Life after death: newspapers and the re-invention of paper technology | OJR – (are we losing the ability to focus on detailed reading?)

Newspaper companies are in consensus about the solution to all their problems: they must shed the cellulose pulp and find a way to make content work online. But perhaps forms like investigative and literary journalism, which both have roots in print technology, are more attached to their traditional medium than innovators would like to accept. At a very basic level, the connection between these journalistic forms and the technology from which they arose has been overlooked.

What both investigative and literary journalism have in common, beyond their immersive reporting practices, is the attention they require of their audience. Even more than investigative journalism, literary pieces ask for a level of dedication from the reader that the Internet as a medium does not seem to facilitate. “Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice,” Nicholas Carr examined in his July 2008 Atlantic article Is Google Making us Stupid? “But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking.” This new style of reading is one based on productivity, gleaning as much information as effectively as possible. For Siegel, this newly formed habit poses a threat to journalism that requires more concentrated attention. “The bigger problem is that people in this instant age might be losing the ability and inclination for the kind of sustained, focused effort that long-form reading requires,” said Siegel.

It was hard to select the nut graph in this piece because it is a particularly excellent article about the strengths of the paper medium and makes a lot of very incisive points.

The overall argument is that print is not dead but that its highest and best purpose is probably not what appears in the average newspaper these days. So the conclusion to draw is that newspapers should fundamentally change what they use print to present, concentrating on longform material.

However, this would require a 180-degree change from most newspapers’ current strategy of cutting back editorial in a lame attempt to make the publication cheaper to produce. What that cutback-policy actually does is give people stronger reasons to stop reading.