The newspaper business is quickly collapsing in waves of bankruptcies and layoffs and rapidly declining readership and ads. Our local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, just announced that it will be shrinking again, making it an even more pale shadow of a real newspaper.

Anything is possible in this economy but it’s impossible to imagine that the venerable New York Times won’t be the last man standing, still publishing a print edition when all the other newspapers have folded up – although even the NY Times is dealing with a crushing debt load, looking for investors and seeking to sell some of its assets to raise cash.

If you’re like me, the experience of reading the newspaper is an important part of understanding the world. It provides a different level of reflection on the day’s events and a different level of analysis than the thousands of online news web sites and blogs. Reading news online is interesting but distorting, with too many things that are instantly reported and dissected and parsed for a few hours, then just as quickly forgotten.

kindleIn many parts of Sonoma County, it’s possible to get home delivery of the New York Times. My subscription is about fifteen dollars per week. If you’ve been reading the Press Democrat or the San Francisco Chronicle, you may have forgotten what it’s like to get a real newspaper. The Press Democrat is owned by the New York Times Company and reprints national and international stories from the New York Times, but it’s not until you see the real thing that you discover that the Press Democrat is typically only printing the first few paragraphs of much longer, more informative and more nuanced reporting.

There is no shortage of theories about how newspapers can survive by moving online or to different platforms. This writer describes what’s possible with Amazon’s Kindle, the handheld book reader that now has several hundred thousand users and can download paid subscriptions to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and a dozen other daily newspapers. I know people who adore their Kindles, and it’s not a bad start – but it looks like a plastic toy from the 1960s and it’s not all that well suited to the kind of browsing that you’re looking for in a newspaper.

Many news publications experimented with paid subscriptions when they first went online and then backed away, turning to web sites laden with ads instead. Revenue from online ads is flattening, so expect some of the news organizations to try various types of paid subscriptions again.

If you want a glimpse of what a good online experience with news can be like, I encourage you to look at the New York Times Reader. A couple of years ago, the Times quietly released the Reader for PCs and Macs, available to print subscribers or via a separate paid subscription.

The NY Times Reader bypasses the web browser and presents the articles from the newspaper in a separate program that is readable and exceptionally easy to navigate. Its most important feature is subtle – there is never, never, any scrolling. It’s a far different experience than the NY Times Electronic Edition, which presents a PDF-like version of the print newspaper that requires constant scrolling, just like most online news sites.

Everything about the NY Times Reader feels natural. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of software I know. It needs a computer screen that can run at a decent resolution, so I don’t know how it would look on one of the inexpensive netbooks, but it’s brilliant for a notebook – it can be “filled up” with the day’s news while the notebook is online, then read anytime, online or offline.

Here’s a rave review of the NY Times Reader. I use it constantly and give it high marks. Think about it!


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