Lesson from a Printed Newspaper

Paper Shapes the Digital Generation

It took me 6 months, but I found a newspaper to photograph.

The Backstory

What sparked my interest to write this story is not about the object itself but how the object is representing the transformation of a generation.

Print vs. Digital. It’s the spirit of the old Mac vs. PC ad campaign… my print colleagues and my digital colleagues like to have a healthy and humorous banter about which one is better. I like to be on the digital side just to poke for poking sake (but I’m a secret print fan… sssshhhh!!). Either way… everybody has their own preferences that are shaped by their environment and experiences. When it comes to digital versus print, generations younger than us are and will continue to be shaped by how they access and absorb information, and I believe, they will choose both.

Classic Example

When my daughter was two years old in 2012, I felt compelled to teach her the basics of navigating and using an Android tablet… I mean she has to stay competitive with her peers, even though she loves printed books and magazines.

Well, the consequence of that approach manifested itself in a way that really struck me. One day, she came across a paper Highlights magazine laying on the floor and suddenly became intrigued by the cover image. She took her index finger and proceeded to swipe the magazine cover like you would an Android tablet. Nothing happened. She swiped again and again. Nothing happened. She then looked at me and said, “Broken.” The paper magazine was broken.

A-HA!

I have told this story countless times to illustrate all kinds of points, because it was when I truly realized that the next generation’s interaction expectations and ways information is consumed will be different than almost any generation before. I am not only getting my daughter ready for it… she is going to lead it.

The Object

The printed newspaper.

I was stuck on this story for more than six months, because I actually didn’t have a newspaper to photograph for this story. I’ve never subscribed to one. Never paid for one. Probably never will.

It’s always been something my parents got when I was little. Then, fortunately, my in-laws left one at my house after a visit.

It had been a long time since I touched and messed with an actual newspaper. It felt dirty, greasy, and out-of-date. It felt boring… the never-ending columns of text, dull photos, and ads few people will actually see and no one will take any action on. It was sad really. An under-appreciated, dying art form.

The Reality

The reality is about saving or making money. Moving from print to digital is not about making things easier for the reader. CIO and Information Week magazines were two examples of publications that are now 100 percent digital, i.e. on the Internet. My reality is… I used to read both of their print magazines, because they came to me and sat on my desk, until I had a chance to read the articles.

NOW, I don’t read them anymore because their content is mixed in with every other online news feed, and their websites are cluttered with annoying ads to the point that it’s hard to read anything. So they are lost… instead of on my desk right in front of me ready to be read without distraction. Are the publications getting more ad revenue? Probably. Are the getting more readers? Hard to say, but they did lose me.

Even though the digital revolution will continue to advance and evolve, there is still a market and purpose to print materials and to consume content via hard copy. There is just something that feels permanent, quiet, and credible about print publications that digital just can’t deliver.

The Lesson

Evolution in how we communicate and share knowledge is constantly changing, and we are living in an awesome time where the mass adoption of a new medium is happening at an unprecedented pace. The speed is disruptive and transformational, but my daughters do not know any different. They seem to naturally balance and filter their reading print and interacting with digital. Survival instinct in a way, I suppose.

The Take-aways:

  • Balance will be restored in every occasion, eventually.
  • If you chase money, you will never catch it.
  • The next generation will experience life in ways we cannot imagine.
  • When there is no power and the batteries are dead, you can still read the paper.

Much like the automobile didn’t put the horseshoeing trade completely out of business, the chance of digital putting print out of business is zero percent. As much as I’d like to believe digital is better for every occasion, it’s not in all cases. Print will always have a place… humans need to feel the permanence or “stone” connotation that paper provides.

My daughters may one day ask me, “What’s a newspaper?” I will jokingly answer, “The stuff that helps me light the campfire.”

Written by Shaun Holloway.