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There’s no such thing as an “online-only newspaper”

When is a newspaper not a newspaper? When it’s online.

I have to credit Patrick Beeson for noting this on Twitter earlier. It made me scratch my head. But there was an Editor & Publisher article talking about the first Australian “online-only newspaper.”

I re-posted the link with the comment that the phrase strikes me as an oxymoron. Not everyone sees the irony in the name.

kev097 @meranduh I would hope that, like “press”, “newspaper” still means something to people other than the printed broadsheet.
kev097 @meranduh @patrickbeeson What’s wrong with “online-only newspaper”? We have “online magazines.” It connotes more than just the medium.

Wikipedia thinks there’s such a thing as an online newspaper, and Google has 2.39 million hits for “online newspaper”.

I may be wrong — wouldn’t be unprecedented — but to me, it elicited a giggle. You can’t really have “paper” made of pixels. I’m sorry. I understand the use of magazine for something like Slate or even a broadcast news magazine. But to me, magazine doesn’t connote print. I think of it as a store of information. In terms of news, a regularly scheduled store with less frequency than newspapers. I don’t know the history of the word, but doesn’t it also means mean a stockpile of weapons/ammo.

The word newspaper does imply something, you know, on dead wood. That’s why things like e-papers are so ridiculous. It’s an entirely new medium, so stop trying to make it fit your old ideas of what it is. You might repackage the content, but it’s not a newspaper anymore. It’s a news site or news cache or a news portal or I don’t know. And I think that’s part of the problem. What do you call it?

I know that my newspaper — and for better or worse I still say I work for a newspaper, because I do, even if corporate calls them information centers — has started presenting itself not just as the newspaper but as a media group. There are several supplemental editions to our daily paper. And a city magazine and several Web sites. We print community guides and dining guides. When advertisers and marketers go out they don’t just sell a few columns in print and they don’t say they’re selling for the newspaper anymore.

I don’t have a better term for an online newspaper. Perhaps Kevin is right and newspaper will grow to mean more the medium of general frequently updated news reporting and not the physical product its name connotes currently. Press is a good example, I guess of a word being pushed beyond its literal meaning. Someday I very well may be explaining to my 5-year-old why the news we read on our computer screens is called a paper. Maybe by then, paper will be obsolete, and she’ll just be confused when I explain the concept and that in college I majored in something that no longer exists.

Eventually, one term will win out. That’s why we call blogs blogs not diaries or live journals. I think I’ve already thought this through too much. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it matters that those “papers” get online and get online, if you know what I mean. Let them call it what they want (though no where on that Australian company’s site did I see them refer to themselves as a newspaper). In the end, it’s all just semantics. What matters remains the same: getting the story out.

3 Responses to “There’s no such thing as an “online-only newspaper””

  1. Teach_J Says:

    Can we call them Web News Sites? Or maybe just WebNews, or iNews, maybe eNews. Who knows.

  2. Patrick Beeson Says:

    Thanks for picking this up and running with it Meranda!

    Funny how kev097 (Kevin Koehler), a student at Wake Forest and editor/”Web guy” of the Old Gold and Black newspaper appears to harbor an antiqued line of thinking. I sent him direct message explaining the obvious, which you detailed here.

    I think part of the problem is branding. Do we want to have our Web sites associated with what many say is a dying medium? Or are we better served taking a different path ala Google News, Newsvine, etc.

    I don’t agree with your corporate overlord’s definition — an information center feels like a building I would go to — though I do think that news Web sites are more than news.

    I think that once we get away from repurposing what we do in print for online, an original product will start to take shape that might redefine what we call it.


    Seriously though. No names with “i” or “e” as a preface. And put down that “@”!

  3. Brian Cubbison Says:

    Google “print newspaper” …

    It’s a retronym, like day baseball, broadcast television, natural grass or acoustic guitar.