To Save the <i>Times</i>, Abandon Timeliness

I want to track a story as it develops, I certainly won't be looking at the print edition of anything, and, once the long-threatened paywall goes up, I won't be getting my updates from
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The day after the Oscars, I couldn't help chuckling when I opened the Arts section of The New York Times and saw the headline "'Fighter' Wins for 2 Supporting Roles."

I live in Connecticut, so our version of the Times went to bed before the best picture award was announced. The print edition I picked up had to settle for reporting on supporting roles and padding the article with speculation about the winner. The result was amusing, but not inconvenient. After all, I had checked the New York Times website at midnight when I had wanted to know the answer.

Though the Internet is becoming increasingly accessible, most 'old media' outlets are sticking to their traditional models. They're reluctant to cede ground to online media, even when the stories they're hanging on to have become dead weight. The New York Times's patchy next-day coverage of the Oscars isn't compelling to anyone with Internet access. Why not hold the story for the next day, when all the data are in or just spike the whole thing permanently?

The New York Times used to be the first thing I read every morning. Now, I tend not to finish the front section until just before bed. When I wake up in the morning, I just grab my phone, open up Google Reader, and start paging through the aggregated blogs and websites I read. The swifter a news story is moving, the more likely I am to put off getting to the newspaper at all. As the Egyptian revolution unfolded, I was glued to my computer, hitting 'refresh' again and again and letting my papers pile up for later.

The New York Times provides high quality news reporting, but so do many other outlets. If I want to track a story as it develops, I certainly won't be looking at the print edition of anything, and, once the long-threatened paywall goes up, I won't be getting my updates from Younger readers like me will keep drifting away until the Times and other old media stop treating their online stories like print and their print editions like online news.

Even when the Times focuses on quick-updating news online, it falls short of many of its rivals. The stories suffer from a lack of hyperlinks; the online updates are a disjoint from the rest of the internet as are the printed stories. The Times usually only links to the homepages of corporations or governmental departments listed in an article. There are few to no connections to other commentary or reactions to the news. Except for a few carefully chosen articles per day, the site is free of comments and reader reaction.

It doesn't compare to news aggregators run by bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, who link the original story to reactions from all quarters and take comments and questions from readers. These sites cover new developments professionally, but they also manage to track the effects of the news in almost real-time.

In print, there's little point in reporting on 'breaking news' when the data is widely available and swiftly outdated. The Times print edition cannot keep pace with websites and TV. Even when the paper isn't disadvantaged by deadline constraints, newspapers cannot stand out when reporting on well-publicized events. The Times's summary of the text of an Obama speech is not likely to superior to those of other outlets.

Newspapers like the Times shine when they engage in news analysis, instead of rehashing accessible data. Newspapers also excel at investigative journalism, which is not rushed to meet a 24-hour news cycle. It takes an institution with the resources of the Times to be able to report on the WikiLeaks war logs.

When papers publish investigative journalism, they are creating news, not just summarizing it. The papers drive the news cycle when they publish in-depth reporting on a previously neglected problem (as the Times has been doing in its Radiation Boom series).

This has to be the future of print journalism. I don't need a newspaper to tell me Oscar results or anything else I can easily google. I want them to tell me what I should be researching and googling next.

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