I'm a typical Gen X geek when it comes to news consumption. I get my news through online outlets only. Easily 3/4 of that news is through what I refer to as semi-pro blogs and the rest is through sites of traditional media companies. I don't read local newspapers, at all. I don't watch the news on television. I even eschew local radio for satellite radio (save for our local NPR affiliate on occasion). I subscribe to one magazine (Roadracing World)...and I'm riddled with guilt over the paper it's printed on.
Longing for the Old Days?
However, like many other Gen X'ers, I still fondly remember getting the comic section from my parents' Sunday paper and hiding away with it. I've spend many mornings sharing coffee and a doughnut with my grandmother over the morning paper. I'm pretty sure she still watches the local news too, and then promptly switches back to Fox News.
I have a morning routine myself, it just involves flying through my myriad RSS feeds and trying to consume as much as I can. I feel I have to stay on top of them to make sure I'm staying relevant amongst my geek cohorts. And even though these articles are merely byte-sized, I can't even seem to retain them. I'm constantly half quoting articles, that themselves only half cite their sources. How many times have you read an article that is effectively a layperson's weak attempt at drawing a popular conclusion from a scientific study that the scientists themselves refuse to reach conclusions about? It's sloppy, pseudo-journalism.
The Internet and mobile computing have made us more plugged-in than ever. This leads to a barrage of interruptions that has wrecked our attention spans; though you might argue that MTV started it. Or was it the remote control that allowed us to channel surf during commercials?
The constant connection and micro-attention spans ultimately mean one thing to publishers: There is no time that's more important than this very instant. They have to deliver their content quickly, and make that content just as quickly consumable.
Semi-pro blogs have mastered this. They publish numerous articles every hour of every day. They are short and often devoid of much human interpretation. A screenshot and a short quip is often all that's needed...oh and of course there's the requisite "[via JoesBlog via TechMunchismo via SomeGuysAss]".
I'm Not Saying Blogs Are Evil
In the defense of semi-pro blogs, the larger players are often staffed by journalists with traditional publishing experience. This has led to a great improvement in their practices and credibility. These blogs provide an undeniably great service too. Their light-weight style of journalism is efficient and somewhat reckless, but they're breaking stories and scooping the old guard. I think it's pretty amazing every time I see an article on a traditional news outlet that is reporting on stories that broke in blogs, and they're citing the blogs.
While I am being critical of semi-pro blogs, I'm not trying to paint them as some sort of scourge on civilization. What I am saying, is that I'm looking for deeper, slower, and slightly more responsible news reporting. I don't need to stay up-to-the-minute. Sometimes, I want a few more details, maybe some backstory. And I don't mean I want to search myself for all of the past blog posts on a topic. This is where I'm starting to miss a daily newspaper. They publish daily, and spend days, even weeks on articles. They go out and hit the streets, not just the tubes.
Enter The Daily
The Daily could be just the crutch that helps keep traditional, quality journalism alive. I read RSS feeds on my iPad every morning. I've tried a fews news apps, but none held my attention. So far, The Daily has good, deep writing, while still being a little brief to ensure that the issues holds your attention. The longer articles still hold your attention, because they mix in enough distractions such as slide-shows, in-page video, animated panoramic photos, and audio clips.
Their mixed-media approach works well to provide those said breaks, but they also enrich the experience. For instance, Friday's (Feb. 4, 2011) edition had an article on Egypt that talked about the surprising organization of the protesters. It talked about the how they maintained a central office, patrolled looking for Mubarak supporters ("thugs"), and were seemingly humanely interrogating them to gain intelligence on their movements. They even have a doctor on site to take care of their detainees. I'm sure that their interrogation practices are far from simple Q&A, but I was surprised at how well the protesters are focused on the public relations aspect of their efforts. They're quire careful to ensure that they're viewed as the good guys, not falling back on the harsh tactics that the secret police have reportedly used to subjugate suck unrest previously.
While that level of reporting was certainly deep, the thing that set this article apart was the embedded audio commentary from the reporter himself. The tone of his voice was enough to instantly discern the tone of his article and to remove any chance of misinterpreting the article. Furthermore, it provided an insight to the emotion of the situation and to the humanity of the protesters that was then reinforced through details in the article, such as their practice of protecting the detainees in the central office by using a human chain to shield against less civilized elements of the protests.
But Will I Subscribe
The first two weeks are free. I think I'll subscribe for another month or two after that, but the verdict is out whether or not I'll make the $40 yearly commitment. As much as I'm pulling for professional newspaper journalism to survive and morph into something more current, I'm a little worried about getting so much of my news from one source. I mean, Rupert's the same guy that owns Fox News after all.
What I really hope, is that The Daily's format is duplicated by other news outlets. Actually, I'd love to have a single, standards-based, newspaper reader app which can download issues from a variety of papers.