Reading a Newspaper–Old Style

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, February 27, 2015

This past weekend, I decided to buy a physical copy of The New York Times Sunday edition because they were advertising the revamped magazine section in my digital edition. I figured it might be fun to read a newspaper again, by holding it. Sort of a little nostalgia trip. Sad to say, it was a sad trip, I got very little wistful fun going back this time.

One of the very first things I noticed about the physical paper was the low-resolution of the print. It was a smudgy, dull gray. Many pages looked blurry. The screenshot I took below from the NYT’s web site of it’s .pdf of the front page is many times sharper and easier to read. Just click on the image to enlarge it. I wish my digital subscription included a full .pdf version of the paper. It would solve many of the criticisms I have for reading newspapers old style.


There are many pluses to reading a newspaper the old fashioned way. First and foremost, I’m not at the computer. I spend a lot of time at the computer, on my tablet, or using my smartphone. So, returning to the tactile physical world is a real plus. The next advantage I noticed to reading the newspaper like I once read it, is the random nature of the content. Even though I subscribe to the digital edition of The New York Times, I read it very selectively, mainly by cherry picking the most interesting articles from the most emailed page. That means I don’t see a vast majority of the paper. Flipping through the entire paper shows me stories I would never read online because I would never search them out. The print layout is random, but holistic too. I looked at all the book reviews, rather than selective one as I do when online reading.

Strangely enough, the print ads are more appealing than online ads, even though most of them are a low-rez gray mush. In fact, the ads are so interesting, I would probably enjoy looking at the full paper each day on screen with a .pdf version. I have a 27” monitor which is great for reading online.

The magazine section, printed in color on slick paper, does beat the web visually. The new magazine section is like a real magazine. It’s easier to hold and read than the newspaper itself, which makes me wonder if print newspapers shouldn’t use that format?

Lastly, I get more of a feel of what’s going on around New York City from reading the print edition, than I do reading the digital edition.

The digital edition can easily feel like a world news paper. If I worked at it, I could dig through the entire paper by lots of online clicking, but I doubt I could see everything I saw by just laying the paper on the table and flipping page after page. But this brings me to the negative aspects of reading the pulped tree edition.

The font is tiny on the paper edition. Too small to enjoy reading. Generally, for any article that caught my eye, I’d just read the first few paragraphs, and then I told myself, if the article was appealing, to look it up later for online reading. I only pay for the web page edition, so I have no idea what the paper looks like on a table or smartphone. However, reading it online is much easier than reading in print. My Chrome browser sizes everything for my poor old eyes.

The physical paper is hard to hold and read. I had to sit at a table and lay it flat. But when I found something I wanted to read, I had to hold the paper up, and even fold it to get a comfortable reading distance and handhold. And I was very disappointed with the photos, both the news pictures, and the ads. There was an ad for model ships that really caught my eye, but the printing looked like 3D print without the glasses. And strangely enough, I missed the interactive slideshows and videos from the online edition.

Reading the newspaper again reminded me of one of the very annoying things I always hated about newspaper but had forgotten. Turn to page xx really bugs me. Do you turn now and read, and then jump back, or do you keep flipping pages and try to remember to spot the article you had started reading awhile back?

It’s sad to say, I just didn’t like reading the physical newspaper. It had a momentary cool factor of reminding me of the old days, but that wore off pretty quick. And when I was through, I felt guilty because I had a pile of paper that needed recycling. Some tree gave it’s life so I could read the paper, and now I was just going to throw it away. In a couple years I’ll probably buy a paper again, hoping to find that old pleasure of newspaper reading I had growing up, and probably once again I’ll realize why we move on with new technologies.


6 thoughts on “Reading a Newspaper–Old Style”

  1. I always used to read the local newspaper at work. When I retired, they just started piling up. I sit at the computer while drinking my morning coffee and eating breakfast (and I developed that habit long before I retired), so… I just wasn’t getting the newspaper read.

    I was disappointed when the online New York Times went behind a paywall – and when my local paper did the same thing a few years later – but I can’t keep up with everything online, anyway. Not even close.

    1. Yes, there is a ton of stuff on the net to read, more than I could ever find time to read, but 99.999% of it isn’t as good as The New York Times. In recent months I’ve been comparing what I find to read for free on the net to what I buy in the NYT, or The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Review of Books, etc., and it’s no contest.

      1. Maybe so, Jim, but as a skeptic, I wish I could do a double-blind test of that. 🙂

        Sure, the New York Times undoubtedly has some great writers. It is, after all, the premier newspaper in America, the pinnacle of a print journalist’s career. And the vast majority of what you find online for free is amateur – like our blogs.

        But I still remember how the NYT let Dick Cheney slip them fake ‘leaks,’ while he then used their articles about those ‘leaks’ to justify what he wanted to do. I still remember how they failed America during the Bush years, in that and many other ways.

        The NYT has some good people, undoubtedly – but some who aren’t so capable, too, I suspect. And there are plenty of good people, good writers, in America, not just at the NYT.

        So I have to wonder how much of that is just knowing where the articles came from. You expect to get better writing from the NYT – especially if you’re paying good money for it – so you see what you expect.

        I’m not saying that’s true, certainly not. I’m just saying that it’s possible. As a skeptic, I know how we all tend to see what we expect to see. That’s why scientists do double-blind tests in the first place, though that’s not practical here. But this is a natural human tendency, and none of us is immune.

  2. Nothing is perfect or consistent. And most professional sites now have lots of extra social media content. However, if you search out certain articles, the long ones, the investigative reporting, the stories they paid a bunch of people to research and report, sometimes the kind of stories that get people killed, you’ll find they are many magnitudes above the common web fare.

    You and I, like most bloggers, write from our homes. To get really great articles requires actually going places around the world to investigate. That’s where professional magazines and newspaper still excel.

    1. “You and I, like most bloggers, write from our homes.”

      Whoa, Jim! If you’re comparing amateur bloggers with professional journalists, then there’s no doubt which are going to be the best – certainly the vast majority of the time. But I thought your original comparison was between the New York Times and other professional publications.

      Even then, the NYT is likely to come out ahead, most of the time. I wouldn’t even begin to compare them with the local newspaper in Podunk, Idaho. But there are a lot of professional writers in a lot of media outlets in America and abroad. I stand by my original comment. 🙂

  3. Very interesting. I hadn’t thought until reading this, how long it’s been since I’ve read a physical broadsheet newspaper. Now I think about it, it’s been years! I’m 30 and when I was 15 used to love to spend an entire Saturday reading a weekend broadsheet, and sometimes my reading would last until the following Saturday! It was a real event, having a paper to read and hours of time ahead of me in which to do so, ideally sprawled on a sun lounger. 🙂

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