The Disappearing Newspaper
What's black and white and read all over? Not newspapers, at least not anymore. In fact, if you're like most young people, you probably don't read the newspaper at all.
In one recent survey, just 19 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds said they read a newspaper every day. In contrast, 37 percent watch local TV news and 44 percent visit Internet news sites daily. As people turn more and more to new technologies, they turn the pages of newspapers less and less.
Many young people are turning to new media technologies instead of print newspapers to find out what's going on.
"There's a revolution in the way young people access news," says media consultant Merrill Brown. Brown headed the MSNBC.com news Web site when it started in 1996.
Just a generation or two ago, the newspaper was the main way in which many people got their news. Now, nearly every home has at least one TV set. There's high-speed, wireless Internet access in many cafes. Cell phones handle text messages and can take pictures and download e-mails.
You no longer have to wait for a bundle of newsprint to arrive on your doorstep every morning. Thanks to new technology, if you want to know what's going on in the world, you can get breaking news instantly in more ways than one.
On the Web
Newspapers face a major challenge. Raised on MTV and video games, today's kids and young adults want flashy displays, special effects, instant access to information, and the chance to interact in real time, even when they're reading about serious issues.
If newspapers can't find creative ways to be more than just ink on paper, some experts suggest, they might disappear completely.
Traditional newspaper articles are supposed to be read from beginning to end.
One problem is that many news organizations refuse to see the potential of the Web, says new media specialist Bob Cauthorn. For those who do, however, the Internet is rapidly changing the way journalists work.
Traditional newspaper articles are supposed to be read from beginning to end. With Web pages, on the other hand, there's more freedom. You can zero in on the things you're interested in, then follow links to other sources. You can join discussion groups, read other people's reactions to a topic, or start a blog—a type of online diary—to express your own views and collect comments. At Science News for Kids, you can vote in online polls and even grade the articles that you've read.
In this world of "new media," straight lines no longer apply, says Jane Ellen Stevens. She's a freelance multimedia journalist. "It's not 1, 2, 3, 4," she says, "but this, that, and another."
Despite the challenges, some newspapers are taking advantage of new technologies. At the Lawrence Journal-World in Lawrence, Kansas, for instance, all reporters carry camera cell phones, so that news can be posted immediately as it happens. There's an Xbox in the newsroom so that sports writers can simulate games between real teams before they take place and get an idea of what might happen.
Reporters for different media also tend to work together. So, those who write about science for the newspaper share office space with science reporters for the local TV station and for the paper's Web site, Lawrence.com (www.lawrence.com).
Web sites offer newspapers new outlets, especially for local information.
Local newspapers often have a hard time covering national or international news as it happens because it takes time to edit, print, and deliver a newspaper to its readers. After the Asian tsunami last December (see "Wave of Destruction"), for example, the first pictures of the disaster came from digital cameras and cell phones of people who were on the scene. Reports soon appeared on Web sites and TV stations, but it took more than a day for tsunami information to hit many newspapers in the United States.
Figuring that people get their international news elsewhere, Lawrence.com focuses on local events. It treats Little League baseball as if it's the majors. High school games get a lot of play. Visiting and local rock bands get special features, as do events of interest to students at the University of Kansas.
Likewise, the Northwest Voice, a weekly community newspaper and Web site (www.northwestvoice.com) in northwest Bakersfield, Calif., features a calendar of local events, listings of birthdays and anniversaries of people who live in town, news about the area's schools and churches, and community photos submitted by local residents.
People love to read about issues that are relevant to their everyday lives, says Mary Lou Fulton, publisher of the Northwest Voice. "We need to expand our definition of what news is," Fulton says. "It needs to be more what news is as defined by the readers."
Another key to building a successful newspaper Web site, media experts say, is to keep track of the newest of the new technologies and find creative ways to use them.
Virtual reality (VR) photography is one example of a cool technology with lots of potential. VR photography allows the viewer to click on an image and use the mouse to move around within it and zoom in and out. More interactive than still photos or video clips, VR images are interesting both artistically and for practical reasons. They can provide images of the scene of a crime or show potential buyers what the inside of a house looks like.
To create a VR photograph, experts such as geographer Donald Bain and photographer Landis Bennett mount a digital camera in one spot, then take multiple pictures to get a 360-degree panorama. They shoot up and down, left and right. Then, they use computer programs to piece the images together and make the result interactive. When done well, a VR panorama can make you feel as if you're in the picture.
Mono Lake in California has salty water and is famous for its weird mineral formations. To see a VR panorama of the lake, go to geoimages.berkeley.edu/wwp605/html/JohnDotta.html or click on the link shown below.
To see a VR panorama of Mono Lake, California, go to geoimages.berkeley.edu/wwp605/html/JohnDotta.html. To see some other examples of VR panoramas, go to geoimages.berkeley.edu/wwp605/ (University of California, Berkeley).
Putting together a basic VR image is fairly simple, Bain and Bennett say. Getting journalists to use the technology for news coverage may just be a matter of time. "With any new technology," Bain says, "you have to educate people about what they're seeing."
Besides special features and information about local events, interactivity helps make people loyal to certain news sites. Blogs and discussion boards allow ordinary citizens to present their views and find out what other people think. Live chats with politicians and community leaders give people a chance to ask questions directly of people who are normally hard to reach.
"People reveal things on chats that they won't tell reporters," says Rob Curley, who runs Lawrence.com.
For young people and newspapers, the news isn't all bad. Some kids do read daily newspapers and find them to be useful, reliable sources of news. Students go to newspapers or their Web sites to do homework. Some work on newspapers at their schools.
Like many adults, kids turn to newspapers for material that's of interest in their day-to-day lives—comics, movie listings, celebrity doings, puzzles, entertainment, sports, fashion tips, and, sometimes, current events. They skim the pages, picking out the pieces they find interesting, reading as much or as little as they care to, perhaps marking or tearing out something of particular value.
Clearly, however, newspapers need to try harder to take advantage of new technologies to tell their stories in ways that attract and involve readers, young or old.