Don’t be a dinosaur; get yourself digitized

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column originally ran on July 15, 2007. Ten years later, it is still an accurate assessment of the place of newspapers in our society. They continue long traditions, and try new tricks every day. Our print edition has changed since 2007; so has our website (which recently won second-place for best overall newspaper website in Montana), but what hasn’t changed is the thirst for information that makes newspapers so vital in this and every community. —FM)

Newspapers have been around for several hundred years, and I for one hope they will still be around for many more.

In print, I mean.

There’s something solid and reassuring about a hometown newspaper that is delivered to your door each morning. It assures continuity, helps build community, and tells me who beat my favorite team the night before.

Reading a newspaper while sipping a cup of coffee is a tradition as old as brats and beer. And there is no reason why we can’t expect to read the paper for years to come — only in the future it may be delivered not to your doorstep but to your printer.

I know, I know ... it just won’t be the same.

But tradition is about the past, not the future. Probably the dinosaurs liked to use their small brains to think about all the fun dinosaur traditions that had been developed in the previous million years. Really, it’s too bad they didn’t have enough of a brain left to notice that the future had a big dinosaur-sized hole in it.

Which brings us to the point of this story. In an age where everything is changing, and where the future is writ large on a microchip, newspaper traditions are irrelevant.

What matters the most is newspaper changes — namely how do newspapers stay vital. You don’t need a real big brain to figure out that it is better to be a small, crafty mammal than a dead dinosaur.

That’s why newspapers are adapting with the age. Heck, face it. The modern era has a lot of names, but the one that really says it best is “Information Age.” We are surrounded by an ever-increasing amount of information, some relevant, some trivial — most of it overwhelming — and all of it competing for the attention of people who have more and more responsibilities and less and less time.

Newspapers should have a natural advantage in the Information Age because that is what they are all about — information at your fingertips. But, of course, newspapers are also made of paper, which makes them something of a novelty as more and more of our daily life is spent in cyberspace — on computers, on the Internet, talking on cell phones that are also digital cameras which are also video game consoles... Well, you get the point.

But newspapers don’t have to be made of paper, of course, and more and more newspapers now have a dual system of delivery — in your hands or on your computer.

The Inter Lake has had a web page at www.dailyinterlake.com for most of the past decade, and it has long provided a convenient resource for readers as an alternative, but not a substitute, for the print edition. Print newspapers will probably always exist in some form, but that doesn’t mean our industry can’t also look at ways to bring the news to readers in new ways, too.

For the past few months, we have been experimenting with improvements and changes on our Web site to make the online Inter Lake an even more pleasant and convenient experience for our readers. There is already plenty of news content and many local advertisers, but we also want our online readers to have a unique experience that takes advantage of the special characteristics of the Internet.

That’s why we have now made it possible for readers to quickly react to stories through our new “reader comment” feature. It’s basically an electronic version of letters to the editor, except it is more spontaneous and allows conversations to develop among readers on points of concern.

We think you will enjoy this addition, and hope you continue to watch our Web site in future weeks and months as we respond to the needs of the community with more interactive features as well as a sampling the high-quality photos and reporting you already expect to find in your print edition.

Happy reading.

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