Friday, August 5, 2011

How To Read A Newspaper

I bought my Kindle a couple of years ago almost entirely because I found myself reading less and less due to eye strain. (That's the diplomatic way of phrasing it. The reality is that my eyes were becoming old and useless.) Eventually I found I couldn't see the tiny words in most newspapers and magazines at all, and even though I could use the computer to read by increasing the font size, the glare made it impossible for me to read anything very long.

Goodbye, Sunday New York Times Magazine. Farewell to the long and winding roads of New Yorker articles. It was nice while it lasted.

That sounds nonchalant, but for a lifelong bibliophile, it was torture. I felt as if my attention span was becoming as atrophied as my eyesight. So I bought a Kindle with fingers crossed that it would work. I really half expected to have to return it. By nature, I'm not an optimist, especially when it comes to technology. I definitely have a Luddite streak.

But it worked. For the first time in years I could read for hours at a time.

I quickly realized that a Kindle is by far the best medium for reading a newspaper. The larger font soothes my ancient eyes. The lack of glare (not to mention advertising) improves my concentration. But there were other advantages I hadn't anticipated. I think the fact that my "newspaper" looks like a book, and has to be read article after article (I can skip over an article, but I can't just scan a page looking for something that grabs my attention) means that I read more of the paper most days. I give most articles a paragraph or two to see if they're worth continuing. More of them are worth continuing than I previously would have thought. And because I read more, I understand more.

I remember learning in high school Journalism that the standard layout of newspaper front pages was based on where reader's eyes naturally fell. The most important article was in the upper right hand corner, because that was the first place people looked. The less important articles were in the middle, but still above the fold (because if you were trying to sell the paper, no potential customer, looking at the paper on the newstand, could see anything below the fold). The least important were hidden in the lower right corner.

What you read in a dead tree paper was, in part, subtly determined by the layout, which told you what the editors thought was important. You'd scan it their way, although you'd grab what interested you.

But on a Kindle, beyond the first article (still the one the editors have deemed the most important story of the day), I can't tell what I'm expected to consider more or less important. It's weirdly liberating and restricting at the same time. I feel less as if someone were telling me what I'm supposed to think is important. At the same time, I'm less restricted by my own whims. When you read the "unimportant" stuff, the world becomes a more complicated and more interesting places. It's kind of like being in a strange city without a tour guide book. You never know what you'll stumble across.

And because my Kindle looks like a book, I approach everything I read in it as if it were a book, whether it's a novel, a biography, or a newspaper. I pick up my Kindle each morning, download the New York Times, and come back to what feels like a continuing story. Each article is a chapter in a story I was reading the day before. The newspaper reads like a novel. A revolution, followed by the trial of a dictator, and the machinations of various groups and people trying to grab the newly available power, become all bits of one story, not isolated incidents. I like that. The stories make more sense to me now.

I've been a news junkie since I was 14 or 15, but I feel as if the medium I use to acquire news nowadays allows me to read it in greater depth than I previously could.

There's a standard notion that technology cheapens everything. Movies destroy theater. Television destroys movies. Video kills music. But the news is, I think, enriched on a Kindle.

It makes me wonder how many of my other anti-technology prejudices are also wrong.

1 comment:

Domenico Maceri said...

Agree with most of what you say. I like your "summary" about newspapers layout to force you to read the paper the way they want you. I do wish Kindle listed the titles of all the articles not just the headers for the different sections. Sometimes I may miss an article in the business or some other section because I don't have easy access the the titles.