You can take shallow web news, “fake news,” click bait, intrusive advertising and shove it into the trash folder, as far as this citizen is concerned. I’m going back to print – with eyes wide open for bias -in search of in-depth national and international news, from current events to politics to business.
Yes, print’s forecast is bleak. But, as the new Spock said in the latest Star Trek film: “We will find hope in the impossible.”
Maybe national print newspapers and magazines have a future after all because I strongly suspect there are millions of people like me who are fed up with how media companies and others are destroying the Internet for out-of-hometown news, business, entertainment and sports. (Local sites are a topic for another day.)
Some web sites do news very well, such as WRAL.com, IMHO. Parent Capitol Broadcasting invests far more in terms of resources in online editing, reporting and presentation than many broadcasting companies, especially for local news, weather, business and sports.
However, two days after the Nov. 8 elections, I confess that I bought two hard copies of national finger-staining newspapers. Not to commemorate the results of a stunning election but to find in-depth analysis of what the heck happened – and why. The papers (chosen after careful review) were straight-forward, nicely packaged, illustrated, packed with graphics and easy to read (except for “jumps” from one page to another) I later bought two splendid post-election magazines for the same basic reasons. (Yes, they will all be recycled.)
Adding to the allure of a return to print: Detailed coverage of the latest in business and technology, two areas often neglected (let alone understood) at many Internet publications.
Perils of print vs. annoyance of web
Could I have found the news, analysis and statistics and graphs/charts I wanted online? Yes. Could I have printed out copies if I wanted “hard copy”? Of course.
I chose not to – for a lot of reasons, among them:
- Diminishing expectations for what many news websites deliver – and how they present it
So, a return to print … even though the news is out of date by the time the paper lands on the porch or the mag hits the mailbox. That’s OK. I want the in-depth coverage. TV and WRAL.com and other sites satisfy the need for instant gratification and knowledge.
It may surprise you that as the editor of a 15-year-old web-based publication and as co-author of a book about the strategic benefits of the Internet (“The Internet Strategic Plan”) I have decided to resume subscriptions to a national print newspaper and a national print magazine. This column has been difficult to write, given that I have been a journalist for nearly 50 years.
But … I’m simply fed up with online news sites that provide more clutter and distractions than real content. They load slowly to boot.
Media companies are obviously struggling to find ways to make online news profitable. (Yes, WRAL TechWire has a paywall for some content. At least we limit the distractions so you the reader can concentrate on the actual news. WRAL remains free.)
Online is becoming a greater challenge for post-millennials (and there are still millions of us.) It’s hard enough to read in-depth stories on a PC screen or smartphone but more difficult as we age.
Paywalls are everywhere now. They are a justified means (again, IMHO) for sites to pay for the content they publish. But why pay if all you continue to get is ads, ads, ads and unwanted filler/click bait?
If you rely on Twitter or social for your news, the web medium is OK.
If you want video, OK. But be prepared to wait at many sites. (I don’t have the time or the patience. I move on.)
As companies struggle to grow or retain readership, they need to ask some hard questions about convenience, quality, speed – and a lot more.
Shrinking space per screen
At too many sites the search for dollars has led to shrinking news hole – to use an old newspaper term – i.e., the space devoted to the screen for content. At some destinations you must work your way through ads, photos and videos just about every other paragraph to read the story that drew you to the site.
Reading from my smartphone is becoming nearly impossible because a lot of sites have apparently found ways to make sure the “x” on an ad that is supposed to take away the ad actually brings the ad on your screen.
An emerging trend is ads popping up as soon as you click on a headline.
No wonder ad blockers are so popular. (Yes, I use one.)
Now sites are telling me if I want to read their news I have to disable the ad blocker.
I might do so if I felt that the news site would clear out some of the junk.
Oh, how about those 1- to 3-question surveys you have to take before getting a story?
No thank you.
The click bait and the fake news surrounds the real headlines. If I see another link promising to show me what some past TV star looks like today, I will scream.
Then there is politics.
I recently wrote to ESPN’s public editor complaining about all the politics that infest that site. What ever happened to sports?
Yes, I realize sports have been and continue to be an effective way to encourage diversity and equality. But I don’t want ESPN telling me how it thinks I should vote – even if I agree with what the site’s authors and sports stars have to say.
As a Yankee fan, I want to read about hot prospects and Spring Training – not why I should vote for politician A, B or C.
Maybe politics is a reason why ESPN is bleeding subscribers.
At most news sites, right or left or claiming to be balanced, the politics are now inescapable even in what is supposed to be unbiased reporting.
A place for editorials
Another reason for going back to print is a search for at least some modicum of fairness. Civil discourse from all sides is a faded memory. I am not naive. I will not consider subscribing to some print publications since their bias is so apparent from cover to cover.
Opinion in business and technology (WTW’s focus) is welcome, but business sites should remain free of corrosive politics. Analysts’ opinions about tech strategy and stocks are not the same as open advocacy for political causes.
For many reasons, HB2 – the “bathroom bill” – is a huge topic here in North Carolina. So, too, is economic development. Corporate tax policy has huge ramifications for everyone. But discussing the issues is different than editorializing.
In terms of political swamp news, there are some publications that try to keep opinions where they belong – on the Op/Ed pages or clearly marked as “Analysis.”
So that’s a reason to pick print. I know LITERALLY where the editorials are supposed to be. (Note: CBC opinions at WRAL.com are clearly labeled.)
If you are frustrated by web news sites, what newspapers and magazines will you subscribe to once more? (My choices will remain private.)
As for you millennials who have never tried print but yearn for more than tweets and social media, you might want to give a paper or a magazine a try – and then recycle.
We can all try to find hope in the impossible.