Friday, January 19, 2007

A World Tour — Via Its Front Pages

Throughout the last several years, as news outlets have struggled at times to find their place in the online world, many newspapers have experimented with "electronic editions" — fully downloadable versions (often in PDF format) of their newsstand product. While some function better than others, many are infused with a slough of useful navigating tools, from search features to zooming capabilities, making the process of reading a newspaper on a computer screen quite similar to holding it in your hands. Minus, of course, the gray stains on your fingertips, the somewhat cumbersome task of folding the paper just right, and the lack of portability (to the bathroom, for instance).

Many newspapers continue to offer some form of an electronic edition on their Web sites — usually accessible only if your willing to pay subscription costs — but this style of presenting a newspaper online has never really caught on ... for several reasons (namely, some require additional software on your hard drive and many are far from user friendly).

Slate's Jack Shafer expounded on the drawbacks of electronic editions in a PRESS BOX piece several years ago headlined "Honey, They Shrunk the Newspaper, Part 2," saying that "reading electronic editions of newspapers makes you feel like a fat man trapped inside a size-too-small iron suit."

Shafer went on, however, to extol the practices of two electronic editions (Florida Today and the Guardian) — simplifying the navigation and including both a PDF newspaper page and HTML copy side-by-side. And I couldn't agree more with Shafer about the benefits of being able to view the actual newspaper on screen:

...displaying the newsprint page next to enlarged stories makes a huge contextual difference. Habitual newspapers readers generally read their newspapers as a total unit, or at least one section at a time, and the placement and size of an article provides a wealth of useful information: Is it a column, a news story, a feature, an editorial, etc.? Is it from the "Science" section or the "Home" section? Is it above the fold, and therefore the biggest news, or is it below the fold, therefore not as urgent? Much of this contextual information is lost on straight Web versions.

Perhaps none of those reasons persuade you to open your wallet and subscribe to the electronic editions of individual newspapers, especially when their Web sites are free. Understandable. But if you love newspapers and are curious about how the news plays in various parts of the country or world, check out Newseum's site. Here you'll find nearly 600 PDF versions of Today's Front Pages from newspapers across the globe. (There's also more than a dozen online exhibits worth visiting, from Pulitzer Prize Photographs to Stories of the Century to War Stories.)

The collection is searchable in two ways: 1. Scroll through several pages of small, tiled images (four dozen per page) that appear larger and in color to the right of the screen as you roll the cursor over them. Click on one of the tiny front-page images and up pops another window with a larger display with links to the paper's Web site and to a PDF file that enables viewers to actually read the text of the stories. 2. Use the "Map View" to search the world. Click on a "location dot" and the aforementioned window appears with the newspaper from that locale.

Despite not being able to look past the front pages and deeper into the newspapers (it does, however, provide links to their Web sites if you see a story you'd like to read in its entirety), logging on regularly to this site is a wonderful way of viewing the news of the day — anywhere and everywhere. It also allows, as mentioned above, users to see what is making news where and how different newspapers treat the same stories. If you were a fan of the "Morning Papers" segment during CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown — which was disturbingly cancelled in November 2005 (this will definitely be discussed in more depth in a future entry) — then you'll enjoy browsing Newseum's virtual, worldwide newsstand.

Your Thoughts
Do you subscribe to any electronic editions? What do you like and dislike about them? If not, would you ever consider subscribing to and reading one? What do you think of the Newseum feature, "Today's Front Pages"?

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