Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Personal reading history of the New York Times

When I first graduated from college, I read the New York Times as often as I could afford it. Given that I was a grad student living in the South, where the NY Times cost more per day, it wasn't that often. I was working for one of the med school departments as a gofer, and one of my daily duties was to pick up the NY Times for a few of the doctors so I would glance at the headlines during the walk back from the pickup place.

Then, when I lived with my parents for a couple of years while going to grad school in New York, I happily read the newspaper each morning since my father is a regular subscriber. In the days before the cell phone, the ipod and the iphone, it was common for almost every LIRR rider to have a NY Times on them (even if they were zonked out sleeping).

I eventually got a real job, moved out, and got my own subscription to the New York Times. It went well for a few years until I fell victim to that most New York of petty crimes: the daily paper thievery. This happens in New York more often than other places because of the following: New Yorkers are shameless, New Yorkers often feel anonymous, New Yorkers live in close confined spaces just inches away from their neighbors' doors. Hence, it was impossible to figure out which of my neighbors was stealing my newspaper.

However, between the regular receiving and the regular thievery of my NYTimes, 9/11 occurred. It is precisely because 9/11 was an event on such a large scale that I no longer wanted to read about what was happening in the world. I just stopped reading the newspaper altogether. Sure, let the neighbor take the newspaper.

It took me about four years to return to the newspaper. In the meantime, the war in Afghanistan took place, the war in Iraq started and was declared won, a presidential well as more innovations on the internet. So, I returned to the New York Times on the internet (made easier later when they made all the articles available rather than just for their online subscribers).

Yet, there is a distinctly different feel to the internet reading of the newspaper:
1) I generally have several tabs open on my Mozilla browser, so I am continually hopping back and forth between various tasks
2) Long articles are unwieldy to read on a computer
3) There are links in the article and on the site that encourage jumping (jumping links but also jumping in the mind)
4) The most emailed list

The most emailed list:
This might now be said to be the news online. Let's take it as a metaphor for what happens on Yahoo and many commercially driven websites (not necessarily the newspaper sites, although it is interesting to see which kind of articles are the most emailed on New York Times site...I wonder if they have a chart of this across their categories) from which people now get their news. News is now "how to stock up on food", a recognition of people's most driven fears, their most recent curiosities (the top ten stars!), the most common human factors (how to tell if he really likes you; how to get him to ask you for a date; how to get to the second date).

Yet, is it news? Can Yahoo be said to deliver news when the news is streamlined to the mass interest rather than the news informing what the masses should know?

Here's a thought: if a president was assassinated today, can we know for certain that would be the top headline in Yahoo as opposed to a Britney Spear event?

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