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I happened to be in London the other day, which is something I don’t do too often, and I was kind of surprised to find that The Evening Standard had become a freebie. I know it was 3 years ago, but as I said I don’t get up to London much!
When I worked in London I was never really a fan of the Standard, but I would occasionally buy a copy of it on the way home, if I was desperately bored. Now, for some reason, I slightly struggle with free newspapers, perhaps it’s the memory of all those local papers stuffed through the letter box; a couple of inane articles about residents complaining about potholes and the council neglecting flower beds, floating like flotsam in a sea of tacky advertisements.
It got me thinking back to when I started commuting, which was admittedly a while back, and how part of the ritual of the day, was to buy a newspaper at the station in the morning – as with many things it’s kind of nostalgia but I quite liked reading the paper on the train, drinking a cup of coffee, enjoying the womb like motions of the gently swaying carriage…
But I was also thinking how the newspaper experience is rather devalued if you don’t have to pay for it – getting it for free somehow seems to shatter a vaguely held illusion that the paper represents something great and good, that is trying to inform and educate me and make me a better person; rather than just another means to brainwash me with pointless advertising. But if you have to give this stuff away it doesn’t bode well for the newspaper industry. I then discovered that the Standard has launched an iPad app, which although initially available on a 30-day free trial, it then costs £4.99 a month. Until recently, with one or two exceptions, the model was that the print stuff was paid for and the online stuff free, but this is the reverse – perhaps it’s a price worth paying for not getting all that print on your fingers?
I also found it interesting that unlike most papers’ sites, the Standard’s app is a replica of the printed edition, including the design of the paper. I think people have probably become more discerning about the media consume, which is probably a good thing, since it reminded me of how much page filler there is in papers. Perhaps newspapers have never been very interesting. I remember in a previous incarnation, saying something to a PR agency we were using about an article in a paper and the gist of their reply being that yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper, so don’t worry about it. But it was interesting that if the app is the new media then the Standard are really just replicating the products produced by old media, a bit like how early TV consisted of visible radio shows.
The likes of Google and Bing have put access to an unimaginable collection of knowledge at our fingertips. The iPhone and Android have created a kind of virtual newsroom, with writing, photo, video, Web research and communications capabilities—into our pockets. It’s not surprising that newspapers seem rather prosaic because in a sense we are living through a media revolution, with the complete remaking of how we cover and consume news and information. It’s difficult to remember things the way they were, they seem to hark back to an age of bowler hats and briefcases.
So the point is that we now take for granted instantaneous availability of news and information on our laptop or smartphones and perhaps it’s become a much more interesting experience. The experience has become much more interactive, we can actually break news (ok, so we need to have something interesting to say!), and we can really interact with it. Therefore, online newspapers aren’t really that innovative and they seem to have been rather left behind by the advent of social media and mobile devices. As newspapers decline, what does that mean about the quality of what we consume? In theory Journalists are the individuals who hold government accountable, and as we become increasingly suspicious of politicians, isn’t there a greater need for proper journalism?