Reading print newspapers

We drove to a quaint little town on the banks of the Hudson with nice little roads lined by painted houses with small well-tended gardens and quaint little antique shops that had their wares displayed on the pavement. The town seemed to be mostly populated by the elderly. We had coffee and freshly baked honey cake at a pretty little coffee shop.

It was there that I spotted an item that I’ve lost touch with in a while.

A big bunch of freshly printed local newspapers arranged in a neat pile near the door!

Newspapers B&W (3)

Not having glanced at an actual newspaper which only has a print circulation in a while, I glanced over its pages with curiosity. Apart from the feel of the paper in my hand, the smell of new print and the lack of fear of spilling coffee that I’ve gotten so used to while reading, I noticed a few stylistic differences in writing which probably stemmed from the fact that it was only read in print.

I decided to note down these differences just to observe how writing about news or events might be changing.

Description: There was a lot more narration of events as they took place than I’m used to because those are usually replaced with video onlne. This newspaper reported local events that would not be covered on TV so that the description had a certainty of tone which left little room for multiple viewpoints (assuming few others would have seen those events first-hand to contest what was written)

Assumptions about audience: There was a lot more certainty about who was going to read the paper. For example, an article on how to prepare less boring lunches for kids in school mentioned several commonplace recipes as “exotic” with a confidence that would be rare online (because a question would arise  then about being exotic to whom).

Organization: Since this was a very local paper, there were no long articles. But even the short articles took longer to come to the point than I’m used to. Was it because the whole article was on the same page and  the writer was certain that the reader would have to read continuously in a linear fashion since there was no place to click away? Was it because there wasn’t any anxiety that only the initial few words would be shown as an excerpt or “shared” on social networking sites so that it would have to compete with other articles within those few words?

Of course, I noticed some changes in my own reading habit too. I read in a more streamlined fashion, concentrating on one article at a time. I was aware that other people in the coffee shop knew what I was reading (which they wouldn’t have if they were only seeing the back of my laptop screen).

But also, I had lost my respect for the printed word as the last authority on accuracy of content, spelling or grammar–I had seen too many hastily published beautiful pages online.

My experience made me wonder how the nuances of narration and description have changed in writing since we started reading electronically and watching video.

40 thoughts on “Reading print newspapers”

  1. We don’t take a newspaper because of the clutter, but I miss the layout of newspaper. It was much easier to take things in holistically before deciding which articles to read in depth, and what order. Online reading in general encourages brevity and catchy, sound-bite style writing. Sometimes this is good, but I like to think there is still room for longer, more thoughtful and deliberate writing. Maybe the rise of tablets will keep longer writing around, at least in some forums; it’s easier to read long pieces on an ereader rather than a computer screen.


  2. “It was there that I spotted an item that I’ve lost touch with in a while.” Such a lovely line and so true. I have lost touch with reading newspapers and this post has reminded me how much I loved relaxing with a cup of coffee and the Sunday paper! I will put on my list for fall!


  3. It truly is a shame that they’ve become so scarce. I really do fear that books will follow the same trend. I know a lot of people say it could never happen, but twenty years ago, no one would ever have expected newspapers to become obsolete, either. Culture evolves and changes, yes, but it’s a terrible shame to lose something so beautiful. I prefer to supplement my paper with pixels, not replace it.


  4. The difference in only print, print/online, and solely online writing is really interesting to consider. One must wonder if we will eventually add designations of these formats in literature study, and how they will be analyzed decades down the road.


      1. I know! On one hand I’m glad to be writing in a time of change, because I do think change=opportunities. On the other hand it would be nice to know exactly which direction to go in both writing and reading wise.


  5. I noticed that the online versions of news articles I read are loaded with errors. I think they are so obsessed with getting the information out there as quickly as possible, that they overlook grammar and writing style completely.


    1. I agree. Add to that the brevity enforced by Twitter and spellings and grammar are definitely under attack. In another 10 years, we’ll all be writing and spelling like 7 year olds who’ve just learnt phonetics. Sad….


    2. Yes, taraisarockstar . That could be a reason or it could be a general writing culture shift due to quick writing habits such as texting and emailing that’s pervaded everything. Think about a person in the 18th century and the amount of preparation he needed to do to sit down to write–light the candle, fill the ink bottle, get paper etc!


  6. “It was there that I spotted an item that I’ve lost touch with in a while.”

    I have to smile to keep from crying. Newspapers are dying. The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’s 175-year old daily papers (older than Mardi Gras), decided to publish only 3 days a week and focus more efforts online.


  7. Nice article. I really enjoy reading local newspapers, try to read at least one a day if possible. They kind of move away from the corporate writing the main newspapers provide. But, at a further glance, you’re right. Where does the media go from here? When is enough enough?


  8. I get most of my news via the radio, spliced with a couple of tv channels, and the internet.
    Tend not to take a daily newspaper because they are so full of celebrity rubbish, about which I care not a jot. (In the UK anyway).
    Think most newspapers have only themselves to blame if they expire.


  9. My mother subscribes to a small local newspaper like this that is also available on line. It is definitely a different experience even when reading the same content. Good post!


  10. Even though I have started this thing called blogging, I remain a lover of the printed word: in some form or another that is. Books, papers, mags: whatever . I find I now overlap reading online with paper versions and like the choice. I don’t think I will convert fully to words on the screen as my only choice and perhaps that is because I believe I am considerably older than you, but what I do know is that where ever we write, there is no reason to produce anything other than good, fluid and meaningful writing – on line or off line.


  11. I’ve done a (corporate) course on web writing and it was really interesting – people scan the headline, look at links, read a few words… and if it’s not what they want, they move on. It amazes me that reading things online can actually be relaxing!


  12. At least once during the weekend we sit and have a coffee, sometimes lunch, and read the paper at one of the local cafes/restaurants. It’s such a wonderful way to relax. There is no hurry; we are not reading to catch-up, or visit the most popular topics. We are reading to engage with the writer, and to savour the word; agree or not. I do hope I’ll be able to continue this habit for a good long while to come…! Call me old fashioned, maybe. Call me relaxed… sure… 🙂


  13. A very pertinent observation and a concern about the demise of the written language. Embracing new technology and social media and communicating on different platforms is here to stay, but at what expense?


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