Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's the future for newsprint?

There's been a debate going on for years now on just what the future is for newspapers in an online world.

There are those who think the prospects are limited for newspapers and that their days as one of the prime delivery networks for news are limited. Recently, PR blogger Steve Rubel, complained about newspaper sites only delivering partial RSS feeds. Then he went further:
Flash forward 10 years from today. We will look back and laugh how quaint it was that we received our news on dead trees. Yes, I am saying the word “newspaper” will be a misnomer. News will be delivered automatically each day, not by the paper boy, but via wirelessly enabled e-paper devices that are easy to read. All of it will be powered by RSS.

Perhaps. A lot will depend on just how good those E-reader devices really become. Still, I'm not convinced. There are a lot of significant factors that are still pointing to newsprint enjoying a long life yet. And there are others that share my opinion.

In his Loose Wire blog, Jeremy Wegstaff, a columnist with the Wall St. Journal, takes a contrary view (perhaps not surprisingly, given his vocation.)

But Wegstaff's response is not knee-jerk, in any way. He presents a lot of thoughtful reasons on why we're not likely to give up the luxury of print anytime soon.

I tend to agree. While I do a lot of reading online, there are still plenty of situations where I want to hold something in my hands and read. A cup of hot coffee and a lot of sunshine coming in through the window -- to me, that's a recipe for curling up with a book or leafing through a newspaper, not cuddling up to my computer.

Similarly, when I commute in the morning, newspapers and books outnumber portable devices by quite a bit. Part of the debate has to do with whether we need to see news in "real time." Personally, I think that requirement is overblown in importance. We just don't have to know everything right now. If something is significant, we'll hear about it soon enough. Still, it is human nature to want to know stuff right away, especially if they can find out about it before someone else. Knowledge is power, as they say.

As I reporter, I used to see this a lot at news conferences. While sitting around waiting for a politician to arrive and tell us what the news was, we'd all debate our own theories, trying to convince each other that we knew more than the others about what was happening. And we'd do this right up until the announcement was made. It was fun, but it didn't really contribute anything to the larger picture.

What do you think? Are you likely to accept getting all your news delivered to your favourite media player via RSS? Or do you think that newspapers are going to stay relevant in a fully electronic world?

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