How Newspapers Work

newspaper, tablet, smart phone
Nowdays people might read a newspaper in printed form, on a tablet or via a smartphone.

The newspaper as we know it should probably be dead. Mass dissemination of information has adapted to the digital age in remarkable ways: in blogs, tweets, breaking news e-mails, customized content and online editions of newspapers that used to announce their readerships in ink-stained fingertips. In 2010, for the first time ever, more people got their news online than in print [source: Mirkinson]. The slow decline of the daily paper has, for many years, seemed inevitable.

And then something funny happened. In August 2013, founder and general Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the struggling Washington Post, one of the most prominent newspapers in the United States [source: Associated Press]. And suddenly we're wondering if reports of newspapers' death may be greatly exaggerated.


Newspapers, after all, are the original form of broadband communication, a distinction not always recognized in the age of the Internet. Long before we had tablets, smartphones, computers, television, radio, telephones and telegraph, newspapers were the cheapest and most efficient way to reach mass audiences with news, commentary and advertising. Newspapers, from their beginnings as hand-printed "broadsheets," have been a true random-access medium -- readers can move easily and quickly through the different sections of a newspaper, returning to them days or even weeks later. And because a newspaper's "software" consists of a common language, it possesses a universal and timeless quality. For example, a newspaper published before the American Revolution is as readable today as it was in 1775.

Yet while that newspaper from 1775 is still readable, there's at least one great disparity between that one and its modern counterpart. Newspapers may go back hundreds of years, but the definition of "news that's fit to print," to quote the famous New York Times motto, does not.