This article was originally published the i newspaper
Many of you will be reading these words in the traditional manner, by turning over the page of a newspaper, scanning the headline, and then reading the columnist’s first paragraph before deciding that life is too short after all.
But bear with me, because I have news for you: while print is considered an outdated medium, not capable of matching the speed, accessibility and versatility of digital channels, it still occupies a central place in our culture.
That much was clear from the closing ceremony of the Olympics. The stage set had a newspaper motif, with famous references from English literature – for example, “To be or not to be” or “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – being given a tabloid headline makeover. The cars were covered with newsprint, and the song performed by Emeli Sandé, “Read All About It”, put newspapers at the centre of this celebration of all that’s great about Britain. “You’ve got the words to change a nation/ But you’re biting your tongue,” sang Miss Sandé, as direct a challenge to some of the nations competing in the Olympics as George Michael’s rendition of “Freedom”. “I wanna sing, I wanna shout/ I wanna scream till the words dry out/ So put it in all of the papers/ I’m not afraid/ They can read all about it.”
This was powerful advocacy of the potency of the printed word to change the status quo, or to free people from repression, and was in direct contrast to the opening ceremony, which was all about Wi-Fi, Facebook and the speed and reach of modern communication.
A friend explained to me the other day the qualitative difference between reading a book, a newspaper or a magazine, and reading the same content on screen. One is a “lean back” experience, associated with pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment, and the other is a “lean forward” experience, which is sometimes seen as an extension of a day job.
For those of us who read newspapers, this is all good, as are the reports that all national titles (and particularly this one) received a hefty circulation boost over the Olympics. Here was an event that is covered in such depth, and with such professionalism by the BBC, and yet people went in ever-increasing numbers to their newsagents so that they could pore over the written word. Those TV montages are brilliantly constructed, but it seems the British public are not yet ready to forsake some well-written, hard-headed analysis in favour of an array of images calculated to catch the mood of a lachrymose nation.
There were many things to enjoy in that closing ceremony, but among the Spices, the human cannonballs, the sad tribute bands and the endless Kate Bush, there were one or two messages that director Stephen Daldry had planted. If one was a belief in the primacy of the written word, and its ability to effect change and inspire freedom, I won’t be resentful about investing those three hours of my life on Sunday night.
Simon Kelner is CEO of The Journalism Foundation