Scrolling Skills versus Scanning Skills

When the Times of London suddenly converted to a tabloid, it shocked the old guard press. Here was a venerable institution going over to the enemy camp. But the decision, it turns out, has been a boon to business, and it should be a lesson to any media entity as it looks at the future. In an insightful article in The Guardian, Times editor Robert Thomson says the Internet played a big role in the decision.

“These are exhilarating times,” he said, without intending the pun. “It was a leap of faith, but now that it’s obvious that it’s working, it is a genuine time for celebration, though not for complacency. It was very clear to me after I became editor, and also taking into account my experiences in the US, that the newspapers of now can’t be the papers of five years ago, let alone 10 years ago.

“The newspaper environment has changed dramatically. Obviously, we’ve got the incremental institutionalisation of the internet. We often think of ourselves competing with the net and, in part, that’s true. But, given that the net is part of the daily life of virtually every Times reader, we also have to complement it.” I was expecting him to make a point about the relationship between print-based and web-based journalism, but he offered an altogether different perspective to support his paper’s change of size.

“The traditional broadsheet involves what you might call scanning skills, but for an increasing number of people, especially young people who are used to internet presentation, they have developed scrolling skills. Interestingly enough, those scrolling skills work a lot better in the compact format than they do in a broadsheet.

“One of the contradictions of modern journalism begins with the question, ‘How do you make the internet like newspapers?’ rather than ‘What influence will newspapers have on the internet?’ We’ve reached the point where we in newspapers are learning from the internet experience.”

Amen, Mr. Thomson. And I would argue that newspapers aren’t the only thing that has to change. Are you listening, broadcasters?

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