Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's Why You Buy the Paper

I have more than a few co-workers, friends and relatives who have given up on the printed newspaper. How many times have we all heard it, "Why should I buy it when I can get it free online?" This is typically followed by the plea, "And your fingers don't get all inky when you read it online."

Well, the second argument hasn't been valid for the better part of a decade, since newsprint and printing presses improved.

The first one? Some days it is hard to argue with. I realize I'm old school and like to actually flip through the real thing. I like to see the story placement, the front page mix, the layout, the design. I know too that you miss the graphics quite often online and much more.

I do still read online sometimes. Even I admit, it's often easier for the lazyman in me. This morning, I was dog tired and the kids got up too early so while they lounged with a half hour of morning cartoons, it just seemed easier for me to pop open the computer than wander onto the porch to see if the papers had arrived.

Today I went Globe first and scanned the headlines for anything I had to care about, then went on to things I just cared about. Never in the mix was a story simply listed under local news under the header "A healing touch."

Why would it be? It just smelled to me like a sappy feature about a nurse or a doctor or a professional healer. Either way, I'd probably seen it before, I figured, and moved on to reading about John Edwards and paternity tests.

A half-day later, when I hit the mid-afternoon lull of quiet around here, Heidi tossed the Globe Metro section my way and said, "You have to read that." As soon as I saw the front page of the section, I knew I would have even if she hadn't drawn my attention to it. The picture with the story was killer - an elderly man curled up in a hospital bed next to an elderly woman. It drew me right in, along with the story's sub-headline, "Auburndale man uses hugs, kisses to cope, help bring his wife back from the grip of Alzheimer's."

Those two minor things separated a story I was happy to read from one I was happy to skip.

Sure, all of this met me just now when I clicked on the link on the Globe website. But I never got there from the simple header in the morning. The difference between figuring out you want to read "A healing touch" on the main page here and reading this story on its own page here is stunning.

Can this be fixed? Of course. The Globe and other papers have done a lot to try to replicate the in your hands experience online. The local news tab of the Globe offers another avenue for web layout to showcase good stories and good photos. Unfortunately, today's local news page features a photo from the Vineyard story from Metro front - not a bad story, but not the showcase feature as the true news editors who lay out the print edition intended.

The Globe is good at putting a PDF of the front page on its opening page so you can see how the paper looked. That's great. But why not do it for Metro front, Arts, Sports, etc.? I think the Herald completely dropped this feature from its page, which is a shame because some days the Herald page one is a work of art - to wit this week's "Vote for Change" splash about the nickle and dime stealing pol running for reelection.

There was a period when papers tried to reproduce every page online so you could digitally flip through the paper. I always thought that was a good idea, but I guess it didn't really catch on. A quick search tonight didn't find the links to that kind of feature at the major local dailies or the Times. Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

So if you didn't read the story about the Alzheimer's husband, take a minute, click the link above and read it. And, next time, go out and buy the damn thing, will ya?

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