MY local gym has many simple pleasures, including dim lighting (no glare on the guilty flab), friendly instructors, and compact TV screens wired up to the running machines. But best of all are the newspapers, arrayed in the old-fashioned way on wooden sticks, available for a good read on the comfy sofas in the little-used sitting room.
I usually pop in for a quick flick through The Irish Times – only for five, maybe 10 minutes. And it’s struck me how valuable this scanning session is for finding out what is going on in the society, and what’s coming up (or I missed). And yes, I am too poor to spend the couple of euro every day.
Yet I spend much of my day reading news or written studies of one sort or another, principally on screen.
The sensory ease and facility with which we flick through a newspaper is something that is being lost in the rush to digital. Personally, I think the digital move is inevitable and unstoppable. But I do believe – hope? – that there will be a remnant of written news material in the future. Perhaps this will take the same form as high-quality editions of hardbacks. Some people are prepared to pay for quality binding, good paper, intelligently-chosen fonts, and an appealing cover design. So there might be a parallel in news product, of newspapers surviving in printed form and with high-quality content and design. Market forces will decide.
In the meantime, I get a happy warm feeling from the flick through the paper. This activity is like a bird flying from branch to branch, alighting where it sees something of interest or a tasty morsel. I’ll see an article by a favourite columnist, some surprising news from overseas, or a report of an upcoming conference I want to attend.
Somehow, this effect is not replicated on the internet. Surfing never quite did it., perhaps because those virtual waves can carry you too far from where you started. Try to check out what play is on at the local theatre, and you could end up deep in a words-and-graphics explantion of fracking. It’s all information, Jim, but not as we used to know it.
News websites do their very best to show the ‘visitor’ the riches of the offerings they hold, a mouse click or two away. Hence we have the busy-busy-busy format of the successful sites such as the Huffington Post and mailonline.co.uk. Loads of headlines, taster paragraphs, some pictures, a barrage of voices and stories. But this can be too much at once (although admittedly those sites are the big successes in terms of page visitors). But do those page visitors walk away from the computer feeling they have checked out what’s happening in the world today, and that their trusted news provider has given them a fair summary?
Hail of hyperlinks and all, I don’t really think so.