In Part 1 of this series, I explained the rationale behind my self-imposed two-week ban on reading print news media — depending instead entirely on iPad apps. I then detailed the pros and cons of the ban, in terms of my newspaper reading. In today’s conclusion, I consider the effects on my reading of weekly magazines and other news apps — as well as assessing the overall success of the experiment and what it may portend for the future.
The two weekly news magazines that I read, Time and Businessweek, both have superb iPad apps. They alert you when a new issue is ready for downloading; you retain access to previously downloaded issues (something that you lose if you recycle your print copies). Both of them provide a table of contents where tapping on any listed article takes you directly to it. Or you can easily swipe to scan through the entire magazine. The articles are attractively laid out, and there are no advertisements to get in the way. Plus, you get features not available in the print version — such as Time’s incredible LightBox best pictures of the week.
With Entertainment Weekly, the magazine’s website proved to be a very poor substitute for the actual magazine. The site is organized entirely differently from the magazine — making locating specific articles more difficult. Some print articles appear to be missing altogether. Even when I found what I wanted, I often had to click multiple-times to get through even a short entry (an annoying ploy to get their hit count up no doubt). I don’t mind that a magazine’s site does not duplicate the format of their print version—the site should offer late-breaking news and other content not appropriate or possible for their print version—but Entertainment Weekly goes it about it all the wrong ways. Fortunately, an iPad app for the magazine should be available soon. If it is like the Time app, it should be a big improvement.
For whatever reason, I was unable to get in the habit of using apps such as Zite or Flipboard on a daily basis, but I did make some movement in that direction. The irony is that, if and when I did force myself to check these apps, I was always glad I did. I inevitably found news items that were not covered in the mainstream media apps I was checking and would have thus otherwise missed. I’ve especially grown fond of Zite. It came up with the greatest number of articles that I wanted to read and offered the best customization for my specific interests. Zite also boasts great sharing options; I can save an article from Zite to Instapaper or create a tweet with the article’s link.
How did it go? Where will it lead?
Did I survive the two weeks without print media? Yes — although it turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. There were several occasions where I found myself reaching for a newspaper on auto-pilot without thinking about it. In one instance, my wife had to intervene or I would have done so. But I did succeed.
So where did this leave things? When the experiment was over, did I revert back to my original habits? No, not entirely. For better or worse, I have added fuel to the fire that is consuming print media.
I’ve reduced my San Francisco Chronicle subscription from 7 days to 4 days (Thu-Sun) a week. I’m seriously considering reducing the print subscription to just Sunday the next time it’s up for renewal. I now consistently check the Time and Businessweek iPad apps, which means I spend significantly less time with their print versions. And I’m happily using the NYT Crosswords app for my puzzle fix, although I still occasionally use the print version of the Sunday Times.
I continue my drift towards checking Zite on a daily basis. It has clearly become my favorite of this category of apps.
My digital conversion, however, is far from complete.
I still take pleasure in the bulk and weight of the Sunday newspapers. The iPad apps are no substitute for browsing through all the sections of the Sunday Times or Chronicle. I don’t expect to give this up in the foreseeable future. My wife chimes in here that she would miss all the local ad inserts that come with the Sunday Chronicle.
There are specific aspects of reading print media that I continue to find preferable to digital content. I especially find that I am more likely to serendipitously discover articles when turning the pages of a magazine or newspaper. Digital media is set up so that, in most cases, you need to tap/click a headline link to view the entire article. If the headline does not attract my attention, I never check the full article. With print media, that is not the case; I see at least the first chunk of the full article along with the headline. This often leads to me reading articles that I would overlook with the iPad app. On the other hand, I tend to see more headlines when browsing a digital version; with some sections of the print newspaper, I almost never get past the front page. As a result, I potentially read more articles overall with the iPad app. So I suppose this winds up as a toss-up.
In the end, I have not abandoned print media. Indeed, especially if I throw monthly magazines into the mix, I still spend more time reading print media than using iPad apps for news. And, when hunting for article links to include in other apps, I prefer Safari on my Mac to iPad apps.
I suspect that my print media preferences are at least partially a function of age. Today’s toddlers will grow up never knowing a time when the iPad did not exist. Today’s teenagers don’t know about life before the World Wide Web. Many of today’s youth were never encouraged to give print media a chance and now see little reason to pay any attention to it. For these youth, there is no dilemma as to which media to prefer: it’s digital all the way. Not necessarily iPad apps, but some form of digital media. That’s not the world in which I grew up.
I strongly suspect that print news media will all but vanish over the next generation. For myself, and all those who maintain any affection for print media, this is a sad prospect, but that’s how it goes. I’m not sure there is a “right” or “wrong” here. It’s simply what is happening. In the 21st century, progress is a high-speed train that you can’t avoid; get on board or get run over. There’s not much room for in-between choices.