solution is a truly 7-day Sun – no differentiation in title / price on Sundays? [11th July 2011]

A seven-day operation has always made the most sense, and was the direction of travel for the News of the World before this whole controversy kicked off. Why anyone failed to see this is utterly baffling to me, but I do love being able to say “I told you so!”

This 1,533rd post was filed under: Media, , , , , .

A really disappointing Guardian article

This is the second paragraph of this Susanna Rustin article, putatively about “the rise and rise of radio”, from today’s Guardian.

I didn’t look at the photo and clicked on “unfollow” straightaway so I wouldn’t see any more of Dale’s tweets. Holding this woman up to ridicule in front of the 26,000 people who follow him was abusing his position, I thought.

I love the Guardian, but this article is awful from start to finish. It starts with the above assertion which feels like holier-than-thou nonsense: how did the writer know that a woman was being “held up to ridicule” without looking at the photo? How could she be sure this wasn’t a joke? And is she always so reactionary?

And that’s not to mention that the Iain Dale incident has precisely nothing to do with the popularity of radio, which the headline suggests is the thrust of the piece. Indeed, she doesn’t get onto radio until paragraph seven.

She then goes on to give piss-poor reasons for the popularity of radio, beginning with the assertion that “the licence fee is the obvious first answer”, as though radio is exclusively popular in the UK).

Then, further along, she attempts to classify radio as an “old” or “new” medium (as though this dichotomous, rather than a spectrum), and, working for a newspaper that employs Aleks Krotoski, one of the foremost academics on the subject, turns to Wikipedia for the answer.

Is radio old or new media? The Wikipedia “new media” definition doesn’t mention radio at all, perhaps uncertain whether to lump it in with printing presses or mobile apps.

Then, in the final paragraph, there’s the assertion that the Desert Island Discs archive was opened last weekend. Of course, regular readers of the foremost newspaper for media coverage will know that the online archive actually launched last year.

In any other newspaper, this kind of article would be par for the course. But the Guardian isn’t any other newspaper: it’s one that should strive for first-class journalism, not lowest-common-denominator page-filling tosh like this. It’s really quite disappointing.

This 1,509th post was filed under: Media, , , .

iPad App Review: The Times

I used to be a regular newspaper reader, and had The Guardian delivered daily for some years. But, in 2007 I moved to my current house and couldn’t find a newsagent who delivered. Being a lazy git, I can’t be bothered to take the hundred or so steps from my front door to the nearest shop to buy a paper, and so my readership lapsed.

Instead, I turned to getting my news online more and more. Especially via the Guardian website, where I could keep up with the writing of my favourite Guardian columnists right up until most of them left the paper, when my interest waned a bit.

Someone once said that from the outside, The Guardian looks like an exclusive club, and hence it struggles to build it’s readership. I think there’s some truth in that. I don’t feel the same connection to The Guardian that I once did. Nancy Banks-Smith’s TV reviews, Guy Browning’s columns, Anna Pickard’s columns, Gareth McLean’s thiny-veiled gossip columns, Emily Bell’s MediaGuardian leaders: These (and others) were the skeleton on which I hung my consumption of The Guardian, and once they evaporated there was nothing left but a mass of unstructured news I could get anywhere else. Heck, it’s not been the same since they axed Ros Taylor’s Wrap, and that wasn’t even a newspaper feature.

I guess what I’m trying to describe is my descent from Guardianista to media tart, moving from news outlet to news outlet depending on the news stories that were being hawked at any given time. And that’s pretty much where I am now. Google Reader gives me selected news from across the web, Twitter fills in the gaps, and I’m out of the habit of reading a single organ’s daily summary.

But then my iPad came along, and the opportunity arose to download The Times on a daily basis. And it is The Times – not some sliced and diced hint of the news, but an actual full-fat version of The Times formatted for the iPad, even including the crosswords and sudoku. And it is great.

One of the most important things about it is its release time. The Times has been available to download every day when I’ve woken up. I believe it’s released around 4am, but I’ve never bothered to wake myself up to check. Essentially, being there for the time I eat my cornflakes is what this app requires – and actually beats the paperboy who used to deliver.

20110329-080501.jpg I didn’t used to like The Times’s journalism much. I used to read it quite a lot when it was a broadsheet, but when it switched to tabloid it seemed to simultaneously switch to picture-led storytelling, which is a danger of the format. It gained ‘silly’ page three features, true tabloid style, and lost a lot of the genuinely interesting Times 2 human interest stuff. I don’t know if / when any of that changed in the print version, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case so much in the iPad edition, which feels much more like The Times of old.

In iPad terms, the experience is great. Landscape viewing tends to work best for me, with my iPad propped up in its case. News articles cross pages, swiping from right to left, whilst more in depth features tend to have the header on the right-left swipe, with a downwards pagination for the rest of the article. Pictures are often linked to videos or slideshows, accessed with a tap. And a ‘contents’ pop-up bar allows jumping quickly to any part of the paper (or a quick review of the headlines). Like most descriptions of user-interfaces, that makes it sound awfully complicated. It’s really quite intuitive.

The nature of the beast is that copy tends to lag behind current events, but articles are sometimes updated over the course of the day, and on heavy-news days, an additional 5pm edition is published. Brilliant.

20110329-080754.jpg Another benefit is the price… An online subscription, which includes access to the pay-walled website and the Sunday Times app costs £2 per week – bizarrely cheaper than the £9.99 subscription to the Times App alone.

But it’s not all good news. Because The Times is paywalled, there’s no social features. No ‘share this’, no ‘this is what others liked’, no ‘leave a comment’. It’s one-way communication, and feels a little out of step with modern life.

There’s also no search, which is a little bit of an odd omission, and there are ads – I’d estimate about five full pages per edition – though they’re easy enough to flick past and ignore.

Overall, I think the iPad experience of The Times is great, and I plan to stay subscribed. Whether that will change when The Guardian’s app is released later this month remains to be seen, but it will take something very impressive to blow The Times out of the water.


This is the first in a series of posts reviewing iPad Apps. Check back tomorrow for my review of the iWork Apps.

This 1,430th post was filed under: iPad App Reviews, Reviews, Technology, , , , , , , , , , , .

i is the lovechild of The Independent and Metro

Oh, the grammatical absurdity of that post title.

There was a time when I wrote on this blog daily. That time has clearly passed, but if I was still doing it, I’d have written something about i yesterday – The Indy’s new not-quite-free-sheet.

And if I’d have written something, it would not have been unlike what Jonathan Rothwell has written over on Crashed Pips. I agree with most of what he’s said, so it seems pointless to repeat it.

I liked i. But I say that as someone who’s never been keen on Metro‘s acres of dry agency copy. It’s not something I’d go out of my way to buy on a daily basis, but when I have to go somewhere on a train, I often snoop around WHSmith before boarding and find nothing that I want to read. Now, I’d buy i. It’s interesting and diverting enough to part with 20p, and small and disposable enough to stuff in a bag.

Yet I didn’t like everything.

My biggest complaint about it is the printing process used. Like The Independent, it’s printed with that horrible ink that comes off on your hands, your clothes, and gets everywhere. That is something that would put me off buying the paper in certain situations.

They need to change to whatever printing process The Guardian or Metro use, where the ink stays firmly where the printer puts it.

I also dislike the TV Guide, whose organisation strikes me as pointless. I don’t like TV in categories. I wouldn’t identify as a fan of ‘American Drama’, or ‘Comedy’, or ‘Documentaries’ or whatever idiotic bins they throw programmes into.

In American Drama, I’m mad about The West Wing, but couldn’t give a toss about The Wire, Lost, or Law and Order. When it comes to comedy, I won’t miss The Inbetweeners, but would switch off My Family, Harry and Paul, or Only Fools and Horses. And for documentaries, I’d pay good money to see The Secret Life of the Motorway on BBC Four, but would want a licence fee refund for Make Me a Man, The Boy with Three Heads and Eight Sets of Eyebrows (or whatever idiot trash they’re pumping out these days), or Help Me Anthea, I’m Infested.

I don’t watch TV in ‘Genres’, I watch stuff I like. So giving me a page divided into genres is unhelpful.

Also, they need to get TV Reviewers who understand that writing a review of the previous night’s TV is not actually what they are being asked to do. A good TV review is almost a meditation on life, and certainly doesn’t depend on having seen the previous night’s TV. Get Nancy Banks-Smith in to do a masterclass or something.

But the TV Guide is the part of the paper that’s had the most positive reviews as far as I can see, so maybe I’m just unusual.

Oh, and ‘Caught and Social’? Puns only work when they’re funny.

Yet all-in-all and rants aside, I hope that i sticks around. And, given what The Independent has become these days, I wouldn’t be upset if i replaced it.

This 1,424th post was filed under: Media, , , , , .

Newspaper misspells own name in masthead

Valley News's front-page oopsie.

Valley News's front-page oopsie.

It seems that the New Hampshire-based Valley News managed to misspell its own title on its own masthead on Monday by appending a superfluous ‘s’. Quite impressive stuff and, rather extraordinarily, not spotted by anybody involved in the production process.

No doubt if I owned a newspaper, stuff like that woud be happening all the time. But perhaps that’s not surprising given that I come from the home of the Southport Visiter, consistently misspelled for 164 years, and read theguardian – a paper not best known for its spellchecker, and whose spaceless nonsense masthead has fascinated me since its introduction.

On a more serious note, with editors everywhere laying off subeditors, claiming that they are no longer relevant or necessary in the multimedia newsroom, could there be a more prominent, clear demonstration that the role is still vital?

Without subs, accuracy suffers, whether it be grammatical or factual. And in the ever-more competitive world, where the internet means that CP Scott’s maxim that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred” has never been more true, what do newspapers have on their side, if not accuracy?

This 1,357th post was filed under: Headliner, , , , , .

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