It’s The Content… Stupid


We were over my in-laws’ house for Mother’s Day, and I did something rather unusual — I actually read a newspaper… from newsprint! Here’s what happened…

I saw these quaint bundles of paper sitting on the counter and inquired as to what they were. My father-in-law said they are called “newspapers” and that, in his day, it was how they got the news. (I know I know… as shocking as it is, I learned that RSS feeds are actually relatively new.)

I was surprised to find that the same information I read on my iPhone and Kindle could be found printed on paper and ink. (I also found that they left their mark on my fingers…) Strikingly, the first article I actually read was on this very subject, and it certainly makes my list of recommended reading as you start a new week.
In an op-ed piece Frank Rich talks about “The American Press On Suicide Watch“. He discusses something that is often a topic of conversation here on the site — the transition from old media to new media and the shift from dead tree newspaper and books to electronic versions. Rich does an excellent job discussing how the transition has accelerated as a result of the worldwide economic meltdown. The fact is that it’s just cheaper to deliver content electronically than it is to go through the process of printing and then distributing it in a timely manner.

He also does an excellent job of putting this transition into context. He writes,

…this self-destructive retreat from innovation is hardly novel in the history of American communications in the last transformative tech revolution before the Internet — televisions emergence in the late 1940s — the pattern was remarkably similar. Entertainment industry referred to TV as “the monster” and by 1951, the editor of the industry’s trade paper, variety, was fearful that the monster would “eventually swallow up practically all of show business.” Movies that killed Vaudeville generation earlier.

There have always been transitions from old modes of accomplishing something to new, more efficient ways thanks to innovative technology. The telephone put the telegraph out of business. The automobile put the horse and buggy out to pasture. And the Gutenberg printing press did little to help provide job security to the, then printing presses of the day — scribes. The very nature of technological advances is that one mode of doing things is replaced by a newer one.

But Rich, in his wisdom, doesn’t focus on the shift in technology but rather what it means for the creation and distribution of the information via that technology. To get a better understanding of his argument one would need only look at the current movie State of Play. In one dramatic scene the movie captures the conflict between bloggers and reporters. It, like Rich, moves past the technological differences to focus on the real, core issue, the depth of the reporting. It is, both Rich and the movie point out, only through serious investigative reporting that some of the great scandals have been uncovered. Bloggers are not, for the most part, in a position to do the research to uncover the governments warrantless wiretapping, the scams at Enron, or the steroids scandal in baseball (just to name a few that Rich discusses.)

NYTimes Kindle

As Rich points out,

it’s immaterial whether we find the fruits of their (reporters) labors on paper, laptop screen, a Blackberry, a Kindle or podcast. But someone — and certainly not the government, with all its conflict of interests — must pay for this content and make every effort to police its fairness and accuracy.

Ultimately THAT is the issue at hand. There is no doubt technology is pushing us toward electronic books and news. That isn’t a bad thing. If, however, we lose the depth of insight and research that have been part of them… if news reporting gets as sloppy as txting has made most of us when we send notes… it is a very bad thing indeed.

The article is a must read for anyone interested in technology. It is available anywhere that yesterday’s newspapers can be found or… if you want it immediately, for free and without the smudgy ink on your fingers… go HERE.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

6 Comments on "It’s The Content… Stupid"

  1. David Goodspeed | May 11, 2009 at 9:02 am |

    And in the post-apocalyptic electronic form we also get access to the 661 comments (at last count) in response to his article online. Unfortunately for the Times company, about the only real money made in all of this is from the version printed on the dead forest.
    It is, and most likely ever shall be, a battle of the business model, whether publicly or privately funded.

  2. It is interesting that in an editorial column about journalists and capabilities, an example cited about Colbert claims his video was ‘#1 on iTunes’, whereas the link shows it was #1 on YouTube.

  3. Dan Cohen | May 11, 2009 at 9:06 am |

    I had not seen the YouTube video (good catch Michael) of Colbert until I read the piece. (Interesting juxtaposition… I put down the paper and went upstairs where my mother-in-laws computer is… then returned to the paper…

    It was unbelievable and… SCATHING!!!!

  4. It’s The Content… Stupid:
    We were over my in-laws house for Mother’s Day, and I did somethi..

  5. I had the Chicago Trib on my Kindle for little less than a week. I wasn’t very happy with the experience, as it didn’t include the ENTIRE paper (classifieds, comics, etc.) If I had access to the entire paper, it would have been a different story for me…

    However, this is just a temporary thing, as I am certain that eventually this will be resolved, and then I’ll jump on the subscription.

  6. I just wonder how all of this will impact the small town newspaper … we get our local info that way as other means are not reliable. Back in Massachusetts there was a weekly local paper that served the purpose.

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