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The future of newspapers is here

The Manila Times, February 24, 2013

MEDIA STUDIES

SUNDAY READ

As early as 5 AM, I can read this newspaper, and where I live,  even the most well circulated broadsheets would arrive at the earliest only after lunch.  And by “reading this newspaper”, I don’t mean its Internet version, which for most newspapers, except for its masthead, doesn’t look anything like the original print edition.

Rather, I read Manila Times, exactly  it is printed, using my Mac, my wife’s IPad, my Iphone, or even, if I wanted to,  in the Kindle devices.  You see, I’ve been a subscriber since 2008 of, and totally sold on, this internet service at www.pressdisplay.com. Check it out: It is the future of newspapers.

The Manila Times as it appears in pressdisplay.com

 

Bad news though: It’s not a free site, and costs $29.95 a month. But that’s just P1,220,  about double the cost of subscribing to two broadsheets (priced at  P18 to P20 a day).   And for P1,220, I can read two other Philippine broadsheets, three Cebu newspapers, four tabloids and a dozen magazines.But.. I don’t…ehem.. really care much about the other Philippine broadsheets. I’m sold at Pressdisplay as it contains, believe it or not, about 2,300 newspapers and magazines from 97 countries. (Not much use for me, but the newspapers the service offers are in 55 languages.)

Hence, in its “My Newspapers” button (the equivalent of “Favorites” in your browser), I have the International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph.   Just to emphasize, these aren’t the Internet editions of these papers but their facsimiles, in full color. So shown are even the advertisements, for example the full-paged ad Paul’s TV in West Covina  or Macy’s  one-day sale ad in The Chicago Tribune.

The newspapers available for viewing are listed alphabetically, per language, and by country. The lengthiest and most interesting listing is that for UK, which has over a hundred papers.  It even includes raunchy UK tabloids, like tje Daily  (and Sunday) Sport, whose name is as much a misnomer if Penthouse were instead called Men’s Fashion.  Using Pressdisplay, I can even check out how bad it is in Greece now (where I spent nearly five years as ambassador) by reading Kathimerini (English Edition).

I’ve been monitoring the Malaysian view of the armed excursion by followers of the Sultan of Sulu into Sabah, by bringing up The Borneo Post.  Nothing on that issue in the past three days, after its headline Feb. 20, “Room for talks with intruders,” which had the subhead, “Home Ministry all out to avoid bloodshed in crisis but warns no compromise on sovereignty”. The newspaper though is certainly being patriotic, as the article was accompanied by a huge photo of the Home Minister examining the assault rifles of his General Operations Force police.  The obvious message to our brothers there: “Either surrender or we will use shoot you with these rifles. Notice how ruthless our police look.”

From that newspaper, I learn that President B.S. Aquino’s kind of boasting isn’t unique.  The headline of an article in that Malaysian newspaper: “Economic growth driven by confidence in govt, says (Prime Minister) Najib”.  I wouldn’t browse be able to browse The Borneo Post this way if  were reading its Internet version.

For fun, and to remind me again and again to do my best to avoid being parochial (which I think is big weakness of the Filipino mind), I check out newspapers in countries totally out of most Filipinos’ radar.  Would you believe Pressdisplay has 80 publications from Russia, including strangely two magazines for pregnant women (Nine Months and Mama), and just 62 Australian publications.

The big reason though that I am such a fan of Pressdisplay is that it maintains the actual look of a newspaper, which has evolved to an art form for over a hundred years and is as important as much as the information it contains.  As one information theorist termed it, a newspaper has is own “shape of information”.

Its lay-out represents the editors’  hierarchical valuation of news: the banner story, the number two banner story, those in the inside pages.  The real “editorial” of a newspaper – or its political and ideological bias – is contained its layout.  Editors’ and their bosses mold the masses’ interpretation of a society through its layout.  Monitor the yellow press.  Everything nice about Mr. Aquino, every good news is in the front page, even in their banner story.  Everything not nice and bad, in the inside pages.

“This is important for you to know,” a newspaper tells a reader when it makes that news item its headline. “This is not important,” if it buries it in its inside pages.

Corrupt editors even put a higher price for paid “news stories” placed “above-the-fold” (upper half of the front page) compared to those “below–the-fold”, as even a cursory glance at a newspaper kiosk would put that “news story” put above the fold in the masses’ mind.

This is common knowledge for newspaper editors, with main purpose of the daily meetings of editors is determining what would be the banner story, and what are the stories to be put in the front page.

I had been for instance very critical of certain newspapers’ penchant for putting reports of opinion surveys not only above-the-fold but even using them as banner stories. This is something not done in mature societies which have realized that these surveys simply reveal the impact of media, so that reporting such survey prominently  is in effect a closed-loop kind of phenomenon, or a vicious circle.

On the positive side, it is through its layout that a newspaper’s editors and publishers can draw people’s attention to developments that are really important, yet which hasn’t been given such a value by other bigger, biased newspapers.  Thus, this newspaper has had several banner stories reporting on doubts regarding the automation for the May elections –which the yellow papers have been ignoring or downplaying.

I don’t see how the internet version of this newspaper can emulate for example our publisher’s vision (as British The Economist has been doing for decades) of providing readers not only with raw data, but crucial in an information-overloaded society, carefully analyzed information by its columnists,  put on its front page.

I haven’t seen a newspaper’s Internet edition accurately representing its print version’s layout, if that is at all possible.  A listing of news under Nation or Business sections as is done in Internet editions just doesn’t capture the “spirit” or valuations of its original print edition.

Pressdisplay could be the future of newspapers, a growing number of which in the US and Europe have been closing down, or having Internet editions only, as the Christian Science Monitor did starting last year. This is not only the result of rising costs for print but due to the migration of advertising revenues to  TV and the Internet.

The Pressdisplay kind of platform (I haven’t seen a competitor) maintains the print edition exactly as it is, yet transmitted through cyberspace, and no longer bound by the high cost of paper (which accounts for 70-80 percent of a publication’s expenses) nor by the physical constraints of distribution, quite steep in a country with weak infrastructure.

Just as many US newspapers have adopted, the business model might be having  limited copies of the paper (mostly for the senior citizens who naturally haven’t outgrown their reading habits), with the focus being on the distribution of facsimile of the newspaper, together with all its ads, in a Pressdisplay platform.

The facsimile version will be parallel to the Internet version, which would have its own advertisements, providing inter-active and real-time systems, and exploiting its advantage over the print version, which is unlimited space, so that even voluminous documents can be posted. Columnists, editors, and even reporters could have blogs in the Internet edition, to expound, correct, or add information to their articles limited by space constraints in its print edition.

Real competition emerges in such Pressdisplay environment, which will focus on that emphasized by an old dotcom industry aphorism: “Content is King.”

E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

Archive of the author’s columns at www.trigger.ph

This is the first of an occasional series on a critique of Philippine media, a crucial factor for  democracy by the author, who is also Dean of the Manila Times College of Journalism.