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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 1,532nd 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 1,508th post was filed under: Media, , , .


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