Every Sunday, well over a hundred thousand souls part with R22 to buy a folded, ink-stained bundle of wafer-thin paper, on top of which is printed ‘Rapport’.
At home they pull it apart – mom takes this section, dad gets another. On the dining room table or the living room floor they do things with this bundle which you can’t do at the office – something that is becoming a luxury in our fast-moving, always-on-the-go, notification-saturated digital age.
Why do they do this – buy a Sunday paper – when news is on mobile, and while ‘the news’ should supposedly be free?
They do it because a Sunday paper is not ‘the news’. What we sell, with some success, is an immersive experience. Quality time with good information. During this time, the ‘screen’ you look at will not be like the screen on a mobile device. It is bigger – one metre across compared to 12cm on an iPhone 7. It is also static – zero interruptions, no pop-ups. What you see is not just a snapshot of whatever just happened. Nor is it constantly updated with venomous comments by also-ran C-listers.
A Sunday paper is a carefully curated selection of must-reads, presented in a format which makes immersion and engagement more likely. Exclusive investigations, large portrait photographs, and a tactile element which reminds readers that while digital content is essential – who can live without it! – we are more readily touched by that which we can touch.
It’s IMAX close up but without the noise. A gourmet meal, not a takeaway. Print readers stumble more easily upon stories they did not choose to see, for this is a collection put together not by an algorithm that gives you more and more and more of what you say you want, or of what you wanted before, but of that which a passionate team of avid readers and news hounds believe you should know if you call yourself curious, and want to call yourself well-informed. I’ve always thought serendipity is built into our medium – online I find what I look for, but I miss a great number of pieces I did not know existed, and was not hoping to find.
A newspaper, unlike so many websites, is not a narrow cult but a broad church. It tells members of a community, stories about their own world and the worlds of others. We don’t try to tell you everything. We’re not in the volume game.
Allow me a quote from Jack Shafer, a veteran online journalist, on Politico.com: “What accounts for print’s superiority? Print – particularly the newspaper – is an amazingly sophisticated technology for showing you what’s important, and showing you a lot of it. The newspaper has refined its user interface for more than two centuries. Incorporated into your newspaper’s architecture are the findings from field research conducted in thousands of newspapers over hundreds of millions of editions.
“Newspaper designers have created a universal grammar of headline size, typeface, place, letter spacing, white space, sections, photography, and illustration that gives readers subtle clues on what and how to read to satisfy their news needs.”
The element of surprise
He adds: “Web pages can’t convey this metadata because there’s not enough room on the screen to display it all.” Print retains the element of surprise. The production of a newspaper is an act of exclusion and inclusion: An editor’s primary task remains supervising the sourcing and production of fantastic content not available elsewhere; but as important is the discipline of saying no to that which is just not good enough. What’s good enough, we print. The noise? No thanks.
And what we print better be good. Because we engage with our readers in the most precious hours of their week, when they contemplate their very existence while chewing on a profile interview and sipping that first glass of wine.
Reading print, Shafer writes, slows people down. Which makes a Sunday the best time to be selling a paper, and which makes a Sunday paper the best way to reach an audience with messages you actually want them to take to heart.
This article by Waldimar Pelser, editor-in-chief of Rapport (@waldimar) originally appeared in Ads24’s trade newspaper ‘The Beat’ Sunday Edition.