Sometime in February, I read that Britain’s The Independent newspaper will disappear from news-stands from the end of March 2016. The 29-year-old title will only publish online. The article said that the paper, which was launched by a group of journalists in 1986, became Britain’s highest-profile casualty of our changed reading habits. Apparently, more and more people are reading the news online rather than an actual paper and, ‘from a peak of 400,000 copies a day, circulation has fallen to just over 40,000.’
The owner of the newspaper said that the move to make it solely online would allow the company to invest in high-quality editorial content. It also suggested that the change is being driven by readers and that future is digital.
Then, a month ago, closer to home, on 15 March 2016, the news portal, The Malaysian Insider went offline. Of the many reasons given, one of the most interesting comments was that there were financial losses amounting to RM10 million and that there were no advertisers. One writer suggested that without this platform, we would go back to reading actual newspapers and this would bring with a whole new set of problems.
That very day, I happened to read an article by Moira Allen about books, eBooks and the ‘future of publishing.’ She wrote, ‘… e-books have become a huge part of the “future of publishing” — without, oddly enough, having driven print books into extinction. I’m not the least bit worried about the “death” of print publishing.’
All this got me thinking about my reading habits, both online and offline, and the newspaper. Reading the newspaper every morning has been a habit I inherited down from my grandfather. In my aunt’s house, we would all gather in the morning and each person shares bits of the newspapers to read. In our house, it’s a calamity if we open the front door and there’s no paper. We have both The Star and the New Straits Times (NST) delivered every day.
It amuses me no end when people almost scold me and say, “I only read The Star. I don’t want to support the government paper. I am for the opposition,” I smile, nod and say nothing. If I could bothered, I would tell them that the NST has been the paper of the government for the last 150-odd years. If the opposition became the government tomorrow, it would become the newspaper of the new government. Would they buy the NST then?
Back to the online-offline business of newspapers. The more I think about it, the more I realise that for as long as I have the option, I will still opt for an actual newspaper. In the same way that I will choose to read an actual book. Several things have happened in the last few years that strengthen this resolution.
First, when I started writing for the NST, I asked a few journalist friends for advice about how to store these articles. One person said, “Don’t buy the papers. Just get a digital version of it.” My godmother said the opposite – that I should keep an actual copy of every article I wrote. She also told me that I should write in my name and not use a penname. I am so glad I took her advice. She, too, was a journalist at one time and she reminded me of the lazy autumn evening in Sydney, in her small flat, when we’d looked through all her articles. I am very glad I followed her advice above everyone else’s.
You see, the NST website underwent a sort of spring clean recently and had I listened to this, I wouldn’t have any copies of my articles. There would be no physical evidence that I’d written for the papers at all.
And if we didn’t have actual papers, I wouldn’t have this funny story to tell. A year after Grandpa died, my grandmother placed an ‘In Memoriam’ ad in the Obituaries. The whole family was listed in the obituary. From complicated names like Sharayu, Sundararaj and Gharpuray, I imagine that this must have been a difficult ad for the typesetter to get right. Still, my grandmother had so listed all the grandchildren as well including one called Nesta. The thing is, who on God’s good earth is Nesta? Have a guess.
What stories can you share about things that appear solely in print or online?