On The Reading Of The Newspapers

23 Dec

Margaret Sullivan wrote another defensive defense of the newspaper industry this week. I can’t blame her. I would feel beset on all sides too if my job was to continually produce a product fewer and fewer people want.

Here at WNYMedia, we have a lot of great things planned for 2010. Most involved getting the readers of the content more involved with the producers. In other words, you help decide what stories we cover. Its not just a one way pontification . . . though I bet that will continue as well.

Its exciting to be part of this news revolution – I hopped on this ship at the right time. I’m also all in favor of this hyper-local news model. Which is why it may surprise you to hear that I (or anyone at WNYMedia) still subscribe to the daily print edition of The Buffalo News. It is not because I am 80 years old. My reason: completeness.

I travel a lot. When on the road, I obviously still want to keep in touch, so I read The Buffalo News online everyday. And it takes me about 6 seconds. At home, reading the print edition tales me a half hour or longer. Why? I read the paper nearly cover to cover, and at least scan every page. I pick up the cues on what’s “important” by story placement and size. I scan the first couple paragraphs of some stories and see if I’m interested. I read George Will and Eugene Robinson. I know some of the most interesting tidbits are always in the Local section, page 3, under “Local News Briefs.” And when I’m done, I know I’ve seen it all. No news is hiding from me. Things have happened since the edition was printed, but those things will be in the next paper. Nothing is missed.

Contrast this with buffalonews.com. Top stories are jumbled or in random order. Stories are in “sections” but not necessarily where they’d be found in the print paper. Updates come throughout the day, but shift locations. Stories are updated and changed, with no notice or evidence of what was changed. Local columnists are not separated or highlighted. Stories appear and disappear. The search function is almost useless. You get the sense that important news is hiding from you somewhere on the site. And most frustratingly, you can’t see stories more than a couple weeks old. All in all, there is no sense of completely, finality, or definition. Slapdash is the word I am searching for, I believe. Its so bad I have my wife save all the old print copies while I’m gone, and I read them when I return from a business trip, so I can see what I missed.

One could imagine a Machiavellian scheme to make the online Buffalo news so bad to keep readers buying the expensive paper copy. I do not give them that much credit. I think they’re still not sure how to present news online – though they do a significantly better job than some major cities.

But there are other models, and I will give two local ones: us and Buffalo Business First. Note that here at WNYMedia we have some highlighted stories up front, and then a chronological (!) list of stories under Artvoice, WECK or WNYMedia. Columnists are highlighted in, once again, chronological order. If you check back a couple times a day, you know you’ve seen everything. If you need to see a favorite columnist’s older work, you can read to your heart’s content. Business First too, keeps things organized. And my favorite function – if you are a subscriber, you can read the digital print edition each week. And its the actual print edition, just on teh internets. Once again, nothing is missed.

The city of Buffalo will be better served by having a competent daily newspaper of record. It is my hope the Buffalo News figures out how to do that in the internet age before it goes bankrupt.

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