Why print newspapers are not good for alternative facts

Every year when I come “home” to Canada and stay with my uncle and aunt in Toronto, one of my greatest treats is to read a real newspaper.

Alternative facts are harder to write in paper newspapers

Does the ethos of old-fashioned print newspapers make it harder for “alternative facts” to be believed?

Not the digitally erstatz version of The Times or the The Daily Mail or The Washington Post or any other online me-too news resource that doesn’t fool anyone into thinking it shares similarities with the real thing…

…but a crinkly, sticky, inky slimmed-down broadsheet like The Globe & Mail or The Toronto Star containing nice, long articles and reviews that you can read without getting eyestrain, large-scale photography with the depth and scale no desktop screen could replicate, and advertisements that may be large but at least don’t whack you in the face with their rude and intrusive vulgarity.

(Anyway: have you ever tried doing a large crossword puzzle on your laptop?)

Newspapers are on their way out. Really?

If you read what the experts have to say about printed newspapers you would be surprised that newsprint wasn’t declared an endangered species 30 years ago.

Even (originally print) publications like The Washington Post and The Guardian have been happy to sign their own death warrants by predicting the end of non-digital news as we knew it, advising media owners to diversify or slit their own throats.

Why traditional newspapers may not just be romantic relics

The clunking of the typesetting machines – the heat and hustle of hot metal being poured into individual characters or even “flongs” as my late dad – a printer and newspaper publisher – used to call them…

…then the first proof print rushed to the editorial room for correction…

…then the whole manual process from there on which, romantically speaking, is now a classic piece of industrial archaeology…all gone.

But lo and behold, production, printing and distribution techniques have become pretty digitised, too, and producing a paper newspaper – although not as physically easy as an online equivalent – is not quite as hideous a loss maker as it could have been.

Archaic, but more time for the truth

Common sense tells us that such an old-fashioned notion – even with its updates – can’t possibly last, and statistics show that printed newspaper readers are becoming rare, like red squirrels in the UK.

But maybe – just maybe – there was something about those laborious processes that caused the reporters and editors who fed the dinosaur linotype machines with verbal fodder to take a bit more time and responsibility about what they wrote.

And maybe, just maybe, that ethos still has an influence on news and “alternative facts.”

Today it’s easy to publish utter bullsh*t and however untrue it is some people in some places will take it seriously. A load of utter b*ll*cks a.k.a. “alternative facts” can be shared to millions in seconds via social media. (You only have to look at the tweets by someone whose name rhymes with Rump, to witness that.)

Internet news: just a bit too slippery

The old fashioned journalists may have had to write their copy on a notebook and read it down a payphone (remember those?) to a transcriber to hit their deadlines, but even that took more time to think about and do.

Judging by the number of typos and hilarious syntax mistakes you see in some online newspaper versions (my favourite of which shall remain nameless of course) you would be forgiven for thinking that a 200 word news article probably is written in 60 seconds or less.

If newspapers are on the way out, why aren’t they out?

On my travels around the place I still see local newspapers, as well as national and/or daily ones. My uncle and aunt here in Toronto are on the elderly side, OK.

But every house on their street gets at least one daily newspaper flung by a spotty kid on a bicycle over on to their driveways.

Out in the countryside whether it’s in Canada or the UK, I often see people reading local newspapers at length. When I check out my own local paper’s website hoping for equivalent content, all I see is a 75 word news head-up surrounded by gargoyle-like remarketing ads about shoes I turned up my nose at weeks ago, and beseeching invitations to find out if I’m owed thousands due to inappropriate PPI.

At least in the paper version, the ads are a good few inches further away and the story hasn’t been hideously truncated to make room for all the gargoyles.

Key differentiation between offline and online news

I think it’s a combination of more time, with less time.

The fact that a printed newspaper takes more time to produce, but allows more physical space for longer and better thought-out journalism, may at least discourage the use of alternative facts. You can write something untrue in 50 words and make it seem real, but try hanging it out to 2,000 words and maintain your readers’ belief in it? Tough call.

There’s something about a paper newspaper, too, that encourages you to sit down with a cup of coffee and really read it – not merely scroll past it on your way to the sports results or an Uber cab.

And then on the other hand if you have less time, picking up a printed paper and flicking through to the inside back page can take a lot less time than firing up your laptop, finding the weather icon, and selecting your home town for the weather forecast.

What format of news do you think presents fewer “alternative facts?”

Please share your views…