(Still from Camden): If you compare a newspaper website to
a conventional newspaper page, I think the results are a little
surprising. We’re used to seeing the Internet as a great expansion of
possibilities, compared to print. But news websites only display about
15 words on each line, plus advertising and navigation bars. That means
that a reader must essentially scroll down one vertical column of text
at a time. A traditional sheet of newsprint, by contrast, is very wide
and can contain an elaborate array of stories (some linked together),
diagrams, and photographs. The reader can spread out a newspaper, scan
it quickly, and select what to read and in what order.
As a result, news sites are perhaps more like broadcast programs than
they are like conventional newspapers. A broadcaster can only transmit
one stream of content at a time. There is always a danger that listeners
will switch channels if they don’t like what they see and/or hear. Thus
broadcasters feel pressure to cater to as large an audience as possible
with each of their programs. In contrast, a traditional newspaper is
a diverse bundle of material, which readers can navigate and read selectively.
The more diversity of content, the better, at least to a point. One
would think that Internet sources would be more interactive and diverse
than newspapers, not less so. But I think that the width of
our current screens may actually make websites more like broadcast channels.
They have to emphasize a few headline stories and try to keep their
visitors from "clicking" away to other sites.
Of course, there are other differences between newspapers and news
websites. (To name just a few: the lack of any final edition on websites;
visitors’ ability to search current and archived editions; and the prevalence
of links to sites beyond the newspaper’s control.) Still, the difference
in width deserves mention.