Journalism is in the grips of a financial crisis, and that should worry us all. Cutbacks in reporting staff, such as CNN’s elimination of its science/environment/technology unit, will deplete the capacity for learning and intelligent decision making that our society so badly needs at this critical energy juncture. Online distribution of news could help by reducing printing costs, but this potential new direction for journalism is currently undermined by several faults: online news tends to fracture readership because readers go only to those stories they know in advance will interest them, and free access to articles combined with slim advertising revenue makes it a poor mechanism for financing quality news gathering.
What if there was a means of reading magazines and newspapers online, in a semblance of their current form, providing the information richness of dozens of pages of varied content (plus the advertising to pay for it)? There are several experiments of this sort underway by major newspapers. I just signed up for a free trial of the New York Times Electronic Edition, which is a digital replica of the printed paper.
There are tech tools available to turn digital newspapers into the portable reading experience we’re accustomed to, and they keep getting better. The NYTimes got excited this fall about a largescreen reader to be released in trial volumes later this year by the U.K.’s Plastic Logic:
The device, which is unnamed, uses the same technology as the Sony eReader and Amazon.com‘s Kindle, a highly legible black-and-white display developed by the E Ink Corporation. While both of those devices are intended primarily as book readers, Plastic Logic’s device… has a screen more than twice as large. The size of a piece of copier paper, it can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents.
Richard Archuleta, the chief executive of Plastic Logic, said the display was big enough to provide a newspaperlike layout. “Even though we have positioned this for business documents, newspapers is what everyone asks for,” Mr. Archuleta said.
Software is also improving the online reading experience, such as the Scribd iPaper document reader, which the NYTimes and other news sources use to present primary sources in web stories (thanks to Jim Bruggers for the tip). The January edition of one of the magazines I write for, IEEE Spectrum, is available in Scribd’s iPaper format, complete with full-text indexing (see embedded reader below).
As a preliminary test why not flip to an article in January’s Spectrum that should interest Carbon-Nation readers: my story on the repowering of Europe’s first-generation wind farms — an energy upgrade that could dominate the next decade’s worth of wind installations in pioneering wind-energy states such as Denmark and Germany.
Search for “Europe Replaces Old Wind Farms” and the iPaper reader will take you to the story on page 15 before you’re done typing. Then click this post’s comments link to reply and let us know what you think of the virtual reading experience. Could electronic tools like this save journalism and, in turn, democracy?