Is “The New York Times” Too Big?

I recently conducted an interesting single-person study of changing media consumption (using myself as the test subject). Today, why I did it and what I learned.

I’m a news junkie, and my news addiction has only grown over the years. Since I moved to the East Coast in 1988, I’ve been reading “The New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal” every morning. I’ve been listening to CNN while getting dressed in the morning since it started airing. And over the past five years, I’ve added My Yahoo and Google News check-ins throughout the day. In the last year or so, I’ve also included RSS (define) feeds and blog selections in the mix. Historically, though, my single biggest block of news time has been in the morning, as I read the papers and enjoyed my first cup of coffee.

A year ago, I decided I needed Internet access and a PC to complete my morning news consumption experience. The newspaper stories I read increasingly featured URLs, which begged further exploration, plus many articles raised more questions than they answered. Since my wireless network at home was a disaster (don’t ask), I moved my morning newspaper-and-coffee ritual from the kitchen table to my home office so I could add online. Things haven’t been the same since.

The move to the home office was a big mistake. I sat at the PC, with the newspaper to the side, and quickly found myself sucked into work mode and doing email, rather than enjoying the paper and drinking my coffee as I eased into the day. Why? My home office is for working, not surfing. So a couple months ago, I got my wireless network working at home and moved back to the kitchen table. That arrangement wasn’t satisfactory either. I don’t have space for my three media access points (PC, BlackBerry, and newspaper) on my kitchen table unless I perform a feat of origami on the newspaper.

Being an action-oriented, analytical person, I spent some time thinking about whether to lobby the “NYT” to adopt a smaller format or buy a larger kitchen table. Both are unlikely solutions. Then it hit me. If I want to read the “NYT” at the kitchen table and be able to surf the Web at the same time, why not read the online version of the “NYT” and dispense with the paper version completely? Al Gore has me focused on the environment again, and dispensing with the paper version would be more eco-friendly. Plus, the “NYT” site was recently redesigned.

This was the genesis of my one-week media consumption study. I moved online for my news fix, starting with the “NYT,” then on to other sources.

The result? I get all the news I can possibly digest online, but the online experience is no substitute for the real, the paper thing. There’s nothing like the newspaper in its traditional form. In paper form, it’s easy, relaxing, and routine. It’s a ritual. It almost feels luxurious.

Digesting news online becomes a much more active experience, filled with decisions (where to go next) and distractions (blogs, hyperlinks, and ready access to email). Even though it’s less relaxing, it does feel like a more productive use of time. I can still check out the “NYT” online, plus I can get more content and more points of view from sites like Newsvine and Current TV. I can see how our neighbors in Mexico and Canada are reporting on the war and immigration. I can see what’s hot on YouTube (another new addiction). I can visit MyYahoo to see how my investments are doing. And, I can get a head start on email — all in the same time I used to read just the paper.

How will it all net out? I’m keeping my computer on the kitchen table. I still get the “NYT” and “WSJ,” but instead of reading them at home over coffee I put the most interesting sections in my bag to read on the go. Only on Sundays do I close the laptop and spread out the paper. Why? It’s become a luxury, a leisure activity, definitely best enjoyed on the day of rest.

It’s pretty clear why the newspaper business is under so much pressure and why readership is falling off. Our media consumption patterns are changing dramatically and rapidly. We’ve all read reports and written articles on it. As online marketers, we’ve changed our media strategies to accommodate this change in behavior, sure. But, it doesn’t seem real until you fundamentally examine how you’ve changed or how those around you have changed.

I’m going to keep a diary of my changing media consumption patterns for the next couple of months. It’s a useful reminder of how elusive I’ve become as a target for advertising. I don’t envy any marketer trying to reach me with a message. I imagine many ClickZ readers are the same. I challenge you to keep your own diary for a month and let me know what you’ve learned about yourself. I think it would be an illuminating exercise indeed.

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