Writing coach Roy Peter Clark says: “Read the paper. Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john.”
As if the Internet weren’t already sucking the life (i.e. advertising) out of newspaper journalism, a time crunch is nailing shut the coffin. Who has time to read? My wife and I get ready for work in the morning. She listens to the radio (KPFA) because it allows her to move around while she pack’s the baby’s lunch and get hers’ and the boys’ breakfasts ready. I check email and post to my blog up in the mornings. I also deliver the baby to daycare. I have two chances to read the paper: when I take my morning constitutional and if I ride the train into the office. Often I have to drive and there goes the longer of the two sessions.
The time-shortage is a secular trend that is helping kill print. It is a phenomenon like the change in family schedules that doomed the afternoon paper. Gone is the factory worker who once got home by four in the afternoon and read the afternoon paper. In fact the armchair is gone. Nowadays when I see people reading more often than not they’re on the move. Too bad the newspaper doesn’t stand up as well as a magazine on the StairMaster. I see people catching up on reading at the gym but the newspaper requires some handling.
But it’s the time crunch that’s the killer. I smile with bemusement when I hear journalists talk about having limitless space online. Sure, storage is cheap and bandwidth cheaper still. But you can’t get attention. The audience has too many choices for news, entertainment and trivia. This profound but simple concept is known as the Attention Economy.
Once the communicator understand the attention concept, the goal becomes creating convenient, useful and habit-forming information products. The paper has its uses. Nothing else works quite so well in the bathroom. Every grunt of satisfaction of disgust helps with the business at hand. And who cares if the paper gets a little wet. It’s expendible.
So follow Roy Peter Clark’s advice:
“I’ve been reading the paper more closely lately, spending at least 15 minutes in the morning, and then picking up some longer stories and features in the evening. The experience has reminded me of something I forgot along the way: that there is no substitute for the local daily newspaper if I am going to live as a full-blooded citizen in a place that I love.”
Well, we’d better hope there is a substitute, and soon, because habits are changing in a way that disadvantage print. Newspaper journalists are going to have unbundle the journalism from its wrapper and find new ways to reach the audience because I have to disagree with Clark when he says, ”It is your duty as . . . a citizen to read the newspaper.” Nonsense. They’re customers. The paper — or whatever it will become – has not merely a duty but a requirment to follow them.