Newspapers remain caught between The Front Page and Harry Potter. The Front Page represents a time when newspapers were strictly print and Harry Potter a time when newspapers move and talk.
Like Eastman Kodak, who, despite inventing the digital camera, never quite embraced the digital age, so too are newspapers. They were among the first to embrace email, but never really the Internet. The only question that remains is will newspapers go the way of Eastman Kodak or will they finally learn how to survive in the digital age? The jury is still out.
Since 2007, the year Newspaper Death Watch was founded, at least 12 newspapers have folded, including the Halifax Daily News. Many others are having financial difficulties.
I recently read somewhere that newspapers bemoan having initially given away their online content for free and that is the main reason why they’re in financial difficulty now. I beg to differ. The problem was their websites were afterthoughts to the printed page. While website design has improved, too many papers still put their printed content online without much change.
A good example of two newspapers appearing to be going in opposite directions are the Toronto Star and the Windsor Star. The Toronto Star recently took down its paywall, while the Windsor Star recently put up one. Leaving aside the pros and cons of paywalls, the differences go deeper. The Toronto Star is gradually learning how to be Harry Potter, while the Windsor Star still appears focused on The Front Page.
Virtually every Toronto Star article has embedded links, while virtually every Windsor Star article doesn’t. The Toronto Star has lots of videos, including both printed and online video columns, and frequently has interactive displays. The Windsor Star has the odd video and no interactive displays.
An example from each paper will nicely illustrate the differences. The Toronto Star recently published an article on the long proposed downtown relief line to ease overcrowding on the Yonge Street subway. The article has two embedded links and an interactive map showing the five proposed routes for the relief line. You can look at all five routes together or click on each one individually. They don’t always get it right, but the Toronto Star is slowly learning how to operate in a digital environment.
In contrast the Windsor Star recently did an article on a deal to build new fire hall right next to habitat occupied by the threatened Butler’s garter snake. A snake exclusion fence is to be put up, but there is no illustration of it. The garter snake is one of over 100 threatened species in Windsor, but there are no links to further information on the snake or the other threatened species and no maps.