Sunday, January 06, 2013

Do you still get your news from newspapers?

Each day morning, a newspaper lands up at your doorstep. Sometimes many. News is delivered at your doorstep - the fag end of a process that begins with a tree being cut someplace. A tree is cut so that you can read on paper made from the tree about how important is it for you to be eco-friendly. Among other things of course. And the newspaper is part of the new media that originated in the 17th century - thanks to the spread of the printing press.

The printing press made it very easy for people to access news, books, ideas - which prior to that was transmitted mostly by word or handwritten scrolls and suchlike. So, the printing press was the beginning of, loosely, the internet of the 17th century and until the digital internet came along in the late 1990s. But the medium survives. It has survived, by and large, the first digital media invasion - that of television and radio prior to that. But suffice it to say that, the newspaper is, well, a 17th century relic

Today, when you see newspapers and television anchors lament over the crass and rash social media, they aren't doing anything new. They are doing what anybody does in their position. Resist. Why, Socrates, the great philosopher, thought writing would wreak havoc on the powers of the mind. This comes from this lovely article in Wired...

When in doubt, blame the latest technology. Socrates thought the advent of writing would wreak havoc on the powers of the mind. Christian theologians denounced the printing press as the work of the devil. The invention of the telephone was supposed to make letter-writing extinct, and the arrival of the train — and later the car and plane — was going to be the death of community. [Wired]

There is a huge infrastructure that delivers this news to you. An entire infrastructure of people who collect news, another set of people (the editors and others) who decide what goes into print and sometimes yet another set of people over them who decide even prior to that, by way of policy, of whether to let certain news past their gates. Essentially, they decide what they think you should see - whether it is TV or Radio or Newspaper. And then somebody has to pay for them - mostly advertisers - who pay for the circulation of the newspaper - by way of them getting 'eyeballs'. Until, of course, newspapers discovered that some news also can be paid for and there is a potential for quid pro quo by publishing the 'right things'. Thus, newspaper editors got 'influencing power' and often that led to transactions of a not exactly ethical nature. But let us leave ethics aside.

So, what you get to see each day, is a mix of advertising power, what the editors think you should see and some amount of give and take between the powers that be. And not to forget demographic diversity, political correctness and various other such factors.

Earlier newspapers were used to spread ideas as well or test the waters for something. Not any longer. Almost all authors put their writing or ideas on a blog these days - much before their book gets published - which is much before a review of it appears in the newspaper.

Newspapers also carried weather reports - which, well, is available on the internet very easily these days and that too, 24X7. Weather.com, does it better than most others!

Newspapers gave you breaking news - they worked all through the night while you slept and thus, what they delivered to you was unknown to you until morning. But, now, their websites are ahead of their print edition by approximately 5 hours at the shortest point and by about 24 hours at the longest. And I am not yet talking about Twitter.

Newspapers carried sports news. While there are entire sites dedicated for one sport with minute-by-minute live updates and analysis and interaction and statistics and some great writing as well. Sehwag interview for example. Well, I rest my case.

The New York Times, byline says, even today - All The News That's Fit to Print.

For each newspaper, there is a 'committee' out there that decides what is fit to print. Add another constraint because there is a size limitation of a few pages for each section. So, getting printed was a big deal. In the limited space of the newspapers, a god committee would decide what goes in. (The inquisitive mind will know that blog has a tag called 'print' that captures all the stuff that this author has managed to get through various such committees into various limited spaces with pride - an example of an old mentality.)

With the advent of the internet, especially the mobile internet, anyone at the stop of a news can theoretically, create news. With the invention of blogs, people like yours truly have a platform for 'publishing' news, views or their opinion. And once upon a time, getting printed in a newspaper was a great thing - no longer. Some articles on the internet have a much longer shelf life and accessibility. Also, no newspaper wants a columnist to be bigger than themselves - the internet has no such threat to itself.

And about committees of editors, the less said the better. My twitter timeline for example has a bunch of great editors who scan the internet and the physical world for each other and share the news that they see themselves. I also know that their interests match my own - so I get to read what I want to read, not what some exalted committee thinks I should read.

At the end of this, a tree is sacrificed to deliver news at your doorstep - when all the news is already there on your computer, your mobile phone and your twitter timeline. Yes, the news is already stale by the time it is at your doorstep.

Now, do you really need a newspaper? (And you wont see this article in a newspaper.)

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