Saturday, September 4, 2010

Print newspapers are dying and one veteran newsman tells why.....

Dear Danny,

Re your earlier post about "It's 2025 and there are no more print newspapers left in the world...."

Here's my take on all this:

I don't read physical newspapers anymore, for these reasons:

1) MAIN REASON: I work at home on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. There are no newspaper deliveries; the kids who used to have a paper delivery business grew up and moved away. The closest newspaper stand is a mile away (and there are no cars or roads where I live). The weather outside usually sucks, and I'm not a morning person. I can barely walk downstairs to make breakfast, much less hop on my bike and dash one mile through the humidity with the sun burning in my eyes.

2) Even if I didn't mind the morning run, I won't give my money to the South China Morning Post, ever since they relabeled the "China" news section to "National news"; shows where their loyalties lie: across the border, not in Hong Kong (as if the shameless bias in their news and editorials didn't already make that clear). I can't read Chinese well enough to understand a newspaper. So the newsstand doesn't sell anything I want anyway.

3) The other local English paper, The Standard, is free, but isn't available where I live. Yet their entire paper is online, also free. They even use one of those page-flip applications, so you can flip it like a real paper. The SCMP charges for their online content (see #2). No page-flip either.

4) I can still have my morning ritual of drinking my coffee and reading the paper. The only difference is, I'm scanning the headlines on my mobile phone. When I decide to read anything in more detail and to see the photos, I carry my coffee into my home studio and fire up the computer.

5) The New York Times is available online for free too.

So every morning I read The Standard for local news, then read the New York Times for US and (some) international news (the Times is still way too biased toward news about Russia and Israel), and the book reviews. Then I scan Google News for other interesting headlines.

If I lived in New York I'd buy the print paper, though. I think. Maybe.

I missed physical newspapers for a long time. It took a couple years to adjust to this new reality. Now I don't miss them at all. If there was a really great local paper that charged for content (the SCMP is at the opposite extreme from 'great') I would happily pay to access it, just like I pay around US$250 a year to access my favorite internet radio stations.

I hope a proper business model will congeal, which will enable a decent living for good reporters, and to fund proper investigative journalism. But the culture of theft of IP without remorse makes that questionable.

I'm about to buy an e-reader. Now that every bookshelf in my home is so stuffed with books that they're piling up on the floor, I've decided that I will only buy physical books that are worth keeping (which accounts for around 2/3 of what I buy). The others, the read-once-and-never-look-at-it-again ones, I'll buy as e-books. Plus there are zillions of classics and historical texts available for free on Google Books, ready-made for e-readers. I hope it doesn't take me years to adjust to e-readers.

My thoughts, for what they're worth.

Larry Feign,
Hong Kong-based writer and cartoonist

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