Pop Culture

People still want the news, but not the ‘paper’

Most every weekday morning, Daniel Gill starts out his day by checking out the breaking news stories on CNN.com or on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site. Since the 31-year-old Los Angeles resident owns a public relations company, Force Field PR, he also makes it a point to log onto entertainment-related sites like the Daily Swarm and Flavorpill.

Across the country, in Morgantown, W. Va., 34-year-old media consultant Kelly Ann Collins likes to begin her workday by reading articles from CNN.com and USA Today that come to her via Twitter feeds. When Collins’ grandmother tells her about an interesting story in the local paper, the Dominion Post, Collins makes sure to check it out — online.

Gill and Collins are quickly becoming emblematic of a new type of newspaper reader — one that doesn’t read an actual paper. As countless news stories have reported in the past few years, readership of newspapers is down. That, along with the flagging economy, has led to a situation where newspapers seem to be dying or filing for bankruptcy on an almost weekly basis (the latest being the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News).

The Pew Research Center reported in a December 2008 survey that for the first time the Internet has pulled ahead of newspapers as a source for news for most Americans — and that for people under age 30, the Internet “now rivals television as a main source of national and international news.” As such, the Wall Street Journal has questioned whether newspapers should be giving away their information for free and Long Island’s Newsday is now “rethinking its free Web model.”

“You get so much more from the Web,” says Collins who once worked at USA Today and founded a newspaper, the Mountain Ear, in the 1990s. “You can pretty much get news from any newspaper anywhere in the world. I don’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper.”

Gill notes that while a lot of his older family members take a newspaper, most of the people he knows that are his own age don’t.

“I don’t feel guilty for not subscribing,” he adds. “If I’m looking at a newspaper’s Web site, I’m still getting the ads. Whoever is paying to advertise with these newspapers online, I’m probably their target audience.”

Neither Collins nor Gill harbors any sentimental feelings about the possible loss of actual newspapers. According to Collins, no newspaper subscription means, “I don’t have to go outside and get the paper in the cold — and no yucky newsprint.”

Gill says the main reason he doesn’t take a paper is that it clutters his house: “We have small kids and they’re gonna get into it,” he says. “Plus, it’s just one more thing to have to recycle and our recycling bins are already full.”

Gill also notes that when he’s at home his family can keep up with headline news during their recreation time because they get an AP newswire feed on their Nintendo Wii.

Inconvenient newsWhen cable television reporting brought about the 24-hour news cycle, newspaper stories became obsolete before the papers were even delivered, says Andy Vliet, a 44-year-old Maui strategy consultant.

“For a lot of what I do my clients expect me to be very current,” Vliet notes. “So by the time the paper gets to me its old news.”

Vliet keeps up with news, he says, by a combination of Web browsing and RSS feeds. “For the RSS I subscribe to probably about a dozen services,” he explains.

Chicago financial research analyst Christopher Hill says he let his newspaper subscription lapse and prefers instead to scour a variety of news sources online. That way, he says, he’s assured of seeing “both sides of the stories.” The 35-year-old, who runs the financial blog Boom2Bust.com, says he’s noticed that his blog’s commenters will call him out when he fails to present a balanced overview of a particular issue.

“There might be a story that focuses on the U.S. housing market and the source might be the National Association of Realtors — and that might be the only side of the story you hear,” Hill says.

Jean Judd of Chantilly, Virginia, says she prefers the immediacy of television news to the printed paper — even though she grew up in a house with a daily newspaper subscription.

“If I’m home I’ll try to catch the 5 p.m. or 11 p.m. news,” says the 26-year-old data entry and consumer services manager. “If not, I’ll just go to CNN.com.”

A greener news consumer
Orlando, Florida painter Gayle Renee bid goodbye to her newspaper subscription because she felt it was an unnecessary tax on both the environment and her budget.

“I try to be as green as possible for one thing,” says the 41-year-old. “And also, it was just an added expense that was unnecessary because anything that I was finding in the newspaper I could find online — even grocery coupons or news of sales in stores.”

Renee says that in the past she used to peruse her local newspaper for information about art gallery openings, but she’s now able to keep up with the local arts community and even sell her art on several Web sites, including her MySpace page.

But not everyone is convinced newspapers are irrelevant. San Francisco’s David Scheff, who has several newspaper subscriptions, says he worries that their diminishing influence, coupled with the growing influence of bloggers, will harm coverage of hard news.

“I worry about quality going away when newspapers go away,” says Scheff, 56. “I like knowing that some guy that went to Harvard and is a political whiz is telling me (about a particular issue) as opposed to some guy down the street with a blog that gets to be the hip guy.”

Long Island resident Brandi Buchman, 23, also says she prefers the “tangible newspaper” to television, where she considers the barrage of advertisements “intrusive.”

“I find that with cable news the advertising is ridiculous,” says Buchman, an administrative assistant and teacher who says she also gets a lot of news from National Public Radio. “(With a newspaper) it’s just plain and simple — you pick and choose what you want to be informed about.”

Renee notes that if newspapers cease publishing hard copy editions, they’ll be leaving elderly readers without a longstanding resource for news.

“I worry about the older people who enjoy newspapers and who aren’t tech savvy and who don’t even have computers,” Renee says. “I feel bad for them.”

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