August 19, 2017

‘Settle in’ vs. ‘search and destroy’

Print’s best for understanding

Headlines in communication journals moan and whimper:

  • “Is Print Obsolete?”
  • “If Print Is Obsolete, Why Won’t It Go Away?”
  • “Print Still King”
  • “They’re Finally Killing Print”
  • “Reports Of Print’s Death May Be Greatly Exaggerated”
  • “Is The Employee Publication Extinct?”
  • “In Rousing Defense Of Print”

And, my favorite:

  • “Dead Papers Walking”

But don’t kill off paper yet. It boasts a superpower that electronic media doesn’t. And that’s a force that communicators can’t afford to work without.

Paper’s strength is comprehension.

“People use the web,” says TJ Larkin, founder of Larkin Communication Consulting. “They read paper.”

How people read

Reading on paper creates a state of consciousness known as flow, says Condé Nast’s Scott McDonald, who has a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard. That term comes from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s 1990 book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, where he describes getting lost in an “optimal experience.”

Use print for complexities, ‘think’ pieces.

When The Wall Street Journal launched a redesign in 2006, publisher L. Gordon Crovitz explained the roles the two versions of the newspaper would play:

“Your print Journal will be a daily oasis of context, perspective and knowledge, while will be the ultimate source of what’s-happening-now news.”

Paper is best for understanding unfamiliar, long or complicated information. Think “paper” when you want to help readers understand:

  • The CEO’s vision
  • The state of the industry
  • The new software program

“Graze the latest news and chatter on the thrilling new medium that literally plugs you into the world. And when you want a long, thoughtful read, pick up a magazine or book,” writes William Powers in “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal” (PDF).

When not to use print

Don’t choose print over electronic media because of demographics. Age is no longer much of a digital dividing line, says the Pew Charitable Trust.

(You should see my 85-year-old Dad watch YouTube on his iPad. And you should see my 3-year-old niece take and email photos with my iPhone.)

And if you’re not trying to help people understand?

  • The web is best for finding.
  • Face-to-face is best for getting buy-in.

Learn more about media characteristics.


Sources: Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, W. W. Norton & Company; June 7, 2010

L. Gordon Crovitz, “What Is Changing — and What Isn’t — In The Wall Street Journal,”The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2006, p. A-17

TJ Larkin and Sandar Larkin, “What Each Channel Does Best: Web, Paper, Face to Face,” IABC 2005 World Conference, June 28, 2005

William Powers, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal” (PDF), Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Discussion Paper Series, 2007


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