5 Things I Learned from Reading the Newspaper

Back in June, I decided to try a little experiment in how I receive and read the news. My goal was to read news exclusively through a newspaper every day for two weeks. That meant no web news, no NPR in the car, and no TV (including TMZ, which is normally a rich source of reflection for me).

There is a lot of discussion about the slow extinction of the the newspaper and standards of journalism, but that wasn’t really my interest. I didn’t grow up reading newspapers, and I wanted to know how the experience of reading a paper at a fixed time every day compared to checking an RSS feed reader for blogs several times throughout the day. Here’s what I found:

1. Newspapers Are Expensive

On the first day of my experiment, I managed to demonstrate how naive I was about the world of newspapers. I was shocked to see to see that the Dallas Morning News weekday edition is $1.00 and the New York Times is $2.00. That’s more than a Venti coffee!

Interestingly, that expense played into how I interacted with the news. I found that the cost motivated me to really explore the paper and finish articles in contrast to web news which I often stop reading after the first paragraph.

2. Newspapers Are Hard to Conceal

Since I work at a computer all day and into the evening, I can switch between working hard and reading news at any point and no one can really tell. But it doesn’t work this way with a newspaper.

If I wanted to read some news in the middle of the day, I would have to pull out a piece of paper bigger than a 24″ monitor, and I’m pretty sure my co-workers would have noticed that I wasn’t working. Of course, a lot of Internet news I read is job related (ajaxian.com, smashingmagazine.com, etc.), but with this accountability in place, I was far less tempted to squander away the day with mindless tidbits.

3. Newspapers Are Not Distracting

It’s amazing how different it is to read news without all the blinking popup ads. When I went back to websites, it was surprising to see how I had become desensitized to today’s online ads with video, animation, and lots of blinking.

The newspaper also can’t alert you when someone @replies on Twitter, or a new message comes in, or some Adobe, Microsoft, or Apple software needs a millionth update. Without all those distractions, reading the news was a fairly calm experience.

4. Newspapers Are Not Customized

Although I did find at least one article in line that fell in line with many of my personal interests, much of the content was very different from what I would have chosen to read online.

It turns out that although the Internet gives us amazing freedom, most of us self-select only news that agrees with our existing viewpoints and interests. The newspaper forced me to see different perspectives and a different set of interests than what I would have customized for myself.

5. Newspapers Stack up

After just a days, I started getting a little behind in my reading, and I began to accumulate a stack of unread newspapers. Seeing a physical reminder of all that information that I was missing out on made me think about how little I really care about most of it.

When I’m reading online news, for some reason its endlessness and ease make me want to keep going and going and going. But with the newspaper, I found myself less interested in getting to everything.


In the end I didn’t quite last the entire two weeks, and I’ve ultimately gone back to Internet news for its price, customization, availability, beautiful design, and interactivity.

However, my “media ecology experiment” with the newspaper was a catalyst to change some of my online habits. First, I all but killed off my RSS reader, and I now feel far less pressure to keep up with the endless stack of digital news. Also, I have begin containing my consumption of news to a few times per day, rather than the constant nibling that was my habit before.

Ultimately, I think these changes are helping me stay more focused throughout the day on things that are pure, excellent, and beautiful (Phil 4:8), and less on things that are trivial and easily entangle us (Heb.12:1).

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

14 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned from Reading the Newspaper”

  1. Good piece, especially towards the end of thinking about how we rae consuming media and allowing another form of media to show us some lessons we might have previously considered.

    Given a lot of the recent conversation about the viability of newspapers, this is a timely topic.

    Interestingly enough, this topic made me think a bit more about how I’m reading RSS feeds. The idea of making sure that I have set aside time to read, rather than letting each new message as it comes in. I do need to look at the quanity of things that I read though, as it seems that number is continually going up.

    Thanks for the push towards refinement and reflection. Blessings to you and your family.

  2. John,

    Good piece. I’m curious, though; do you think not having an RSS reader that you use consistently will allow you to be a real part of whatever online community there is, or are you going to simply allow Twitter to replace your RSS reader? I find that when I don’t read RSS feeds, I don’t really know what people are saying, so it’s really hard to engage in any sort of conversation….

    But then, I’m not a big Twitter user either. I’d rather skim posts than tweets….


    PS. You should come to CWC. If free housing would help you do it, let me know and I can try to arrange something….

    1. I would love to come to CWC, but my family already has something planned that weekend. Thanks for your kindness though!

      Regarding RSS, the balance seems to be in how quickly one wants to get to the content. When I don’t check RSS every day, I tend to miss things and get in on the conversation a little late. But when I stay on top of things, I don’t seem to get much done since I’m always checking.

      I feel like Einstein’s observation that an object gets extremely heavy as it approaches the speed of light is true about us as we approach real time news.

      That said, I’m still using RSS a bit, just trying to stay a bit more disciplined and remind myself that “first post” is not a skill I want to cultivate.

  3. “and no TV (including TMZ, which is normally a rich source of reflection for me).”

    that line was worth the whole post for me……

    btw, working on that running with no music post for you….get it to you someday soon….

    1. Glad you liked that :) Maybe you should just put that music and running post on your blog and put a counseling angle on it. Either way, I’ll be glad to read it.

  4. Good thoughts. I gave up online news (but not blogs) this spring, and haven’t looked back, but I find its temptations to acedia and hyperactivity particularly difficult to resist. I applaud your willingness to leave it for a season.

    I’m curious about your comment on Internet news’ beautiful design, though. From my limited perusal the NYT is rather staid, but in Canada we have a few beautifully designed papers, and I’ve heard Europe is even better. Do you have no print news that looks good?

    I haven’t forgotten your invitation to get in touch, btw – this summer’s just been a killer.

  5. I actually enjoyed these comments as perspectives as much as I like the article. For one, I think you probably have addressed ad infinitum in previous posts but is it really loss to not be part of an online “community?” There are probably a lot of people with more meaningful habits than mine, but knowing about the newest PS3 model or gadget or even facebook post really isn’t much of a community to me.

    Also, while I think it’s great to read a lot of blogs, in my experience, blogs are usually responses to the news not the source of it. So why not consume at the source?

    In direct response to your post, I think there is actually an ethical/moral reason for reading the news from a newspaper in that you are supporting people who actually investigate and report the world around us rather than some aggregator website that pulls a news summary to an RSS feed. Similar to shopping at a farmer’s market, buying localor even recycling, supporting your local newspaper enables your local community to function a little better even if in a small way.

    And to finish it off, I am huge internet news reader and rarely purchase the newspaper because of the expense and availability in my comment but man do I relish the leftover newspaper bin at Starbucks. It’s a Sunday morning goldmine!

    1. David,
      Love that you stopped by and commented! I too love a good leftover paper at Starbucks. Both the community question and the ethics of consumption are huge issues that are hard to talk about well and I personally have a hard time following through on what I believe.

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