newspapers vs. websites

(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.

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