Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Online-Only vs. Hardcopy -- and at least one reason hardcopy should surivive

It's clear that the online-only model is the wave of the future of journalism.

You save costs on printing (inc. newsprint itself as well as the printers themselves) and distributing (postage or delivery people).

You can cover late-breaking news and sporting events that run past 11pm. You can update your electronic front-page faster so that you're not scooped for an entire day, but by a few minutes.

But right now, electronic coverage does not have the same impact as print. You can scan the headlines on newsstands -- but you won't be able to do that when all the newsstands close.

Printing up articles even in color doesn't yet convey the same thing as the actual printed copy. (Perhaps that's because printing from newspaper's websites still can be ugly or include ads or leaves out photos.) Can you imagine Truman holding up a printout of the Chicago Tribune proclaiming, "Dewey Defeats Truman"?

You may think I'm a printophile -- which I guess I am -- and that's why I'd sad to see traditional media shift to the online-only model.

But it's interesting to note that, despite the fact that more people access newspapers via the Internet than read hardcopy editions of those newspapers, so many lined up to purchase hardcopies of the NY Times on Wed., Nov. 5, to keep a commemorative copy of Obama's historic victory. Some people paid as much as $250 on eBay for the Times.

If hardcopy isn't valued anymore, why didn't all those folks just print out the Times' article on the election that day?

The answer: printer paper doesn't have the same impact/gravitas as printer paper.

To that end, I would expect that in the future, online-only newspapers will seek to print special hardcopy issues to mark future historic events. (How they'll be able to turn-around and distribute those issues when local printing presses will have been shuttered is a question for those more versed in logistics.)

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