That hint of print

24 Nov

“Sometimes,” says Andrew Marr, halfway through the Sunday paper review, “the best front pages are the ones online.” And he turns to an image of the tabloid Independent.

But of course, as we have previously discussed, the modern Independent front page is a curious thing. It is online, in the sense that it only exists virtually: the paper stopped printing in 2016. But in appearance, concept and execution, it relies on the language of print. It exists almost exclusively to be included in “what the papers say” roundups, where the visual rhetoric of the front page still has greater impact than a web article called up on an iPad. It is not a native digital format: the Independent’s true front page these days is its homepage, which looks very similar to other digital news fronts, and suffers from the same problem of being updated too often and too quickly to ever serve as a snapshot of a calendar day.

Another curious thing about it is that it still looks the same as it did when the paper stopped printing in 2016 – still with a visually dramatic single story next to the distinctive vertical masthead. In fact, that look dates all the way back to 2013; since that time, for instance, the Financial Times, Telegraph and Guardian have all been redesigned. Will the Independent’s digital front page ever be redesigned as well? Or will it have to stay as it is, fossilised by the necessity of reminding viewers of the time when it was a newspaper too?

4 Responses to “That hint of print”

  1. Steve Dunham November 24, 2020 at 1:51 pm #

    I hadn’t thought about frequent updating of a news home page being a problem, though I don’t disagree. Newspapers are sometimes faulted as being slower to report the news, though that often isn’t true either. In “The News About the News,” which I read almost 20 years ago, Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser mentioned that the TV news, at least here in the USA, is often repeated from one day to the next. I started noticing, on the rare occasions that I watch TV news, the the morning’s news is often the same as that of the previous evening. If anything happened in the world overnight, it wasn’t on the TV news. And I noticed that radio news was often stories that had been in the previous day’s newspaper. Downie and Kaiser pointed out that radio and TV were not devoting many resources to reporting the news and were mostly repeating the news.

    • edlatham November 24, 2020 at 1:57 pm #

      Interesting that that happens in the US as well – it happens in Britain to an extent, but that’s partly because broadcasters are statutorily regulated and have to move slower than Fleet Street, where the culture is to push aggressively on stories and set agendas

      • Garrett Wollman November 24, 2020 at 10:17 pm #

        In the US it’s very much about the cost of staffing. A radio station that wants to run “news while it is news” in morning drive has to have writers and editors in the newsroom at 3am, which is an expensive time to get anyone qualified to go to work. Morning anchors are just getting up around then to start their shifts at 4:30 (for TV) and 5:00 or 6:00 (for radio). So TV stations in particular, with their much higher personnel costs, are likely to just pick through the bones of the 11pm (10pm central and mountain) news and produce a shorter, perkier morning edit rather than trying to create new content in the dark. No reporting is actually going to happen while all the newsmakers and sources are asleep, anyway. Anything that happens in another time zone is going to be sourced from the network or a wire service anyway.

      • edlatham November 24, 2020 at 10:58 pm #

        That’s interesting – partly because, I guess, of having numerous but smaller media outlets in the US as against fewer, but larger, ones in the UK. (Several organisations in the UK, notably the BBC, but also the three-newsroom anglosphere papers, which can run 24/7, are able to do small-hours reporting.) And that in turn is partly to do with the vastly different geographies of the two countries, which is an underestimated factor in media cultures, I think.

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