As I was reading the free daily Metro on a train the other day I was daydreaming about a different kind of newspaper but similar in form to the Metro. Instead of giving me a brief run-down of the news which lasted 20 mins, my “New Metro” would have similar stories, but also print lots of URLs so I could go and find out more information. And I don’t mean URLs which pointed to the paper’s web site. I mean real links to both the paper online and other reading. The Guardian’s printed Technology Section is already doing this a lot (using TinyURL.com)and it really helps the experience.
But what my idea about a New Metro also suggested to me was that this, ultimately, would be a newspaper in reverse. Instead of printing stories on paper and having further material to view online, my New Metro would actually be the online product slowed down and freeze-framed for print. Because the chances are I would have seen a few of the stories online already – but I’d still consume plenty more in print because it’s a different medium. I can see a time when a device like the iPhone will just replace most of my currently printed reading, but a ‘freeze-framed’ print version could still offer me more in terms of quick scanning and… well, just a different, more tactile experience. It would probably be a smaller paper and different in terms of story selection, but there would be no reason for print to die out. It would just adapt. (In fact in the early 1990s I wrote about a Guardian project to have an A4 newspaper printed by your home printer, along these lines).
I was reminded of this daydream today as I caught up on the battle currently raging between the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade and the National Union of Journalists (I came to it via MessyMedia). Greenslade argues here and here that the NUJ now stands in the way of journalists taking up their digital tools and running with them. He says the survival of an organised media and journalistic business depends on the Union coming to terms with the fact that newspapers must now invest in online and get journalists to keep the web site updated every day including weekends – you name it. If they don’t then other players who aren’t tied down by lots of rules and regulations will just do it, and win the audience and the advertising.
It seems particularly appropriate to read and blog about this subject now since, in the last week or so I have felt like hell due a heavy cold, but still kept posting to TechCrunch UK, even breaking the odd exclusive and even (horror!) posting on the weekend and at night. If it was that sort of blog I might have uploaded photos and video too. I even went to Barcelona and back this week, using WiFi at the airports and hotel to keep the blog going. I know that is a no-brainer for the average blogger but it’s a world away from the average journalist, who has to wait to submit copy when other people are in the office to edit it.
Maybe I’m odd. Maybe I do it because I am passionate about the subject. Maybe also I could take advantage of the flexibility of a blog to post, especially this last two weeks, when I felt physically up to it, not when I was ‘in the office’. To me, ‘the office’ is when I am online, so the office is the nearest WiFi, regardless of where I am physically. But I am still, at heart, a journalist/blogger/storyteller/whatever who gets a kick out of the scent of a good story. So in that respect the same rules would apply to a journo on a local paper who felt like cracking out a story in the middle of the night rather than waiting for ‘the office’ to open in the morning.