Why people skip newspapers and read news on the web instead

You can’t be involved with what’s happening on the internet without coming in contact with the “newspaper crisis” somehow. From a business perspective it’s simple really: Much fewer people buy newspapers (on paper) nowadays. Please note that this has very little to do with advertisement or business models, I’m talking about newspapers from the user perspective here.

Internet is really a commodity nowadays. People process loads of  information on the web every day, and this of course affects how they expect newspapers to behave. Every time I hold a big newspaper in my hands I’m surprised at how inferior it is compared to reading news on the web.

Newspapers have problems with references

If I find an interesting news story on the front page, it’s a mess finding the full article in there. The references are done with page numbers, but with page numbers that are local to a certain part of the paper. “Culture, page 7”. And the culture part is stacked inside the part I’m reading, so I first have to find that one, then find the page numbers (which are removed from pages with ads), and then finally find the article I wanted.

The same is true for related articles. If I read an article I like, it’s quite likely that I want to read other articles on the same subject. Newspapers solve this today by placing similar articles close to each other, and hope that you see them. This is of course limited, and gets harder when pages sizes shrink.

Compare this with clicking a link on the web. If I find an interesting article teaser, I click it, and am instantly taken to the full article. If that article was indeed as interesting as the teaser suggested, I’m often presented with similar articles, from similar categories, and can click them to move there.

Newspapers are slow

Even the most frequently published papers are only distributed once per day. This simply means that papers can’t compete on speed, being first with a certain story. Even if you happen to get your hands on a story at the perfect time, a paper still have to be both printed, and distributed to people. This takes hours.

What’s worse, morning newspapers brand themselves as dealing with  “today’s news”, when in fact it’s the news from yesterday. This hasn’t been a problem before, since there was no faster way to get news. Now there is.

If speed is important to you, you can easily subscribe to news via e-mail, Twitter or RSS, and be instantly updated.

Newspapers are static

Articles in a newspaper are, once published, not possible to update and improve. They are left for the wind, even though there are inaccuracies or important clarifications to be made. Any conversation sparked won’t be there.

This is of course the strongest argument for internet news. A big article will be different if you look at it later the same day. Comments and updates based on feedback are able to improve articles considerably.

Newspapers don’t have enough unique content

Big parts of daily newspapers contain poor rewrites, or plain copies, of articles from elsewhere. The reasoning is probably that they are trying to be exhaustive, give a broad view of what has happened. Problem is, they are hiding their own unique content behind loads of reposts of other’s content.

The same happens on the web, but instead of copying the article you link to it. Then you get to read the news from the real source, and dig in deeper if you want to. Additionally, there’s safegards that stop people from copying other people’s content. For instance, Google have special filters for filtering out duplicate content.

Newspapers are not relevant enough

The biggest reason why I don’t subscribe to any newspapers is that they are not relevant enough. I’m not one bit interested in sports, and still, during big sporting events newspapers push them to the front page, over interesting internet-related news; things I find interesting.

The key here is of course to realize that relevancy is in the eye of the beholder. Only I know what I find interesting, and relevant. Why trust someone else’s relevancy ranking when I can easily get my own ranking online? Even if I don’t want to tailor-pick RSS feeds and build my own custom news feed, there’s someone out there that has more similar taste than the four major newspapers here.

So, what should newspapers do?

Well, they have two options: One, they could keep writing articles, hoping that the quality will be high enough to turn the trend, or Two, they could start thinking of how they deliver news. The expectation of how news should be served is changing. It now needs to be delivered…

  1. … filled with references for digging deeper
  2. … faster than once a day
  3. … in a manner where people’s contributions enhance it
  4. … with a quality stamp that ensures that you’re reading something you couldn’t get anywhere else
  5. … personalized to my own specific taste. No sports.

Is there any other way to do this than focusing aggressively on the web, and less on dead trees?

18 responses to “Why people skip newspapers and read news on the web instead

  1. Generally, I agree with you, although I like the physical feel and freedom of a newspaper. Probably as a contrast to the digital life I lead… :-)

    I find that one problem, however, with news articles online is that they tend to get updated, at best, a few times. Usually, they’re still left with factual faults, incorrect links etc, but the writers had to hurry on to new news.

    This is probably even worse, since newspapers are temporary and then thrown away (or kept for nostalgia, but that’s a completely different story… :-) ), whereas articles online stick around forever, indexed by search engines, linked to etc – all while in a less than perfect/up-to-date format.

    But maybe some in-between solution would be portable digital news readers, like tablet PC:s, where you could update the content via Wifi/3G, adapt it to your needs, follow links and such?

  2. I’ve recently started to view newspapers as a middlehand between the news producers and the consumers. (ofcourse the producer – consumer definition gets less and less relevant as everybody is merging into prosumers)

    Here is the strategy i would propose for a newspaper ready to change everything (though i would guess those are rare, based on my experience with other organisations) is to cut most of the overhead costs and let every journalist create and interact with it’s own readers. Much like a blog, but create close interaciton between the diffrent blogs, with references, sales of ads etc.

  3. @Robert Nyman: Yeah, newspapers are trying very hard to copy what they do on paper, to the web! Perhaps it’s time to do it the other way around?

    I’m not really sure some mix of paper and web is the right one either. People have spoken about “digital paper” for ages without anything happening. Maybe newspapers should just surrender and go all web?

  4. @Kristoffer Nolgren: That’s one way of looking at it. I think one of the weak points of that view is that newspapers are one-way, something that the web is built to avoid. I too think that using the web to interact directly with readers will be more and more common. Exciting times!

  5. This is a very relevant article to something that’s happening right now in The Netherlands.

    Maybe you have read about it : Some Dutch researchers / newspaper lobbyists from last century were sent out on a (gouvernment sponsored) mission to figure out ways to give newspapers a boost into the 21st century)

    What did they come up with? A plan to tax everyone that owns an internet connection for a couple of euros, because ‘news is not free’. LOL

    My Opinion? Newspapers are kind of like the RIAA, the need for it will end within a couple of years.

  6. Obviously newspapers can’t focus on the web instead of paper. That’s why they’re called newspapers – paper *is* their identity. Which is also why newspapers will die. News on the other hand will live strong and forever. There will always be news, each and every day (more or less relevant), it’s their inherent nature. And even some of the old news organizations might survive. However, the paper part is a dead tree. We’d better make sure to bury those newspapers in a casket made of iron – burying them in one made of tree would simply be too sadistic. Newspapers are dead, long live news!

  7. Newspapers are not dead and will not do that any time soon, they’ll simply evolve.

    Books, radio, vinyl are all here with us, released from a heavy commercial pressure they rediscovered a stronger, deeper bond with us.

    There might be a glimpse of where a newspaper can find it’s place, in a story, when on an average Wednesday that a very serious Israeli newspaper conducted a very wild experiment… http://www.forward.com/articles/107571/

  8. @SchizoDuckie: I hadn’t heard about that, and it’s a shame they let those kind of people even near a computer. The music industry already have a tax like that in place (in Sweden at least), let’s not expand it to news too :(

    @Jamie Appleseed: Well, some would say that “News” are the newspaper industry identity, and skip (or down prioritize) the “paper” bit. I agree with you, there will always be a need for news is some form. Newspapers need to answer the question: How do people want their news delivered today?

    @Andrey Zhukov: That’s up to each and every newspaper to choose: will we change, or keep doing what we’ve always done? From what I’ve seen the last five years, I think that picked not doing anything.

    That said, there seem to be exceptions. The Israeli newspaper cited in your article, is surely onto something. If distribution is what newspapers are for, why not distribute other’s news? Like writers and poets. Love it, and hope to see more of that here in Sweden!

  9. I would have to say that I skip the newspaper and go straight to the web. I biggest reason is that I’m only interested in a small section that is included in a newspaper or the newspaper doesn’t cover what I’m interested in. You can find a news site or a blog about any type of topic you are interested. I will agree that newspapers are slow. You can have your news instantly on the web, without waiting for the latest edition of the newspaper.

  10. Newspapers will never go away – what about the reasons people read print as opposed to the web. People worried about drummers being replaced by drum machines too.

  11. Newspapers are going down sooner or later. Nowdays in a well developed society a huge procent of people have an internet connection and why should they buy a real newspaper when they can read the same thing, updated hundreds of times per day, in the online version of a jurnalist blog.

    I don’t think that a real method exist for the newspapers to regain their position over the online media.

  12. Occasionally, buying newspapers is still a must just to keep off my eyeballs at the computer but of course, there is more information found online. Why spend and waste paper if you can read news online?

  13. Newspapers give you what they want you to read plus they have to publish something even if they don’t have something to say.

    With RSS feeds you can get access to a lot of information and can easy filter out the “noise”

  14. I stopped reading paper newspapers when I got my iphone some time ago. They obviously need to change and adapt to the times in many ways on so many levels.

  15. I think that “newspaper” is used in as a blanket term. Does the NY Times, Chicago Trib, San Fran Chron have problems, the answer is yes. They simply are too big, too much overhead. But small town local news is not always readily available on the net. Small local newspapers are where it’s at. Plus small town advertisers want to see their ad in a paper sitting on a table in a coffee shop. They don’t care and don’t believe in Analytics from some salesmen. They want to see that paper laying around. They want to see that coupon cut out and brought into their store, that’s how they measure if their advertising dollar is working or not. In my opinion big circ newspapers are in big trouble. Smaller niche papers will do fine for a very long time.

  16. Very thought provoking reasons you have given as to why people like to read news on websites rather than going for a newspaper. Although for some newspaper should be kept completely separate from the digital and technological world.

    But yes, if you want to sift news quickly than online news is the best thing you can go for. It takes hell of a time to go for the relevant articles and then find the remaining part on the inside pages. Moreover relevant news also comes up on websites. The opinion that newspapers are static and slow is a good argument since the news we are reading is “actually” yesterday’s and if something happens (a breaking news) the so-called newspaper readers also go and check websites.

Comments are closed.