Newspapers Aren’t Aged News – They’re TiVoed News, The iPods Of News!

Like many, I got a laugh out of the Daily Show piece earlier this year poking fun at the New York Times for selling “aged news.” But a talk I heard by Kevin Marks this summer made me realize that newspapers don’t push aged news. They push TiVoed news, or recorded news or stored news. Call it what you want, thinking of newspapers as efficient storage devices, rather than being out-of-date, might increase their respect these days and potentially, their value.

Sadly, I can’t find a video or slides of Kevin’s talk, which he gave at Foo Camp 2009 at the end of August. But it was based off his The Flow Past Web: even better than the RealTime thing post. If I can find any multimedia resources, I’ll add them later.

In his talk, Kevin discussed how despite our current infatuation with “real time” whatever, there are cases where we prefer that things be stalled, stored — yes, even aged. In fact, that we’ll even pay for delay. That we’ll pay a lot for that “free” television show to be recorded on our DVRs, so that we can view it when convenient. We’ll pay for the storage of music on our iPods, so we can listen when we prefer.

It was a really good talk and got me thinking. Hey, newspapers store news for us as well. They’re actually a convenient digest of what’s happened, all carefully compiled for our perusal. So I tweeted back in September:

newspapers aren’t aged news. they’re TiVoed news. it’s a convenience we pay for. but they don’t position themselves that way

That got a lot of retweets, many of them positive, so I’ve been meaning to get a proper post up about it. Robert Scoble finally got me to do it, after tweeting this evening “I wonder how many of them would subscribe to week old newspaper.”

I’m not trying to get into the middle of a “real time news” / “Twitter news” is good or bad argument between mainstream sources. I think they both have their places and both have advantages and disadvanges.

Instead, I mainly wanted to say again that what Kevin pointed out is true. We value storage. We pay for it. We like that convenience. And newspapers are news storage devices.

Usually each day, I read a paper at lunch time, either the Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times. It’s a break away from the computer, and a chance for me to catch up on the world away from the tech and search-dominated stuff that consumes me when I’m online.

I can read about some political development or disaster knowing full well that some of it is already outdated, and that I could run into the house and get fresher news on my computer or television. Despite this, stories that are even a day old are still useful. They get me up to speed. They bring me some recorded news that I haven’t yet encountered. They’re valuable to me.

Newspapers in print are going to find it harder and harder to be places we turn to for breaking news. Online is going to win. We know this already. But as storage devices, newspapers have got online beat.

On a mailing list I’m on where newspapers and books were discussed, there was an interesting exercise people were doing. They were walking down the aisles on airplane flights and noticing how many people were working on laptops, reading kindles, reading magazines, books and yes, newspapers. When I tried this on a short flight, newspapers were by far the “device” still in use.

Hey, that’s just one flight. It’s not a comprehensive survey. But I still see newspapers in plenty of places. And in a world where people seem to be predicting the death of papers or abandoning them, let’s add storage to the list of things that papers provide. They’re the iPods for news, never needing batteries.

If you missed it, here’s the Daily Show segment:

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Comments

  1. Anna says

    I read a magazine or newspaper on *short* flights because, chances are, you won’t get much time where you can use those electronic devices between take-off and landing. On a *long* flight, my Kindle beats everything else.

  2. says

    Danny, truly a – “well, DUH!” – slap my forehead moment. ;-)

    There is something calming and relaxing, dare I say it, even civilised, about settling into a chair or sofa, or sprawling out on the floor on a lazy Sunday, with a cup of tea or coffee and bikkies close to hand, and reading a newspaper.

    The smell of the ink, the rustle of the paper as a page is turned, the slight smudge on fingers – “Ha! You’ve been reading a newspaper!”, the time to think about and absorb the written word.

    These things just can’t be replicated online.

    Newspapers are not only “news storage devices”, they are also “time for me” devices.

    You expect, even anticipate being interrupted when you’re online reading, scanning, grabbing headlines and bites, IMs, tweets, pokes, emails, phones, all competing for your attention, and your brain knows it.

    But when you choose a newspaper, well, it’s another world isn’t it? It’s downtime, away from all the other stuff.

    Being interrupted when you’re reading a newspaper (or to a lesser extent, a magazine) is annoying. How dare they – it had better be good.

    I wonder if the plugged in 24/7 to everything.instantly.now. generation realise what they’re missing?

    And I wonder if/when Rupert and Co. will get it and stop stressing over SE traffic to their online content?

  3. jim says

    I think you are really on to something here. I think that rather than think of “how (or why) do we preserve newspapers?” we need to think of what society needs and who can provide that. publishers can do some of what society needs, but we need one other institution: libraries.

    i think society needs more than the short-term transaction-based web “delivery” of news. we also need to preserve reporting so that we can reliably go back and see what happened in the past and how it was reported. this is important for accountability. but it is also a form of shared, collective memory.

    the web is great at providing short-term convenient access. but that is not the same as long-term memory.

    we can’t do this by hoping that things will get preserved by their creators. (they may go out of business or change their priorities or intentionally or unintentionally delete things.) we can’t rely on random preservation here and there by individuals. we need an institution that does this systematically, professionally, consistently, and comprehensively.

    so, what we need is 3 things:

    1) an instantiation of news. newspapers did this in paper and ink, but what we need today is a digital instantiation, perhaps in xml, of every story written. this involves thinking of the stories as things we want to preserve, not just as fleeting stories.

    2) a reliable list, feed, catalog of those stories. (one thing i find frustrating about reading the news online is that i don’t know what i’ve missed. i know what stories i see based on my browsing and searching, but i often wonder, ‘have i missed something?’) Every newspaper or news-organization needs to produce a canonical list of what stories it has created. it could be delivered as an rss feed or any number of other ways.

    3) institutions that would systematically capture, download, and preserve all stories for long-term access. in the past, we called those “libraries” and i think this is the role libraries should play now and in the future, too. we have lots of digital libraries, but they are hobbled by DRM and copyright and licensing restrictions. society needs to enable them to collect and preserve and provide access.

    note that newspapers and news organizations and publishers (or whatever we choose to call them) do the first two things above, but we need separate organizations that are publicly supported and publicly accountable that have as their first priority and mission to preserve information and make it publicly accessible and usable. this is very different from relying on publishers, content-creators, search-engines, etc. who may or may not have preservation and access as a secondary by-product of some other mission (today’s news, making a profit, etc.)