First, check out this newscast from 1981:
Why aren’t newspapers as excited now as they were then? The online newspapers pioneered in San Francisco were unbelievably primitive, and EVEN THEN some people were willing to pay TEN DOLLARS and wait TWO HOURS for their computers to download it.
Now think about where we are today: still clinging to technology whose demise was foreshadowed at least 29 years ago. The print media (i.e., newspapers) had THREE DECADES to prepare for the inevitable shift to the web. So what’s taking so long?
In 2008, the number of people using the Internet as their primary news source surpassed newspapers’ audience for the first time. Now it’s 2010, and most newspapers are still fighting to stay in print until financial pressures necessitate their closure.
Most newspapers’ websites (with a number of exceptions) are hard to navigate and aesthetically inferior to their print versions. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Newspapers are effectively competing against their own online products, and one way to steer readers away from the Internet is by making the online reading experience less tolerable than the print one.
If newspapers cease to exist, their websites could become more user-friendly without threatening the parent organization’s profit. Furthermore, money that businesses presently put toward print advertising could be funneled into other outlets – ideally, advertising on the digital versions of newspapers.
But first, digital advertisements have to improve. They’re notoriously irritating and poorly designed, largely because the ad industry, like the news industry, has been excruciatingly slow to adapt. Writer Frederic Filloux puts it well:
It is hard to reform a fat-cat culture — from heavy margins, captive clients, cozy cronyism — to a more agile one in which technology and innovation drive the business. In this very respect, advertising and news media converge: Both have been late in hiring developers who understand the specifics of their business.
If the online news sites and their advertising counterparts were more intuitively designed, might the result be a population that’s more informed? I imagine so.
One veritable fact that news organizations refuse to acknowledge is that the Internet is superior to print in virtually every way: it’s faster, more permanent, searchable, interactive, and increasingly ubiquitous. Journalist Jeff Jarvis writes that a key advantage of the web is its ability to link “grains of information, thought, or opinion…connected to something larger” – that is, the overarching story. According to Jarvis (with whom I agree), the Internet treats the story “as a process, not a product.”
And therein lies the beauty. Our world has grown so complex in recent years that virtually no news story is ever “finished,” as static print publication would have us believe. It’s time to make the shift to the only medium advanced enough to keep up: the Internet.
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