The usually negative hive mind of the Internet has been bashing print media as hopelessly backward for so long now that the snark has become passé. But readers often remind me that some information will forever be better in print.
When you want to find something on a computer or mobile device, you generally use some kind of search functionality to navigate to what you want. Why pore over voluminous lists when you can easily filter out every extraneous datum to isolate exactly what you’re looking for?
That explains why many print sources have drastically cut down many tables and lists over the past decade. Like The Kansas City Star, almost all regional newspapers used to devote many pages a week to column after column of stock quotes and other information from the markets of the day before.
But since those closing prices were by definition already yesterday’s news once they appeared in the morning paper, I have actually heard relatively little complaint from readers as they’ve dwindled.
Virtually all serious investors track their portfolios electronically these days, and that’s one area where immediate digital delivery is a slam dunk over print. I can recall only a tiny number of readers saying they perused the print tables for prices of stocks they don’t own.
But search doesn’t always win out over printed lists. A key example is the “Weather Watch” on the back of the Sports Daily. It’s an integral part to many people’s day, and I get an earful any time there’s something amiss with it.
That was the case for several days earlier this month. The Star’s newsroom has recently switched to a new computer system that required rebuilding the templates that page designers use in their daily production. The invisible box that contains the “Weather Watch” was misaligned slightly, cutting off several cities in the temperatures list at the bottom.
Many callers told me they enjoy those lists not only to track what’s going on where their loved ones live but also because it’s sometimes simply fun to see that information in such an easy-to-use format. Here is an instance where, yes, you could go to your favorite weather app or website and plug in a big list of ZIP codes to see what’s going on. But the printed list is infinitely faster and more pleasant to use.
Readers also made their objections clear when the FYI section of Friday, April 19 omitted the “Now Showing” grid. That table lists current movies and various details such as their ratings, plots and where screenings can be found. It’s a page that is important to many.
My callers have long bemoaned the decline of print ads with movie starting times. The fact that fewer theaters now run those ads makes “Now Showing” even more important.
One person called the page one of the most useful things she finds in the paper. She told me she and her husband pull it out, fold it up and take it with them when they go out on the town. “We don’t always decide what movie to see before dinner,” she said.
“Because I didn’t have that page with me this week, my only other option was to use my smartphone to try to find out what’s playing. Have you ever done that? You have to put in your location and wait while it pulls up what’s around you. It takes so much more time than that nice, concise page. Please tell me (editors) aren’t getting rid of it.”
It hasn’t been cut, and the scores of calls and emails I received tell me that’s the right decision.