Jeff Pelline: Read your favorite newspaper online | TheUnion.com
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Jeff Pelline: Read your favorite newspaper online

My wife and I have been married 14 years, and we’ve always read newspapers together.

It’s a ritual for us to get up in the morning and read papers, often two or three at a time. (The S.F. Chronicle must think I’m still working for them, because nine years after I left, I’m still getting the “employee discount.”)

Reading newspapers together is our time of the day to reflect, discuss, debate (and laugh about) what’s happening in our world. We haven’t let the birth of our son change our routine; we just get up earlier.



For us, this is prime newspaper reading country – and this is the prime newspaper reading season.

It’s getting colder, so we get up before dawn, light a small woodburning stove in the kitchen, and read the papers at the breakfast table in front of the fire.




We may live in a small community, but we still get home delivery of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as the local and regional papers. The paper boy bundles them together and tosses them over the white picket fence, right onto a walkway that cuts across the front lawn. It’s like living in a Norman Rockwell painting.

The Union is always wrapped in plastic, and the delivery man puts a cool green reflective sticker on our fence, so he can easily find our house in the pitch black.

This makes for the best newspaper reading experience I’ve ever had. It even beats Fort Lauderdale, where during my first newsroom job 25 years ago, I read at the beach. The delivery service is much better than the Bay Area, where the Chronicle often landed in the gutter and got soaked. (I once took a Polaroid of the wet newspaper and sent it to the publisher anonymously. Beware, Ackerman!)

In recent years, our morning newspaper routine has changed radically: We’ve added a laptop computer to the mix.

That’s right. We huddle around a fire in the kitchen, just like people did back in George Washington’s era, and we read the newspaper on an Apple computer. A wireless broadband connection in the other room – $15 a month from AT&T – makes this possible.

We only have one laptop (our older iBook model still costs $1,000), so we just pass it back and forth while the other person reads the printed paper. One of these days, we’ll add another, less expensive laptop into the mix, I guess.

As many of you know, consuming news online creates unlimited options: you can read almost any paper you want “anytime, anywhere.” You can also read gossipy blogs (Herb Caen would have loved blogging), watch video clips and slideshows, and – my favorite “sport” – post comments at the bottom of a story. (I wish people were more civil and signed their names, but that’s an issue for another day).

Our household is not the only one that has changed its reading habits. Online newspaper readership is exploding. The average number of monthly visitors to U.S. newspaper Web sites spiked by nearly a third in the first half of this year, to more than 55.5 million unique visitors per month, according to a report released this month by the Newspaper Association of America.

“Newspaper Web sites have become a significant addition to the print product, and are driving large audience growth,” said John Kimball, the association’s chief marketing officer told Reuters news service.

Here’s the kicker: “Overall, newspaper Web sites help drive a 15-percent increase in the total newspaper audience for 25- to 34-year olds and a 10-percent increase for 18- to 24-year-olds,” according to the association.

This is key because newspapers have failed miserably to attract younger readers – for years. So listen up if you go to Nevada Union or Bear River highs, or Sierra College. We want you in our fold!

Online newspaper reading makes sense largely because it is interactive. Many people don’t like newspapers because they think reporters and editors “talk down” to them and shut them out. Now they can talk back. (Our Web readers sure DO NOT mince words).

Publishing online is environmentally friendly, too, at least compared to chopping down trees for newsprint.

One of my favorite Web newspapers is from, of all places, Bakersfield, Calif. Check out http://www.bakersfield.com. It includes news, opinion and classifieds, but also lets the community post their own blogs, pictures, and personal profiles – a local version of MySpace.com.

Web reporting also is more in-depth than print coverage, with video, audio, blogs, community chats, interactive maps, wikis (a collaborative Web log) – and an unlimited “news hole.” I’m on the board of a group called the Online News Association, and we have an annual contest that honors the best in online journalism.

This year, for example, MSNBC.com was a winner for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Its reporting included stories, diaries, slide shows, interactive maps, and a 360-degree video tour of “what it was like to be there.” Go to http://journalists.org/2006conference/ to learn more about the winners and to see the value of reading online.

About the same time I joined The Union last month, the paper launched an electronic edition of the paper called the “e-Edition.”

“Now you can read The Union exactly as it appears in print on your computer screen,” according to our Web site. “See all the text and pictures from the print edition, plus the option to change your screen layout, move easily through pages and sections and search an archive of past editions. This eEdition allows you to click to all advertisers’ Web sites and story links to give you the depth of information and resources, literally at your fingertips.”

Go to http://www.theunion.com/eedition to learn more and watch a tutorial video. It’s easy.

On Sunday, The Union will publish a special election issue that can be viewed on our “e-Edition.” Check it out. It’s free to subscribers.

Reading online newspapers, including ours, is the wave of the future. Computer makers are designing “tablet computers” that will make online reading easier. These devices also will make it easier to read your favorite books, magazines, even Grass Valley city council meeting agendas, on the Internet.

“I do believe we will use tablet computers in various sizes from palm-sized to newspaper-sized,” writes Jakob Neilsen, a well-regarded Web design expert. “A book-sized tablet may be slightly heavier than a paperback, but no heavier than a hardcover. The tablets will have high-resolution screens. I also think the tablets will have a fairly high bandwidth wireless network as long as they are used indoors. For outdoor use, they will fall back on some form of cellular technology.”

This is not “pie in the sky” thinking. Neilsen and others predict that the techtonic shift in our reading habits will occur within a five- to 10-year horizon, and tablet PCs will be affordable too – $500 and lower, depending on the size. Some tablet PCs already are being sold, and laptops already are outselling less portable desktops.

I’m more skeptical than Neilsen – not about where we’re headed but the timeframe. Over the years, I have learned technology often is adopted more slowly than many geeks and marketers would like. The death of newspapers, as Mark Twain would have put it, “is greatly exaggerated.” It’s still an efficient way to consume information – ink marks on your hands and all.

Having said that, I have no doubt that my 4-year-old son will be reading newspapers, books and magazines on a wireless tablet PC, not the printed page, by the time he joins the workforce. I just hope he’ll still be reading by a woodburning stove, not some fake hologram fireplace.

ooo

Jeff Pelline is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays Contact him at 477-4235, jeffp@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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