1. They have headline envy.
News aggregators make looking at headlines a completely brandless experience. Google News couldn’t care less whether you are the New York Times or the Seattle P.I. (its printed edition is now defunct… get it?), and apparently the news organizations do not care to differentiate themselves much either. I recently watched State of Play and could not help feeling that all the rush to get to the truth before a competing paper was a complete farce. The fact that the reporters in the movie made fun of blogs and the internet is the ultimate irony. In real life as soon as his story was posted every newspaper in the country would repost the same facts rearranged slightly to reflect their own style guides. Within 15 minutes it does not matter who got the scoop. I learned more about the Japan earthquake in the first 10 minutes from Twitter than the newspaper sites were able to tell me in 12 hours. Aggregators have driven the value of the newspaper headline to zero. Remember how people used to save Newspapers on historic days? Me either. The cable news has been eating the newspaper’s lunch for a couple decades and now the internet is stealing the money it has hidden in its socks.
2. They don’t understand technology.
I actually really like how some news organizations have designed their websites but it is clear that ad revenue on the web is not going up anytime soon. So we are left with ad stuffed messes to try to sift through. Then came the brushed Aluminum (or aluminium as Mr. Ive likes to say) and Glass Rescue from the west. The iPad seemed to promise a return to old business models for publishing titans (witness how much Mr. Murdoch has sunk into his brick of a program, The Daily). They might have been right but they squandered their opportunity. Try to pull up a news story in The Daily in less than a minute, I dare you. It suffers from the same obesity problem as Wired’s iPad app. Instead of quick loading Analysis and Long Form reporting, you get inaccessible rasterized PDF browsing. It will eat all your bandwidth and disk space and offer you the mostly same content you can find on the newspaper’s website. As Marco Arment pointed out a few weeks ago on Build & Analyze, performance is a feature. If there is one thing a native app should do better than anything else, it is eliminate latency. I would rather see a native app serve primarily as a browser shell that shows most of its content rendered in HTML than what we have seen from the publishing industry so far. “Finally a physical object that people hold and read, we know how to do those.” Really? Your physical artifact makes great shields for when I spray mount design presentations, maybe that’s what you mean.
3. There are better alternatives
When I want to understand what is happening in the world, there are a few places that tend to consistently help:
- The Economist has a decent website, podcasts, and a good iPad app.
- The Virginia Quarterly Review releases epub books that are designed well and offer several good articles centered on a common theme.
- Blogs, this is where all the out of work journalists go.
Basically I gravitate towards things that seem like they took time, where people have sat and tried to think about, investigate, and analyze the world. Newspapers are actually pretty good at this, maybe if they featured it more prominently this rant would never have been written. Here are a couple examples that spring to mind:
- The New York Times’ infographics demonstrating the before and after of the the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami. Also their infographics on Obama’s budget proposal were particularly enlightening.
- The Washington Post’s investigative stories on Dick Cheney and their sprawling report on the growth of the government domestic surveillance.
That, in a nutshell, is why I do not read newspapers. I cannot say that my views are representative of everyone who isn’t reading newspapers, but I can predict that the multiplicity of reasons for falling readership will only grow. Unless publishers start doing something different (that doesn’t cost $400+ a year for the consumer).