DAVID ROSMAN: Print is more satisfying than pixels

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What is the future of the truly printed word? It depends on the attitude of the respondent. Multimedia is here to stay, but ink is always better than pixel.

I prefer a newspaper or book over what one blogger called a "cold, lifeless, plastic and metal box" — an e-reader. In the game of rock-paper-scissors, ink covers pixels. Ink will always win.

I am a bibliophile and have never called an e-book a "book." I tend to believe that the terms "digital book," "digital newspaper" and "digital magazine" are oxymorons.

Yes, your Nook, Kindle, iPad or tablet can hold hundreds of books, magazines and newspapers from around the world, some for free. But really, so many books and so little time to enjoy them.

I NEED to have the dead tree version in hand. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling from turning the pages, marking sections I deem important with a piece of scrap paper, a sticky note or yellow highlighter. I even prefer a printed dictionary to an online version for the excitement of searching for and finding a word and discovering new words in the process.

Even the extraordinary artwork found on the book cover, one that may be raised, have a view panel, be 3-D or be simply exquisite in nature, cannot be properly duplicated on a tablet, e-reader or computer. It is like standing next to Michelangelo’s statue of David or seeing it on a 72-inch flat screen. The experience of the former can never be duplicated by the latter.

Nor can the smell of a real leather binding or fresh ink be translated to pixelated hieroglyphics. Smell-a-vision is still a long way off.

For me, holding my own printed book in hand with its glossy red, white and blue cover saying "I wrote this" is much more gratifying than holding up the pixelated version.

Thomas Jefferson believed that a personal library tells more about a person than spoken words. No one can see your library if it is hidden in a box.

Are there advantages to having that cold, lifeless, plastic and aluminum tablet in hand? Sure, but for the same price, I can have the experience of multiple books next to my reading chair, each calling out their desire to be read, vying for my attention.

There will be newspaper survivors of this digital onslaught. First will be the small-town weekly or biweekly, talking about Farmer Brown’s new calf or the local high school sporting team in the state finals. The heroes of those stories can cut out the page and hang it on their bedroom or dorm wall or mail it to grandma. One's 15 minutes (or is it seconds?) of fame is now a permanent memory.

One cannot do that if the local or regional paper is only online. Hanging an email on the wall does not have the same emotional impact and does not show the other occasions deemed important on that same day.

The other survivors will be those whose reputations are national and international — The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, even the Cleveland Plain Dealer among them.

Like the fear that newspapers would become obsolete with the advent of radio, radio with television and now all three with the computer, these new predictions will be unfounded. Even vinyl records are making a comeback after their premature death was announced with the advent of the cassette, which "died" with the CD and DVD, which "died" with BluRay.

I am not one who looks backward. I believe in a simple strategy: If it ain't broken, make it better. Atrophy means death. From this you may believe that my position on words carried by wood pulp is out of whack; it's not. It is reality. Even the Missourian will need to revisit its print version to make it better, stronger and more attuned to those who believe that the news is worthy.

Newsy gives me a story in 90 seconds. From Yahoo and Google News, less than that. Initial Associated Press tweets tell me nothing. Maybe the Missourian should bring back long-form and investigative journalism. Maybe closer ties with the business, science and law departments to produce specialists. Just thoughts.

We tend to say "no" or "can't" too quickly. Maybe it's really time to think in different boxes.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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David Rosman June 8, 2012 | 11:49 a.m.

From one of my favorite readers "James Strait • i LOVE my e-reader. Makes a GREAT paper weight."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 8, 2012 | 1:46 p.m.

Two events this week seem relevant. First, Ray Bradbury's death at age 91 in Los Angles on June 6th. Bradbury was a prolific writer but is best known for this work "Fahrenheit 451," the temperature at which paper (the pages of books) becomes flammable. The story deals with a mandated end of the printed word (specifically books). What's happening today with printed materials isn't mandated.

The other event was that the New Orleans Times-Picayune daily newspaper says it will be forced to stop publishing a daily print newspaper. Apparently there will be specified days of print publication with the other days being an on line edition only.

The Times-Picayune is NOT some backwater newspaper. It's been in business for something like 170 years and over that time its personnel have won a share of journalistic awards. I haven't driven the Gulf Coast highway for some time, but one used to see Times-Picayune plastic "boxes' attached to mail boxes all the way from Mobile, Alabama to the Louisiana-Texas state line.

The Times-Picayune's move will make New Orleans the first major United States city not to have a daily print edition newspaper. Who will be the second?

Well, the Japanese couldn't stop that tsunami either.

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