Lawyers are big consumers of news: by and large it helps in practice not to be “out of it.” And newspapers have likely been the primary source of lawyers’ general news at least. As everyone knows, in order to cope with the impact that the loss of advertising to the internet has had, newspapers now offer their news online. But there’s a different quality to reading the news online, of course. Most people fix on the difficulty of reading on a screen or on the confusing complexity of the web page, when explaining their preference for paper. Phil Gyford, however, has pointed out what is, for me, a significant difference that explains a lot about my own preference for a newspaper, one I hadn’t articulated before. See if it resonates with you.
He starts by observing that “There was no online news source that I could browse and read as easily as I could a print newspaper.” He finds three causes: 1. the problem of “readability” (navigation, layout, clutter, etc.); 2. that of “friction” (all the fuss and bother that goes into figuring out what to read and actually getting to the full text), and 3. — the aspect I found interesting — “finishability.”
What he means by this less than lovely label is that print newspapers are discrete packages of news: you know how much there is in total to read and you know when you’re done for the day. Because the size of the task is comprehensible, you can gauge how much time you want to devote to this or that piece, where you skip, and where you read closely, etc. With online news, there’s in effect a steady stream; it falls in moment to moment, even as you’re reading; moreover, you’ve no way of judging how much there is today and when you’ve read “enough”. There is, in effect, no end to it.
These are my words but I think I’ve grasped the essence of what he means. And I agree. One can wind up consuming news online in the way that one reads email, nervously checking for updates every so often throughout the day. Indeed, this persistent “rainfall” of news is now expected and often pushed, as with Twitter.
To produce an impact similar to that of a print paper in this respect, Gyford has created his online version of The Guardian, Today’s Guardian [click on it to enlarge the image above]. He has taken the Guardian’s brilliant Open Platform content, adopted the print editor’s choice of articles — in effect, that day’s newspaper — and presented it in the best form he could. At the very top of each page is a “sparkline” — a miniature graph — that shows you which section you’re in, where you are in the section, and how many column inches each article in the section contains. Flipping a page is simply clicking in the right or left margins. And you know when you’re done with the news for the day.