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!
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.