Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Reflection on Newsgathering Habits

Last week, I found myself talking to a journalism professor about how neither of us reads a paper copy of the newspaper any more, preferring the digital version. I extrapolated my thoughts, stating that "the paper edition of a newspaper is really like a photograph of the news cycle," and that I didn't need to see that photograph the next morning if I was reading the digital, and thus more updated, edition.

Then just the other day I was speaking with a former editor and colleague and we were discussing newsreading habits, specifically about the New York Times and NYTimes.com. After the discussion, I realized what I had said to her firmly reflects what generation of journalist I am - and how paper is on the way out. Here's a transcription of some of the responses I sent her below (Angela Kluwin and Jonathan Landman, I hope you're reading this):

1. How much do you read the Times? What sections interest you the most?

I read the Times daily, and I get all of the headlines sent to my inbox each morning. I often read the NY/Metro section, the Magazine, U.S./National, and I often hop around between the arts sections - art, travel, style, music, film, technology, science. I've been trying harder to read the international section, but it's admittedly more difficult to read when tired or distracted (as opposed to the arts).

2. What have you learned from reading the Times?

I may not learn something first from the Times (I RSS CNN's headlines for that), but I often appreciate the depth that the Times gives to what it covers. So while I may learn about a new invention or a political development, etc. from an RSS feed somewhere, I'll really get a handle on the implications of that news, with some context to go along with it.

3. How have you used the Times in your class work? What about outside of class?

I use the Times as a reference about as much as any other publication, but with consideration to my previous answer, it's quite useful to grasp an understanding of a topic - say, to keep abreast of state politics before arriving to my class on the subject. Outside of class, I read it as I would any other consumer.

4. Tell us about one article that has been memorable or helpful for you in your studies or in your life.

I'm often drawn to the articles that feature Paris (and there are many), but that's only the symptom of my missing it since I lived there. 'Paris, la Nuit' was one such article. The article on a UCLA professor who bought a second apartment in Paris was another.

5. (Re: liberal bias) Do you think that the Times presents a balanced view? Why, why not?

Though my views are liberal, I can honestly say that the news content is especially balanced. The editorial page is a different matter, of course, and the features certainly reflect the educated readership of the times (the articles on wine, for example), but as a news outlet I have the sense that Times writers are very conscious of their writing, without sapping the life from the prose.

6. You have two choices when reading the Times: the paper or online. Tell us what you like about each.

First, online, all the time. I never purchase the paper.
Online's benefits are many for me: I like not rifling through the broadsheet to find articles, I like my articles all in one place and not jumped throughout a section, I like the clarity of the text and images on my screen, and I like knowing that what I'm reading is the most up to date. Lastly, blogs - during the World Cup, during the midterm elections, etc. - I refreshed rabidly while at work.

Paper has one particular aspect that I miss: layout. Sometimes I miss the importance of a certain article when I see it online. Though headlines are ordered by importance, I browse the online version in a surf-type fashion, using popular links and top headlines. Only if I delve into the section's site can I see articles of older importance or of section importance. It's splitting hairs, but I read the articles in a different order when it's the physical copy.

7. How does what you read in the Times compare to that of the various blogs and internet sites you may go to for your news?

As I mentioned above, the Times serves as a more thorough account of the news. It's always up-to date, but it is occasionally scooped by more wire-like services (CNN, Reuters) or narrow interests (blogs, etc.). I can tell a friend orally something I read on a blog or a wire headline, but I'm much more likely to e-mail someone an article from the Times.

8. How would you encourage others to read the Times? What would you say to someone like yourself who has never read the Times?

I would say take your time! There's surely a section for everyone in the Times, and part of what makes it so great is that it will get you interested in other sections rapidly. I've read articles from every section of the paper at one point or another , many I wouldn't have expected to read. The Times isn't a paper to skim on the subway, it's much more a paper to sit down and actually read. Exploring it is worth your while.

Anyway, some food for thought.

The Editorialiste will be on holiday break through the Thanksgiving weekend and will return on Tuesday, November 28th.

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