Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Digital papers is the future of news

We've had a newspaper for as long as I've lived here. But at the end of January we quit our print subscription to the Asahi Shimbun and switched to their digital subscription service. So far the experience has been good.

We both like reading the paper, but we don't like the pile of trash it generates every day. Also, we only get one copy, so Ritsuko would read today's paper, while I would bring yesterday's paper with me on the train for reading practice. Not very convenient. And now that I have a Nexus 7 and Ritsuko has an iPad Mini we're no longer tied to a computer for a digital subscription.

The subscription is only a little cheaper than the print paper. But the subscription is household-wide, so we can read the paper on multiple tablets and computers, without being restricted to one device or one user. That's much better than the single paper we used to get. We can now read the morning paper at the same time, Ritsuko at home and me on the train.

Also, we get the entire paper. All of it — much more than we got with the print paper. We get the digital morning edition; facsimilies of the Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and western Japan printed morning editions; the continuously updated 24-hour paper; the full website; and Be, Globe, Apital, & and other weekly magazine-style content. In fact, there's far more interesting Japanese-language material than I could ever manage to read in a single day.

Asahi Shimbun on Nexus 7. Very readable, very convenient.

They have apps for IOS and Android. I only have direct experience with the Android tablet app, but the IOS app looks and behaves identically. It's probably a cross-platform application from start to finish. When we got the subscription on February 1st, the app gave you a nice, clean, easy to read presentation of articles, but it was confusingly organized, frustrating to use and very, very buggy. I had to manually kill and restart it every morning, and it didn't let you read anything without a net connection.

But the app has been updated a couple of times since then, and the experience is now vastly better. The organization has improved and crashes are now rare. You can download the morning and 24-hour editions to read offline, and all of the editions are available from a single screen.

There's still room for improvement. Pictures are low resolution — to save on bandwidth and storage I guess — but graphs become hard to read and you miss out on some good news photography. Resizing text gives you some odd results. There's no subject index so you can't easily find todays editiorials or recipes1. Also, it's cross-platform so it lacks the convenient Android cross-app sharing; you can't select a word and look it up in your own dictionary, for instance.

Everything seems to be available online too (Firefox on Linux works fine), though I haven't done an exhaustive inventory. The browser version layout is more confusing, but easier to use for studying Japanese since I get word translation and kanji definitions in my browser. I also find the facsimile of the paper edition (flash-powered, unfortunately) easier to navigate on a larger laptop screen than on the N7.

By now I really prefer the digital version to the print paper we used to get. Ritsuko misses the paper sometimes, but for me the digital version is better in almost every way. The paper version did have a few advantages — it doesn't break, doesn't need batteries, can scrapbook articles, and wrap stuff with it — but none that we need very much.

Why do we have a paper at all? A whole newspaper really has a lot more, and more thourough, content than the online-only stuff you can find, and it becomes fairly clear once you can compare directly. General news sites really are mostly the wire-service stuff. Interviews, recipes and so on may seem like fluff at a first glance, but it all makes for a much more fun read. I enjoy just browsing through the daily paper in a way I never do with a news site, since I never quite know what I'll find. So I would never consider giving up the newspaper; but neither would I want to return to a printed paper. The newspaper is dead. Long live the newspaper!

#1  I sometimes think I'd like to collect specific pages and regular columns into a "mini edition" of my own — but then, I won't leaf though the rest of the paper and miss a lot of good stuff. Probably not a good idea.

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