June 2015 Column Winner

Progress toward digitized newspapers is bittersweet

Maria Laubach, The Hennessey Clipper

A state press convention this month left me with a bittersweet taste.
I enjoy conferences and other professional development events but I was overwhelmed by the success stories with the digital news media. It may be because I’m in my mid-thirties and outdated, but I can’t let go of a feeling that if digital information completely replaces print, we will be out of touch, more disconnected from the real world than we’ve ever been. The age of social media and digital news forced us to worship the false god. But unlike a stone idol we can’t touch it. The digital world connects with us through the sterile, invisible and unreal web and can be blocked, ignored or tricked. You don’t have to look into the eye of your listener, smell them or hear their responses when processing information.
Progress toward digitized newspapers is bittersweet.
People became equipped with the tools to think for themselves in the 15th century with the invention of the Gutenberg press. Books became available to all at an affordable price.
Reading, however, came along with the touch and smell of that very medium that gave us information.
For centuries newspapers have connected us to information through different links: newspaper staffs collecting news, printers, sellers, readers discussing news in a group and those talks often leading to community action.
Digital media breaks this entire structure.
The reward of running a newspaper to the publisher is holding and smelling the products in its untouched, yet finished, form.
Most newspapers no longer have a printing press, but they continue getting their fingers dirty while labeling and inserting each paper before it goes in the news racks. Once the newspaper hits the streets it connects with the reader who shares them and discusses news and controversies with friends and family.
The value that readers find in a newspaper is up to their judgment as some preserve newspaper clippings in family albums, or Bibles.
Another reward in producing a paper is the excitement of young readers. I often hear from teachers in our Newspapers in Education program that students can’t wait to receive the paper in their classroom. They often read it in its entirety. Students also enjoy newspaper tours so they can learn about how they are produced.
The printed newspaper page is final.
On the digital end, looking up something on the web may not give you what you want. It may shuffle you off to something that is disguised as news, but isn’t.
The good news is that newspapers, even in digital format, have managed to preserve their value as the most trustworthy source. This claim again can be twisted because research shows that digital information is not as well retained as the information read from a print source.
My fears and premature nostalgia for print are that the lack of print media will lead to broken links with the real world, and the past.

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