The future of print

Originally written for eVent! [ep] magazine on 10/26/06. However eVent declined to publish an article that questioned the future of newspapers.

I was initially going to write an article about the release of new versions of the two most popular web browsers Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2. It's important because these days if most of us are using a computer we're using one of those two programs, and the browser increasingly our conduit onto the world in a way that television, radio and newspapers once were. That's right, in the pages of your newspaper I'm calling out newspapers as no longer being the cultural staple that it once was.

Now here I run two risks. The first is getting the people who pay me money to write for them mad because I'm saying that the newspaper is not longer the cultural touchstone that it once was. The second is in using my life as part of a broader example of what the rest of the world is doing (ie. I don't eat waffles very often so obviously waffles are not popular), and thus looking like a self-involved jerk.

The fact is though by the time I read the newspaper in a day I've already surfed the web. Most days by the time I come in contact with the Daily Courier I've already checked the sports scores both through the Canucks or Rockets' own websites and also in the case of Arsenal through the London Guardian's website or a fan blog. I've also used the London Guardian's site to check the world news, and then checked national news through the CBC's website. I've discovered almost all I need to know about the world through my web browser.

Similarly throughout the day I have news updates delivered to my RSS reader both on my computer and on my BlackBerry. RSS is a way of subscribing to certain news sources so that anytime they update their site or release a new story your RSS reader lets you know and gives you a summary of the story. RSS readers are built into most web browsers now that Internet Explorer 7 has finally added one years after everyone else did.

What I am saying about newspapers is not going to be groundbreaking around the offices of either the Daily Courier or the competition. If it was then it's a good thing that I've been stashing my eVent! money under my mattress because the local newspaper publishing industry is going to implode in about twenty minutes. No, but seriously, as far back as ten years ago the internet was something that people knew was going to change our lives. Newspapers have adapted, and continue to do so.

See when I talk about not having come in contact with a newspaper until after my daily web browsing I left off a couple of sites that I do visit regularly. The first is the Daily Courier's own website (kelownadailycourier.ca) which I check for local news. Most newspapers have online sites, and the Courier's is a very good one. With it I'm able to find out the important local news of the day before I can read through the paper later on.

What newspapers do best they still do best, and that's provide context, analysis and opinion on a story. Television journalism rarely gets very deep into a story, and unless it's a feature report on CBC Newsworld you only get the briefest details from a television news story. The same is with radio, unless you're listening to an in-depth feature on the CBC the news is brief and generally without context to explain why what the presenter just said is important.

While the internet is harder to dismiss because it can provide that sort of context, analysis and opinion that newspapers do, the fact is the best of the web still tends to be newspapers. The London Guardian is a traditional newspaper and it has done extremely well building up a web presence, and shows that non-public media outlets can have a good site in a world that was initially dominated by public media companies like the BBC and the CBC.

The trick then is to turn the people surfing to a newspapers website into money in the bank. The Daily Courier's website does this through both advertising and by using the site as a way of selling newspapers. Like what you see on the site, well the real paper has more goodness so come and buy it. One of the draws they use to get people buy the pulp and print version is that the columnists' work is not showcased on the site. Not being able to read columnists might be a powerful incentive for some to buy the newspaper and I certainly enjoy reading many of the paper's columns but I don't think that they will still be offline in ten years, just as I can't see the Daily Courier not offering some level of RSS support on their site for much longer.

The fact is we now live in a world with the internet. Like the music companies had to learn that suing teenagers on behalf of Metallica was not the way to deal with the changes in the media landscape so to will our most traditional media outlets, the newspapers. Increasingly many of us now see the world through our web browsers. The traditional response of protecting what is known and safe did not work for the music industry who ever year sell a larger and larger percentage of their music online via stores like iTunes, it did not work for the television industry who now also sell their shows online and many of which stream them free on their own websites, and it won't work in the newspaper industry.

The first newspaper was printed in 1605. With the newspaper is a survivor, and it'll survive the internet just like it survived radio, movie news reels and television. Its survival will be because it embraced the possibilities that the web provides, while remaining true to what made them great in the first place.