The online newspaper experience

5.18.06

Text and the way it’s printed for the most part has not changed ever since Gutembergh printed the first Bible. This means that both fonts and formatting have basically stayed the same for hundreds of years. This wasn’t a problem for the most part because paper until a few years back was the primary medium for communication, news papers most importantly. From the oldest paper I have seen, the format and the way articles are positioned have never changed. There is something about the way that the formatting was perfected over the years that makes reading a newspaper a very enjoyable experience (even with its original page numbering system)

However today I find myself reading more and more online versions of newspapers and magazines such as The Economist. Not only is this medium totally new, but neither conventional formatting nor typography works well in it. Take a look at The New York Times for instance. Beisdes columns somewhat existing not a lot else is the same. Blue headlines? Having the time since it was posted instead of the time it was printed? Always the same formatting? Although the newly designed site is much better than the previous one, there is still to wish for I believe.

Part of reading the newspaper in the morning is the artistic surprise I believe. Newspapers are always different and like a painting you are always overwhelemed with all the headlines in different sizes and styles (besides the Wall Street Journal and USA Today which have pretty bad layouts in my opinion). The randomaness and yet solid format of daily newspapers forces one to see everything, unlike lists of news headlines which GoogleNews offers that lets the reader quickly skip the longer headlines (god forbid the reader actually reads everything). In the current style for onlines news you have one of three styles: the google list style (which is extremely ugly and inefective in getting news across to the reader), the CNN style which seems like a Microsft web portal from the 90s, and The New York Times which although better seems to manage to incorporate a bit of everything.

Granted, the medium as it stands has many limitations, and is never manually formatted (unlike newspapers who have professional people dedicated to making all of the articles fit nicely together) yet I think its a branch of computing that still requires a lot of exploring. Imagine the day that all of your RSS feeds are formatted randomly into a newspaper like format. I wouldn’t mind having slightly less current news in trade for a good experience. Reading the newspaper over a nice cup of coffee used to be an amazing experience which I would hate to see disappear.