No (Paper) News is Good News?

As I stepped out to pick up the newspaper this morning I thought “I will not be doing this many more times.”

We have decided to end our long subscription to the Dallas Morning News. This is a big decision for me, as a former journalism student and someone who has subscribed to a daily paper since college. Every morning since then I have picked up the local paper first the Abilene Reporter News, then the Dallas Morning News from my front step, driveway, or yard almost every morning.

“So why the change of habit?” you ask. “Certainly there is more reason than ever to understand the world we live in today?”

It comes down to two reasons cost and quality.

First the Dallas Morning News has just announced another subscription increase. These have been coming at least once in every subscription renewal to the point that if I had paid for a five year subscription four years ago I would be doing much better than options in the market.

With the latest renewal the newspaper is over thirty dollars monthly for daily home delivery (My father-in-law discovered that it is around $45 a month for a new customer). For this we get a paper that especially on Monday is not much more than advertisements and reprints from wire stories and purchased packaged content from media services.

Local coverage, especially local coverage of our southern Dallas county section of the Metroplex, is scant and rarely timely. We are never able to find out what is happening in our part of the world from the paper.

Moreover, the features continue to move away from people like us and focus on the pretend rich of the northern Metroplex who shop at European boutiques and worry about balancing private school and select sports leagues.

So I will be doing what my j-school professors talked about all those years ago creating my own self selected content. In those days we were discussing Videotext delivered over the television network, and the main concern was that a readership of select selecting news consumers would narrowly define their interests, becoming less informed about the world in general over time.

Videotext never took off because people did not want to read from television screens or flickering computer monitors, and they did not want to change their habits from reading on the bus, the train, or the kitchen table to gathering the one part of the house to consume information together. The personal experience could not be replaced by the technology of the times.

A 2006 Nielsen Company study reported that the average home has access to just over 104 channels of television available and watched just over 15 of them. Television long fell from its role as the common experience, as individual viewers first watched a variety of content, then timeshifted it to different nights. Long gone are the discussions of the previous nights viewing around the water cooler. Now you never know who watched the last episode of ER last night, who plans to watch is this weekend, or who has it one their iPod to watch over the next several days at the gym.

Now newspapers are suffering the same fate. I find that I receive more information from RSS feeds of major media outlets like the Wall Street Journal than from the printed paper that hits my yard every morning. A case in point the article in this morning’s paper on protests in England regarding Google’s StreetView were discussed at the dinner table last night due to an RSS feed and later Twitter post.

At the same time, technology has advanced to the point where content is not limited to a single location in the household. The Amazon Kindle, iPhone, netbook, and tablet computer all make it possible to consume online media in a variety of ways and locations. With experiments in wireless power continuing to show promise, these devices may lose the last “string” attached to their use.

Leading to our decision to stop consuming news in the paper based format. As much as I mourn the loss of the connection to those frontier newsmen with ink stained hands and lead type, the time has come for us to place our last abacus into storage and move fully into the digital age.

My biggest concern at this point I hope that I don’t miss the funny pages over coffee too much and I am afraid that we will lose some of the family interaction that we get as we pass sections of the paper around the time. Will media fragmentation change our family dynamic? Something to watch and learn.