During this pandemic, a lot of newspapers were not printed, or printed and couldn’t be delivered. Or, readers were scared to pick them up.
Result? Many newspapers gave away their e-papers for free via many modes. I still get an email every day from ICICI Bank that has links to the e-paper versions of about 7 newspapers!
Now, who exactly reads e-papers? And why do e-papers, a digital mirror of the print version, even exist in a mobile-first world? On a mobile phone screen, e-papers seem like a joke.
The print newspapers, and eventually the e-paper, exist in a world where one needed to skim through what happened the previous day. The operative word is ‘skim’. Not going deep into one particular news (which you can, of course), but focus on knowing the breadth of things. A print newspaper is perfect for this skimming – you have larger fonts for headlines and titles that help you go through them first. And zero-in on a piece of news to read more, based on your interests.
As someone who skims more than 9 newspapers every single day, I cannot tell you how useful I find this habit. This is a habit I picked from my PR agency days, as part of being a PR professional, and at that time, besides helping me with getting a broader context into my clients’ businesses and the sectors, it also helped me understand specific newspapers and journalists’ biases and thinking styles, when looking at things from a multiple newspapers’ perspective on the same topic or news.
Over time, I have managed to reduce the time spent on skimming and do this more efficiently, so the overall time taken is less than 45 minutes.
On a tablet or a laptop, subscribing to say the Times set of newspapers (The Times of India, Economic Times and Mirror) is far more cost-effective in e-paper version (at Rs.199 per month for all newspapers!) instead of print (TOI alone is Rs.5 per day). And convenient too. That is if you have acclimatized yourself to consume newspapers digitally through the e-paper format.
But, as I mentioned, e-papers are woefully inadequate in a mobile phone format, given the tiny screen.
Now, what is the point of skimming through 9 newspapers every day? You may argue – unless I’m writing some competitive exam or the UPSC, why gather such ‘general’ knowledge every day through newspaper skimming?
This skimming helps in cultivating the ability to connect the dots between completely disparate things.
For instance, I may read about a new Government policy mandating electric vehicle charging points in apartment complexes one day, and connect it to a brand launching a new range of electric 2-wheelers, three months later.
Or read about a film producer considering selling his cannot-release-now film to an OTT brand and connect it to the state of Indian OTT platforms months later.
Or, when I read about one newspaper’s editorial on a topical issue and then read about another’s, I can see the ways they think and that helps me understand their biases, if any.
When I see the 2nd news, something in my head lights-up based on my memory. I search for the previous context and I’m then able to expand my world-view better.
Most interestingly, Steve Jobs called this connecting-the-dots behavior as the definition of creativity. Creativity is not necessarily making up new things. It is the ability to draw from previous experiences and synthesize new things.
Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.Steve Jobs on Creativity
Increasingly, this ability to gather random things for future use is also being defined as ‘luck’:
The more observant you are of your surroundings, the more likely you are to capture a valuable resource or avoid tragedy. Lucky people don’t magically attract new opportunities and good fortune. They stroll along with their eyes wide open, fully present in the moment (a problem for people glued to phone screens).The Key to Good Luck Is an Open Mind (Nautilus)
And increasingly, ‘generalists’ are supposed to get better at finding opportunities:
Breadth of perspective and the ability to connect the proverbial dots (the domain of generalists) is likely to be as important as depth of expertise and the ability to generate dots (the domain of specialists).Harvard researcher shares key skill of the future—that most people don’t have (CNBC)
Newspapers are just one source to get this broader view on things, retain top-of-mind items for connecting them to things later.
The internet gives us a lot more opportunities to skim, but given that the internet is also a bottomless pit of nonsense, you need to build your content pipelines so you know where to go when you want to skim on topics that really matter to you. Merely following random people on social networks doesn’t help, and only wastes your time, instead. Also, to be able to build your content pipeline, you need to select a few topics first. To select, you need to identify the topics that matter to you.
This is a different, deeper subject, of course, and is something I delve deep as part of my workshops and one-on-one consulting on personal branding. The crux here is that to be a personal brand, you need to make yourself worthy of being one (for a particular audience, that is). Think of like this: if you want to get healthy, it has 2 components – eating right (what goes in) and exercising (what goes out). Both are critical. You cannot eat like there’s no tomorrow, but hit the gym and expect to get healthy. Similarly, you cannot game social media content, garner lakhs of followers on some platform and not expand your world-view by reading as much as you can on the topic of your choosing.
Newspapers – print or e-paper – is a good, handy starting point to get a breadth of perspectives and updates.
Cover picture courtesy: Starlingsage5775