Will doctors and dentists be compelled to one day update their waiting rooms with Kindles and iPads? That's one conclusion we can draw -- not an altogether unrealistic one -- from the imminent demise of Newsweek magazine as a printed product. The august publication's final paper edition hit newsstands this week; it will continue operations as an online-only journal of national and world affairs.
This same week, The Associated Press issued the latest update to its AP Stylebook Online, a compendium of terms that have entered the vernacular to such an extent that they are increasingly common in news articles and therefore require guidelines for uniform usage. The 11 latest entries include "hashtag," "Reddit" and "retweet" -- all terms that involve digital communications, social media or other types of shared online information consumption.
The connection between those two events? The everyday consumption of news, entertainment and social exchanges is not only moving inexorably toward online platforms, it's moving in that direction faster than many of us expected. We should anticipate online-only versions of other longtime waiting-room staples in the year ahead. Virtually every publication of consequence already has an online presence of some kind, of course -- the ones that plan on staying in business, anyway -- so the transition may not be so jarring on the producer side of the equation. The consumer side is a different story.
While many consumers of news and entertainment have adapted painlessly to the online world, many have not, and we hear from them on a regular basis. Please don't take away my newspaper, they say. And we understand -- there's a comfort zone there. Paper is portable in ways that tablets are not. You can fold it, share it, line the birdcage with it. When a tablet falls in the pool, you're out major bucks; when a newspaper falls in, you just invest another six bits -- or bake the thing for an hour at 225 degrees. Try that with your Kindle.
But the day is coming. Already, the newspapers in New Orleans, Harrisburg, Pa., and Ann Arbor, Mich., have gone or will soon go to two or three days a week, with renewed focus on their daily online products. The Cleveland Plain Dealer may soon follow. The Californian has no current plans to reduce its printing frequency, but if it does, our mission -- a commitment to local news and information-- won't change. If anything, given the niches we've carved out (more than 20 local websites, two lifestyle magazines, print and digital books, and more) it's only going to grow. A key sign of a healthy "newspaper" is not just whether it prints seven days per week but whether it effectively serves customers' changing needs.
In the meantime, Luddites and traditionalists everywhere are well-advised to accept that the world is changing -- and that the institutions whose business is chronicling that change are changing as well.