Since the advent of the internet more than two decades ago, plenty of people have predicted the days of the printed newspaper are numbered. Many are still doing so, just admitting that it’s going to take a lot longer than they thought.
But this isn’t the usual kind of forecast error of failing to guess the arrival date of something almost certain to happen. This is a failure to understand people, markets and the unique product advantages of the printed newspaper — and imagining a false future for all three.
Many phone calls to The Press from subscribers ring on my desk simply because my phone number on the Opinion page is easy to find. In those conversations, many people want me to know that they like the printed paper and want it to continue. They often describe where and how they read it — with their morning coffee or tea, or while eating breakfast, usually in the same place every day.
My favorite place is the front porch on sunny days. I’ll take a hot beverage or even breakfast out there and read two newspapers while hearing and seeing the life in the garden and neighborhood (much of it wild).
It’s a habit and people love a good habit, one that’s comfortable and benefits them. And it depends on the unique set of qualities of the printed newspaper.
Newspapers pack a lot of information into a format that is portable, durable and doesn’t require electricity from a battery or cord. The pages are large enough to put multiple stories, photos, graphics, short things and ads into a single view. They hold up well under any condition short of reading them in a pouring rain, yet they are also disposable — a fresh and richly varied collection of pages will arrive tomorrow.
Think of how crucial all of these qualities are to the newspaper experience.
You can very efficiently choose from among lots of things to read, just look at or even do if you’re a puzzle fan.
You can use the newspaper anywhere. I read it in full sunlight on the porch, and having tried to write on a laptop computer there, I’ve seen how electronic screens perform poorly in sunlight.
And you don’t have to worry about spilling a beverage on the newspaper or dropping it. You won’t be out several hundred dollars if you do so. Nor do you have to worry about it becoming a filthy, germ-laden threat — every day it’s new and practically sterilized.
Crucially, printed newspapers make being informed about the community and the whole world beyond so efficient and enjoyable that people actually do it. That’s a big difference from competing formats such as television and online sources, even newspapers’ own digital versions.
I’ve read at least two daily newspapers all of my life, the local paper and a major metropolitan paper. The benefits of actually taking in much of that information — and all that I want — are vast. It helps me decide where to live, what to do where and when for fun, how to optimize my health in the perpetually changing health and care landscape, the brand and type of vehicle to own — in myriad ways small and large, really, this carefully selected and credible information helps me make just about every aspect of life better.
Even that is not all.
Eventually you can understand people near and far, how they do things a little differently, how the large and long-term developments of the fascinating human species are playing out in the present for them and us. You can distinguish between what we have in common and what’s unique, between trends that are universal and local. Perspectives become possible in which the noise of the daily human frenzy recedes and more enduring realities are clearer.
I suppose something similar is possible if you spend far more time on credible online sites or almost your whole life watching television. But when I talk with people, I usually get a sense of how much information and understanding they have, and almost without exception those whom I’ve found to be very well-informed are reading printed newspapers.
That’s a comprehensive advantage I don’t see disappearing anytime soon, if ever.
Kevin Post is editorial page editor.