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August 26, 2003

newspapers vs. websites

(Still from Camden): If you compare a newspaper website to a conventional newspaper page, I think the results are a little surprising. We're used to seeing the Internet as a great expansion of possibilities, compared to print. But news websites only display about 15 words on each line, plus advertising and navigation bars. That means that a reader must essentially scroll down one vertical column of text at a time. A traditional sheet of newsprint, by contrast, is very wide and can contain an elaborate array of stories (some linked together), diagrams, and photographs. The reader can spread out a newspaper, scan it quickly, and select what to read and in what order.

As a result, news sites are perhaps more like broadcast programs than they are like conventional newspapers. A broadcaster can only transmit one stream of content at a time. There is always a danger that listeners will switch channels if they don't like what they see and/or hear. Thus broadcasters feel pressure to cater to as large an audience as possible with each of their programs. In contrast, a traditional newspaper is a diverse bundle of material, which readers can navigate and read selectively. The more diversity of content, the better, at least to a point. One would think that Internet sources would be more interactive and diverse than newspapers, not less so. But I think that the width of our current screens may actually make websites more like broadcast channels. They have to emphasize a few headline stories and try to keep their visitors from "clicking" away to other sites.

Of course, there are other differences between newspapers and news websites. (To name just a few: the lack of any final edition on websites; visitors' ability to search current and archived editions; and the prevalence of links to sites beyond the newspaper's control.) Still, the difference in width deserves mention.

August 26, 2003 12:08 PM | category: Internet and public issues | Comments


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