Newspapers Suck Less Than You Think

An article attempting to illustrate the obsolescence of newspapers inadvertently does the opposite.

Reason‘s Katherine Mangu-Ward and her trusty interns provide “A handy guide to kicking your dead tree habit,” arguing that newspapers are unnecessary, that’s simultaneously amusing and self-refuting.

We assumed for the sake of the experiment that The New York Times would be the last to go. Since I refuse to sully my delicate hands with filthy newsprint, Jesse and Robby paged through Wednesday’s edition in search of facts and insights that would need replacing in the event that print news goes kaput. Below is a sampling of sites you might want to include in your RSS reader or browser bookmark list, to get ready for the time when newspaper is no more. Dead tree diehards should think of the suggestions below as a stockpile of digital canned food for when the newsprint apocalypse occurs.

KMW and crew take a humorous romp through the paper and demonstrate that, indeed, there are better and more timely sources for virtually everything therein.  For free!  Saving you $2!

But here’s the thing:  Even skipping the catty byplay, it requires eleven paragraphs and a couple dozen sources to do it.   Which demonstrates the real value of newspapers, even in our information age:  They do a pretty good job of aggregating a lot of content in a single place in a reasonably timely manner.  For those who don’t want to spend twelve hours a day seeking out news, it’s not a bad investment of $2.  And, legend has it, discounts are available for bundled purchasing.

Now, I happen to no longer be in the target audience for dead tree newspapers.  We take the Sunday Washington Post, which I promptly toss into the recycle bin unopened, in order to get the supplements, which are usually delivered to our doorstep Saturday morning.   I could, if I wished, get the other six days free of charge but decline on the grounds that I don’t want to make six more trips between the front steps and the recycle bin each week.

But the reason the paper isn’t useful to me is that I’m an outlier:  a news junkie who’s also a content provider.   So, I’m not only willing to spend several hours most days seeking out various sources of news and commentary, but I require linkable and cut-and-pastable formatting.  So, even when I read stories in WaPo — which is often — I vastly prefer the digital version.

For average people who are somewhat interested in the news, the NYT and WaPo and other great papers are a pretty good option.  The problem, from the standpoint of making a living selling newspapers,  isn’t competition from thousands of specialized outlets who can provide better and faster coverage but competition from their own online versions.   Rather than paying for a newspaper and reading it at home, people can now get it for free and get paid to read it on their office computers!

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. grampagravy says:

    People who read the paper, online or otherwise, on my dime got walking papers. Personal pursuits while on the clock is stealing. I’ve always been amazed by the number of “honest” people who think its okay to sell someone an hour and then steal a portion of it back.

  2. JKB says:

    “I’ve always been amazed by the number of “honest” people who think its okay to sell someone an hour and then steal a portion of it back.”

    An appropriate view if your employees are hourly but veering toward making them non-exempt if they are salaried.