Newspapers are outdated, irrelevant, and useless technology.
Or are they?
I decided to find out first-hand by ordering a daily subscription two weeks ago. After 14 issues, here are 10 surprising things I learned so far:
- This ain’t your father’s newspaper. No one should have to pay for day-old news with dirty hands. Fortunately for me, the ink on my local paper, The Daily Herald, doesn’t leave any smudges so I don’t have to wash my hands after reading it. Not only that, but the ink is in vibrant color. Not as vibrant, interactive, or colorful as the web—but impressive, just the same.
- Newspapers keep you better informed on a local level. The problem with internet news is that national and international headlines drown out local news. At least that’s been the case for me, having relied on the internet for news for my entire adult life. Yes, you can access local news online. But it’s poorly curated and aggregated, unlike my local paper, which so far has done an excellent job alerting me to city council concerns and important local events I would have missed online.
- The writing isn’t much better than a school paper. I don’t know where my local paper is procuring talent, but it’s below the mark. I know dozens of “citizen journals” (i.e. blogs) that tell much better feature stories. Not only that, but some of the news stories are confusing, if not misleading. In one case, a story was headlined something like this: “Area women set for Food Network showdown with Bobby Flay.” That’s cool, right? Turns out, the girl had a chance encounter with Flay, slipped him her number, and hoped he would accept her cupcake challenge. That’s it. No story. Simply, “Area women has chance encounter with Bobby Flay, hopes he might invite her on TV to bake cupcakes.”
- The good journalism outweighs the bad. Despite the above criticism, the Daily Herald does a competent job, especially for how little I pay them (less than $5 per month on promotion for 30 issues). In the two weeks I’ve subscribed, I already value what they accomplish, even if it’s no where near as breaking, skilled, or life-changing as national papers and magazines.
- It’s faster than you think. I don’t know why kind of lead time my paper has, but it’s delivered to my door by 6am, and yet it has all the latest sports scores and late night news ready for me. In that sense, it’s really not “day-old” news; more like 4-6 hours old, which isn’t that old when you think about it (at least for someone like me who can go a morning, afternoon, entire evening, or full weekend without looking at my feed reader.)
- They feature all the important wire headlines. Stuff like debt ceiling negotiations, European bailouts, sports, and other borderless stories written by Associated Press writers, the best in the business. Not only that, but stories feel hand-picked (not fire-hosed like Yahoo Local), including AP reports related to Utah, BYU, or other area interests.
- It’s better journalism than local TV. Not a very high bar, I know. But after DVR-ing the local news for a few months, in an effort to stay connected locally, my wife and I quit because it was insufferable coverage—not worth sitting through to stay informed. Although we no longer DVR the local news, we’ll still tune in to see video highlights on occasion. But so long as I subscribe to my local daily, I’ll probably never DVR the local news on a regular basis again.
- The customer service is crazy good. A week into our subscription, I walked outside to grab the paper, but it was missing. Like an old man, I was sort of upset. After all, I had my African Nectar ready and I was looking forward to a quiet morning under the backyard Maple. (I’ll be damned if someone gips me out of 15 ¢!!!!) So I called the paper and politely told them the issue was missing. Within 20 minutes someone was at my door; hand-delivering a replacement and apologizing. The following morning, it was hand-delivered again, just to be sure. Impressive. Enough to make me think twice before canceling.
- The paper is well designed. This point will vary by paper, but in my case, The Daily Herald is a perfectly sized broadsheet—not too big, not too small. Use of images and colors is also very appealing. As a part-time graphic designer, it’s as nice to look at as it is to read. What’s more, it’s thicker than I thought it would be for Tuesday and Wednesday editions—typically the lightest of any paper editions. Overall, I’m impressed with the design and fonts—pretty much everything except those repugnant local ads.
- It frees up your day (if you let it). For me, this is a big one. Part of the allure in subscribing to a daily was a calculated decision to cut down the time I spend mindlessly trolling the internet for news. I still supplement my daily with targeted news and professional interests via bookmarks, Google alerts, and RSS feeds. But thanks to the daily, I’ve been able to free up time, which hopefully results in better work and personal efficacy. Either that or more time for YouTube, whichever comes first.
So is it worth subscribing to a local paper? So far I’d say yes. That may change if I’m asked to pay the full cover price of $11/month once my discounted subscription runs out.
Admittedly, even that’s not a lot. But it’s more than an unlimited Netflix subscription and certainly more substantial than the completely free online edition. As with every purchase, it all comes down to value.
That said, I’ll reserve final judgement and let you know what I ultimately decide when the time comes.