My Marriage to Digital Journalism
It was sometime last Wednesday afternoon when I realized something was happening.
Like every Wednesday morning, my blog had been sent to my email list, but for a reason I didn’t understand at the time, this one was starting to go viral. When I checked to see how the blog was doing on Google Analytics, the readership was much higher than ever before for a Wednesday. It snowballed on social media and by the following night, the readership for the blog My Divorce From the Edmonton Journal was 25 times higher than normal!
The week ended with an appearance on CBC Radio in Edmonton to talk about the blog and my thoughts about deciding to leave the print version of the Edmonton Journal after over 50 years as a subscriber and reader.
The blog, and reaction to it, made me realize that there were two main reasons for strong emotions from people, including me, when they part ways with a printed newspaper.
Your Thoughts Were Much the Same
It wasn’t just the number of people who read the blog that amazed me, it was also the comments that people posted on my website and in social media. Many said they had decided, for various reasons to end their subscription with the print edition of the Edmonton Journal and cited similar reasons to mine. Many said they were sad to do so because it was a part of their lives for so many years. Their comments mirrored my thoughts.
Last Friday morning I had a meeting at my website company Mediashaker and one of the employees stopped by to say hi and tell me that he had enjoyed the blog. Anthony Allen is much like me. We were both born around the same time and grew up in Edmonton. Anthony said his parents wanted him to follow and understand current affairs and the Journal was his way of doing so. We reminisced how the paper was a part of our childhood and teenage years and how it was our window to the world in those days.
I recounted the story of how I would open the Sports section after the paper arrived in the late afternoon and would immediately check the baseball box scores from the night before. It was the first chance I had on most days to find out how my favourite players had done. This was long before the days of the internet, so getting baseball statistics simply weren’t available right away. You needed to wait until almost 24 hours to get a good idea of what happened in most games. Today provides a sharp contrast. Far more games are on television, you can buy a subscription to livestream every MLB game and information on how players preformed is available on various websites within seconds.
For some reason though, getting that information in the Edmonton Journal the following day, like we did in the 60’s and 70’s seemed much more rewarding when I look back on it. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of things in the past seeming to be better because we remember the good more than the bad. Or maybe it’s because my expectations of getting information delivered more quickly were so low because that’s just the way it was then. Perhaps there was some romance to those days.
I wouldn’t trade the way we get our information today with the old days for a second. It would be hard to imagine what it would be like not to be able to get a sports score or get details on anything in the news. So why is it that those days seemed not only better to me, but also to so many people who commented about the blog or their experiences reading a newspaper as they grew up? Those days are never coming back, nor would we want them to, but somehow rifling through a copy of the Edmonton Journal to find out what was going on in the world seemed more satisfying.
The Comfort of Reading a Newspaper
In addition to the old days of reading the Edmonton Journal being such a great memory, the other clear thing that hit home was almost everyone has a different way of reading a paper. It’s very personal and the time that people are spending today, or have spent in the past with reading the Journal, are times they treasure.
For me, the decision to not renew my subscription to the print version of the Journal means I’ll need to change the way I have breakfast most of the time. Each morning when I have breakfast by myself I brew the coffee, make breakfast and then spend the next 20-30 minutes enjoying breakfast and perhaps a second cup of coffee as I have the Journal spread out on the kitchen table before other family members come down to start their day.
People told me how they read the paper as well. A couple said they have a favourite chair they liked to read the paper in, others mentioned a time of day they liked to read it. Regardless, it became clear to me that many people were like me because that 10, 20, or 30 minutes they spent each day reading the paper was time they really enjoyed.
It’s a very personal experience because you read a newspaper by yourself. It’s one of the rare times in the day when you do something by yourself and you’re not obligated to do it in a specific way like a task at work. I already know my mornings will change forever when my Edmonton Journal subscription ends in less than two weeks. Several others told me they have moved on to a digital version, but from an enjoyment standpoint I don’t think it will be the same. There really is something to being able to hold a newspaper or book in your hands as you read. I know I’ll miss that.
Supporting an Industry
One concern that my blog raised is that anytime somebody decides not to renew their newspaper subscription it’s another brick in the wall of a decaying industry, one that needs to be supported. Fewer readers mean fewer advertisers, which mean fewer reporters and fewer stories about issues that really matter. Government and corporations can get away with more wrongdoing and the public won’t know about it. I get it.
In last week’s blog though I think I detailed my reasons why I’ve decided to part ways with my Journal subscription, which costs more than $400 a year. The product isn’t as good as it used to be and it’s not delivered as often, but yet the price continues to rise.
I also have been a paid subscriber for my adult life, so I think I’ve done by part.
I will continue to support journalism though my taking out a digital subscription to the Journal and maybe another paper or two as well. I realize a digital subscription doesn’t bring in the same revenue to the newspaper because digital advertising is far less expensive, but digital is the new reality.
This isn’t really about the money. It’s about a decision to part ways with a product I’ve used on almost a daily basis for over 50 years. I can’t think of another single product I’ve used for so long, so getting any digital subscription will be an adjustment.
It’s time to move on though. A friend told me to embrace the change. I’ll try, but my kitchen table won’t be the same anymore.