Goodnight, Newsweek

Newsweek Cover October 22, 2012Dan Pink saw it coming. Newsweek has announced it will stop publishing and go all digital after nearly 80 years in print. I’ve read Newsweek cover to cover every week since I was in high school, though in recent years I admit my loyalty has frayed at the edges. I’m saying goodbye with zero guilt and a twinge of relief, as to a houseguest who has overstayed their welcome.

Though I faithfully subscribed to Newsweek in print, there’s no way it is worth it to me to pay for an online subscription. Which makes me wonder why? If the true value is the content, the news and analysis, why does the format matter so much?

Weather Beacon Black

The WSJ informed me this morning that the lights went out on another venerable institution from my youth as the Des Moines Weather Beacon shut down.

I grew up in the tiny town of State Center, Iowa, just 45 miles or so east of Des Moines. We couldn’t see the Weather Beacon from my house or anything, but KCCI news was a regular presence in our house and the Weather Beacon’s handy couplets are burned in my brain.

Weather Beacon white, colder weather is in sight.

Weather Beacon red, warmer weather is ahead.

Supposedly changing technology has made the use of KCCI’s smartphone weather app more prevalent, and Weather Beacon light bulbs more expensive.

Beyond pure nostalgia, the Weather Beacon and Newsweek going black in the same week has drawn my attention to how much technology is changing the way we receive our news. Instead of looking up to the sky to get a weather report I now stare into my iPhone and tap on the screen. In making this trade-off, do we lose touch with reality?

If you’re the kind of person who walks down the street while reading a paperback sci-fi novel, people justifiably look at you like you’re crazy. But you can walk down the street completely engrossed in a smartphone and somehow this is totally normal.

What I Think About How I Read

The WSJ gives me both online access and a print subscription so I’ve experimented with different ways of reading the news. I’ve tried reading the “What’s New” column on my iPad in bed first thing in the morning, so I have a general sense of what’s happening in the world. Then I jump out of the car to retrieve my paper from the end of the driveway on my way to work and read it in stolen moments throughout the day. Sometimes I visit the bookmarked website on my computer, but not often. Many days I don’t get through it all, and I save up stacks of papers to catch up with in a marathon weekend reading session.

I remember my parents doing this same thing when I was a kid, saving newspapers to read when they had time so they wouldn’t miss anything. When I was growing up I really didn’t care about the newspaper. Now I find it essential. It’s funny how our tastes for content change as we get older, like suddenly discovering that we like tomatoes or feta cheese after years of finding them distasteful.

I don’t relate to the current fashion of viewing the news as out-of-date one hour after it hits Twitter. Anything worth knowing should still be relevant a week, or even several weeks after it hits the news stream. Old unread newspapers are a treasure, not trash.

I also think it’s important to have experts or smart journalists analyze the news and explain why it’s important, in context. That’s why I liked reading Newsweek. A Twitter meme about Mitt Romney’s binders or Obama’s bayonets is minimally useful. An in-depth profile of a candidate or his campaign manager? Invaluable.

Saving Private Knowledge

I consume audiobooks and ebooks for their convenience, then get frustrated because I don’t then own a print copy for easy reference. I sometimes buy a book in print that I first digested in audio form, but most of the time my Amazon wish list just gets unwieldy as I balk at the added expense.

I wish I could buy a book once and then get it in any format I want. That would be true innovation! I bought Great by Choice as an audiobook first, liked it so much I bought the print version, and was then inspired by my purchase to listen to the audiobook again. My commute is my most reliable source of time to read. I laud the coming of driver-less cars because it will open up more opportunities to read en route and save me from my audio vs. hardcover dilemma.

I’m not sure how to save articles any more. I love the tangible satisfaction of clipping an article out of the paper and putting it in my file cabinet. However, I also love the convenience of saving something to Evernote for instant access at any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Sometimes I clip an article with scissors and then wonder if I should jump online and save the digital version because I know it will be so much more accessible and searchable as a digital record. Redundant? Yes. But I can’t quit either format.

There’s this big push to go all-digital for everything, but I’m old enough to have lived through multiple iterations of data storage and have watched my files become obsolete and thus inaccessible in the process. Papers from high school and college? Floppy disk. Presentations from my teaching days? Zip disk. And now I hear flash drives are going away because cloud computing is the next great thing. So what do I do with all my work files from the past five years?

My spouse keeps pushing me to get rid of my filing cabinets and embrace digital, but I can’t bear the thought of losing all my precious paper to the time-technology conspiracy. Don’t even talk to me about floods and fires.

So many things are changing. And the changes feel both slow and subtle and fast and jarring. Like a tectonic shift of our culture that is imperceptible most of the time and then suddenly shakes us to our core.

This matters, but it doesn’t. Because when our world evolves most of us adapt. So when I read that the Weather Beacon is black and Newsweek is stopping the presses, I care, but not terribly much. I’ve moved away, I’ve moved on. And the essential news and good ideas they carried will fly away and live on.

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