Public Editor

Readers continue to debate digital and print delivery

As I’ve been talking to readers through the years about how The Kansas City Star covers the news, the discussion about the divide between print and online delivery methods has evolved considerably.

During the mid-aughts, the conversation was often about the volume of news available online versus what ran in print. Much of that debate continues today, especially with the many readers who prefer the print edition telling me often they don’t like to read constant reminders that they can go to for more.

“I don’t want to go to www-dot-anything,” said one recent caller. “I feel like if (editors) think it’s important enough to put in the paper, they should put all the pertinent information there. If it doesn’t make the cut, then it must not have been worth telling.”

That’s one way of looking at it. But of course on the other hand, the Internet isn’t hamstrung by the restrictions of physical space as the paper is.

And as the worldwide publishing industry adapts to the realities that increasing numbers of people are consuming its products on computers and especially mobile phones, the tea leaves don’t show a rosy story for the long-tail future of paper.

I’m not predicting the demise of print any time soon, by the way — but it’s an undeniable truth that the business model that has sustained newspapers and magazines for generations has changed permanently. I believe print will be with us forever, though it will evolve and become something none of us can foresee from here.

And while the hectoring online pundit class loves to wag its finger at the print media’s adaptation to the digital age, it’s worth noting that nobody yet has cracked the code definitively. Remember MySpace and Groupon? Fortunes change fast on the Internet.

These days, readers’ critiques of how The Star delivers the news often turn to questions of timing. For example, Julie Llorente was one of the subscribers whose paper delivery was delayed because of the massive snowfall last week. She wrote:

“I went online and read news and opinion. Today I did get the paper but the news and opinion were what I read yesterday. What?”

I understand why that’s jarring, especially to someone who doesn’t consume news primarily online. That’s the way it’s always been for morning newspapers, which must be printed in the wee hours of the night in order to be on the driveways and racks in the morning. But today, the news gets posted online as soon as it’s ready in most cases. That leads to deja vu this reader experienced.

Those among us who spend great portions of the day connected can get lulled into the false assumption that the rest of the world operates the same way. That just isn’t the case. Many people, even those who are highly tech-savvy and unafraid of the Internet, simply don’t lead their lives connected to email, Twitter and the hundreds of other digital fishhooks out there.

The “always on” mentality just doesn’t appeal to these readers. “I get irritated with media people who think they have to be first with everything,” wrote my emailer. “Seems to me that people will read or watch what they want to based on experience and personalities they prefer rather than who claims to be first or breaking with news that we will all see in five minutes regardless.”

I think her insight here is spot on. I’ve long thought that journalists care far more about being first with a story than the readership does. In a big story such as the winter storm or the explosion that leveled JJ’s restaurant, it’s obvious that every news source in town will devote considerable resources to what’s going on.

Few readers are going to sift through website and tweet timestamps to make their consumption decisions based on who was first. And as always, first and inaccurate is a heck of a lot more damaging to a reporter’s reputation than taking the time to get it right.