For Want Of A Paper…

You don’t realize how comfortable and familiar that routines are until you try to change them. Take something as simple as the newspaper. For years, it has (mostly) reliably shown up on my doorstep, and I have pretty much made a point of reading it every day.

The actual routine has changed, as I have changed. So I now read it at a different time of day than I used to, and a slightly different order. I pay more attention to some areas and less attention to others as my interests evolve. But I have always read the paper on a pretty-much-daily basis.

That’s about to change, for the very simple but profoundly annoying reason that where I am about to move (as close to the country as you can get without actually being a farm) doesn’t have newspaper delivery. You simply can’t get it there. This means that I have two basic options. I can get up every morning and drive 15 minutes into town to get the paper, or I can do what countless thousands already do… read it online.

Recognizing that I don’t really want to have to get up, dress and drive somewhere every morning just to get a paper, I’ve decided to pursue the online option. And to make sure that this was something manageable, I’ve been experimenting with transitioning now, while I still have a paper backup.

My paper of choice is the Globe and Mail. I’ve been reading it since I was in university, and it’s had the benefit of following me around the country as I have moved. They have also undertaken a fairly significant online upgrade to their resources (including iPhone and iPad apps) in the last few months, which makes the timing pretty auspicious for my online experiment.

Two weeks in to my experiment, I can report some findings. The experience has been… different. But it’s been different in ways that I didn’t expect. Possibly the biggest difference (and one I didn’t anticipate) is that when a newspaper gets delivered, its all there. Whatever made it in is what lands on your doorstep, and if something missed the printing deadline it will show up tomorrow. From a reader’s perspective, once you’ve worked through all the pages, you are done. You have finished reading the paper.

Online, however, the content keeps changing. There is no one, fixed paper. New articles appear constantly, and old ones disappear. There is no finite task of ‘reading the paper’; it is an on-going process of being ‘exposed to news’. New articles particularly start to appear in the afternoon, as writers submit them for the following day’s physical publication. I didn’t really appreciate the impact of this until I didn’t get around to reading online until evening, and I started reading the next day’s paper, not the current one.

At the same time, while the Globe and Mail’s site and app has access to all the articles, they do not necessarily link to all the articles that are published. You can search and find them, but you have to know what you are looking for. During the week, this isn’t a very large deal, and I found I was mostly reading the same content I would have in the paper. On the weekend, a lot more in-depth commentary and discussion gets missed.

There are certainly some upsides to reading online. The amount of recycling that I produce will become significantly smaller, which is an important thing. I can also readily branch off and pursue links to topics I’m interested in, and I can save or tweet the links to pages. I can browse to the level of depth that I want to, or scan headlines and have a general sense of what’s going on.

There are also some downsides. Significantly, the site bogs down early in the morning as many people hit their servers. I’m sure this will change over time, but it has happened more frequently than I would like or expect. I also get frustrated with the inability to find certain articles, while other articles quite literally hang around for days. A minor annoyance, but nonetheless irritating, is that their twitter integration mis-counts, and you have to write something three characters shorter than they indicate is appropriate.

Overall, I will likely continue to read my newspaper online. I am making the change, and I will continue to do so. I will also likely still go out of my way to pick up a weekend newspaper. The experience has been a good insight into why change is hard, however. We do not like to shift behaviours. And this experience highlighted for me that the largest barrier is that of mindset. We have a way things are ‘supposed to be done’, and change involves confronting, challenging and ultimately reframing that mindset. Until that is done, change won’t happen.

Leave a Comment