Some journalists can’t be helped

File this post under the growing canon about how you can’t teach culture.

Honestly, some journalists cannot be helped, and most of the people who believe that all journalists can be helped are journalists who desperately want to believe they have a future in modern journalism. The journalists who need the most amount of help — those who don’t remotely understand Web and digital culture — are the ones desperately clinging to an idea that we can teach culture. But the more I talk to some journalists and the more I read about some of my colleagues, the more I realize that many cannot be saved.

Here is another excellent example of how you cannot teach culture in a post from Mindy McAdams about the Future of Science Journalism Symposium:

Second, after an informational talk about E Ink by David Jackson, director of marketing at the company that holds the patent, one journalist stood up and asked when we will see the E Ink screens or display devices replicate the size and shape of a broadsheet newspaper.

I was stunned. I know my jaw fell open.

I had been sitting there thinking that what I want to see in the displays (now only black and white) is color. The journalist was thinking about imitating a dead format that most people find awkward and inconvenient.

The journalist who asked that cannot be helped. He or she will never get it. You cannot teach culture.

E Ink is a really cool technology, but it does have a long way to go. The biggest advancement E Ink needs is color technology as Mindy said. The idea of making a “portable” reader that is the size of a broadsheet paper is one of the stupidest ideas that I have ever heard.

It’s inconceivable that someone could honestly make that suggestion. It’s even worse that someone would ask that publicly. And it’s embarrassing to journalism that one of our colleagues honestly asked the director of marketing for the company that holds the patent for E Ink that question.

The person who made that suggestion has clearly never seen a Kindle, and probably is not the kind of person who would buy a Kindle or a similar electronic reader based on E Ink. People who would rather read content on a Kindle than in a printed newspaper or book are the kind of people who don’t like the broadsheet format.

The biggest audience for these devices are people who live in urban areas and ride public transportation. I ride the Metro to work everyday in downtown D.C., and I almost never see a broadsheet on the train. I do see plenty of tabloid newspapers, but the broadsheet format is really awkward, especially on the go.

The Kindle is supposed to mimic the size of a book anyway, which plenty of people read on the go. You’ll find more people reading books on the Metro than you will see reading newspapers. The Kindle is 7.5″ x 5.3″ x 0.7″, about the size of an average book, but much thinner (it weighs 10.3 ounces).

I could also see electronic readers becoming very popular on college campuses as a convenient way to carry around a semester’s worth of books in a small package. But I believe that will have to wait until color E Ink hits, because many text books rely on color.

E Ink is not here to replicate a newspaper. That’s not what the technology is for. Only a person who has no idea about what they are talking about would think that.

No E Ink technology has two gigantic advantages over LCD technology that is used in computer screens and mobile devices like the iPhone: battery life and lack of eyestrain. First, many people surfer from eyestrain (like myself) from looking at backlit displays for several hours every day. Devices uses E Ink are not backlit, thus they are much easier on the eyes.

Reading a newspaper or a book (the primary audience for the Kindle) is much easier on the eyes because there is no back lighting from a book. A computer screen is backlit, and the pixels are constantly changing, which forces our eyes to constantly readjust. This is not the case with books and newspapers.

The Kindle is easy on the eyes like a book, but it has the ability to carry hundreds of books at once (and newspaper articles, blogs, etc). Plus, the Kindle allows people to buy books, download blogs and get newspapers on the go. You don’t have to be at a bookstore or newsstand to get new news or content when you have a Kindle with you.

That’s the power of the Kindle.

The other ingenious part of E Ink is how it allows for really long battery life. E Ink only uses power when it loads new text. As long as you are reading a page, it doesn’t use power.

Which means if you don’t pick up your Kindle for a week, it’ll still be charged up. Only when you turn the page will the Kindle resume using power for a short period of time. If you turn the Kindle’s wireless off (which is only needed when you purchase new content) the device can get more than a weeks worth of battery time during normal use.

This is why E Ink is such a cool technology. The first-generation Kindle is a pretty cool product, and maybe one day it will be seen as revolutionary. It has a lot of promise, especially once color E Ink becomes available (I won’t seriously consider getting an electronic reader until color E Ink is available).

Just like making a Web site to mimic a printed newspaper is a bad idea, so is making a portable reading device the size of a broadsheet. Can you imagine how many pounds a Kindle the size of The New York Times would be?

Plus, the Web is an infinitely better news telling medium than a printer newspaper. Why would someone want to mimic an inferior product?

People are moving past printed newspapers. They want to get news on computers, smart phones, portable readers and more. We need to make our content shine on these new delivery methods, not try to shoehorn legacy content onto new mediums.

  • To me, the people who will never get it are the people who write “cannon” instead of “canon” in the first sentence of their screed.

    Those people show they have no business writing and no business being in an industry that supports writing.

  • pat

    I’ve always wondered if you were a sibling of Madonna or some other famous one-name wonder.

    If, in the course of my writing, the worst mistake I ever make is putting an extra n in a word (while still keeping it a real word), then I will be a happy writer. Have you ever been a copy editor before?

    There is a reason many papers have five different people look at a story. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s called being human.

    But I’m not in a writing business. I’m in the news business.

  • Wenalway, very nice smackdown… quite funny, yet ultimately pointless.

    You see there are not 300,000 copies of Pat’s diatribe on driveways and in single copy boxes around town to immortalize his faux pas, there is only the “permalink” and it, as you now can see, is just fine.

    Pat, yes its true that there are those journalists that can’t be helped. In a few weeks I’ll start a new job where part of my task will be to try to help them anyway. I have no doubt, however, that within even in the most staunch and resistant luddite journalist there are skills that are very much worth taking advantage of because our “worlds” do in fact overlap.

    If some journalists can’t be helped, maybe they can still help us.

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  • Nice try, pat, but then you botched another “world” in your response.

    It wasn’t just an extra “n” before; it was a completely different word, which would seem to indicate you didn’t know the correct word.

    That’s the way writing works.

    Some bad writers can’t be helped.

    P.S.: Many newspapers don’t have five people looking at an article. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one.

  • someone

    I’m looking forward to the day of a tabloid-sized epaper screen that’s flexible and can be rolled or folded up when needed. I can see people carrying that around.