USA Today Rules the Travel World

    by Mark Glaser
    January 20, 2006

    i-878fb56d1443e836a422296c0a2cc8ed-usatoday-logo.gifPressThink blogger and NYU professor Jay Rosen asks a good question of me: “If there’s a Media Shift, what is it shifting from and what is it shifting to?” In the case of newspapers, it’s easy to say that the shift is from costly newsprint to less costly Internet and new media delivery options such as email newsletters, mobile devices and anything else that might not stain your fingers.

    How much work does it take to get you a print newspaper? First they cut down the trees, then they make the paper, then the reporters go out and interview people or sit and entertain themselves in front of movies, TV or webcast press conferences they watch on their computer, then they write something, then a bunch of people edit that, then some photographers take photos, then some other people lay out the page, then more people edit it, then someone writes a headline, then they have a news meeting and decide to put it off a day, then the reporter screams bloody murder and they relent, then the newspaper gets printed up, then it gets loaded onto delivery vehicles, then it’s delivered to your home or to a newsstand. My fingers are tired just writing about it.

    So it’s all going online, right? Not so fast. I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and for some reason, every time I travel, I gravitate not to the New York Times, not to the Wall Street Journal, not to my hometown San Francisco Chronicle, but like a Pavlov’s Dog wagging his tail I go straight to USA Today. The colorful McPaper is simple in its premise: Give me the news, give it to me straight, give it to me right down the middle (politics-wise). How simple is it? It’s color-coded! Even the paint-by-numbers crowd can find Money in green and Life in purple and Sports in red.


    Reading USA Today while traveling is like reading the Bible in church, like watching football in Texas, like eating bagels in New York City. If old-time vittles like mashed potatoes and roast beef are considered comfort food, then USA Today is a kind of comfort media. There are lots of silly graphical charts, which easily become the butt of jokes on the humor site, The Onion. There’s a massive weather chart of the USA (you must call it the USA, not the United States or U.S. but USA, you must!).

    You can almost hear the Olympic chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” reverberating in the airport walls as you plunk down your 75 cents, tear through the color-coded sections, glance at the big, bright photos of celebrities and sports stars alongside Osama Bin Laden, and wonder, “Is that an ad for Sprint or is it a story about the Super Bowl?” It’s very easy to say that there isn’t a lot of real substance to USA Today, but it isn’t true. It’s the perfect amount of substance for reading in an airport, on a plane or train, and it lets you dip into many subjects just enough for the moment. It has news bites from each state of the USA, and box scores from every professional game.

    So when I’m traveling, why don’t I just pull up news on my laptop? Why can’t I just listen to podcasts on my iPod? Why can’t I receive scores on my cell phone? There might be a “wow” factor in doing some of those new media marvels, but there’s little comfort there. The comfort is knowing I can get my news in bite-sized morsels, in bright color, in a convenient package that requires no plugs or battery power.


    So while media is shifting in many ways — print to online, radio to satellite and podcasts, TV to online streaming video and DVDs — some media might not shift at all. Of course, the USA Today newspaper did represent a shift when it launched in the early ’80s, with national distribution via satellite and expensive color printing throughout. And it has aggressively been marketed by Gannett, its corporate owner, in hotels, airports and other travel hubs. (Read a timeline of USA Today’s history here.)

    For listening to music while traveling, nothing beats a portable MP3 player such as an iPod. It represents the new comfort media for traveling with music, a step beyond the Walkman, the Discman and other portable music devices. But will there be a shift from the comfort of USA Today, some new format that will fit hand in glove for travelers? Share your thoughts on what you’d like to see, or tell us about your comfort media for traveling.

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    Tagged: ipod travel usatoday
    • How ’bout http://www.money.com: Times’ combo-platter of Fortune, Business 2.0, and Money. Way back in 1997, I thought Time was going to “own” the Internet. After all, Content is King.

      Of course, they did not play their cards right. However, if the above site adds: People, SI, and some of its other properties to the mix: They’ve got a winner.

      Now make it mobile-ready and they are onto something.

      Maybe some day, Content will be King.

    • Tim Olson

      Traveling is a great time to catch up on reading, but it seems such overkill to lug out the laptop. I’m still waiting for the paper thin flexible digital scroll that always seems 5 years out.

    • Photostation

      Never thought I’d say this, but I agree whole heartedly with your anaology as the McPaper being the paper of the traveler. I freelanced for 17 years as a New York Times photo stringer. I recall one Times assignment editor refer to USA Today as the hotel room “door mat”. Well, this door mat was a welcome sight to this journalist’s eyes while covering the Funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome last April.
      I do not read non-English language newspapers well. I do know that many European newspapers fail to credit the work of the photographers – a mortal sin in MY world! (what? you think the photos just magically appear in a newspaper? Someone has to take them – Just like someone has to write, then type the copy.) There was no New York Times available, although an Italian language version of the International Herald Tribune was available at my hotel – featuring dispatches and photos from the New York Times.
      The paper I found for sale at a news kiosk in Vatican City, was the “beamed by satellite” USA TODAY!…Just like McDonalds, you know it’s not the best thing for you, but make you feel like you’re home again.

    • martin lebuen

      I fail utterly to see how your opinion about USA Today’s silliness has anything to do why or why not news is well-served for the traveller online. Everyone knows USA Today is watered down, and that’s a horse that was pulped into glue years ago. Is there a point in bringing it up again?

      Also, your implication upon description of print media’s production process is that that online media production is completely painless and devoid of bureaucracy. Frankly, you’re using print as a straw man in this case — online media still requires meetings and editorial decisions. Just no paper.

      Unless you’re a blogger, of course, in which case editorial decision may also gets tossed out for whatever you, as a writer, feel like sounds best, regardless of its pertinence to the issue at hand.

    • Joanna Stern

      I came across this as I am doing a college thesis on the impact of blogs on the traditional media. Newspapers and those in the print world are struggling with the “media shift” as my hours of interviews with journalists have proved. I’ve time and time again talked about the USA Today’s shift in the 80s as the model plan to keep up with the rapidly evolving media world. The demand for a new modern print media format is there. That’s no joke about the paper thin digital scroll or screen. It could make a lot of sense.

    • Last year I was at a motel that gave out the “USA Today” with every breakfast. I found myself longing for the local newspaper, which, in the new crossroads (no sidewalks!) of Newburgh, NY (a conspiracy there, to make George Washington “king” which he squelched, was reported, cited by Senator Hillary Clinton, inspecting re-enactors)and Stewart International Airport, had stories USA T. just wouldn’t cover, i.e, the Maharishi buying a natural farm in nearby Goshen of “black earth” to raise organics and train others to, a huge “ecstacy bust” at the Air National Air Guard, where huge transport jets land, the lack of dam inspectors and the recent floods, the nearby Orange County Choppers, etc. It might be the “neighborhood” I spent the time in, i.e, nearby the West Point Military Academy, and where Thomas Jefferson sponsored one of the first U.S. science expeditions, to dig up the remains of a wooly mammoth found nearby, which he asked Lewis and Clark to look out for! I’ve found that, the USA Today actually compels me to read other papers, knowing it’s “played right down the middle”. Could also be the nature of my travel, digging holes and screening dirt for archaeology compliance.

    • Yes, I tend toward USA Today in waiting rooms and airports. Who needs to ponder deep issues when there’s a Doctor to see or a plane to catch.

      And speaking of ponderous, this is a bit of a “dialogue” between the head of the Shorenstein Media Center at Harvard and recently-axed anchor Dan Rather.

      “Marvin Kalb: We’re discussing differences between, in a way, old Media and new media. And we’re very much old media.

      Dan Rather: You are, Marvin. I’m out there on the cutting edge of new media, as you well know.”

      If fossils could speak, they’d sound like Dan.

    • janefinch

      Like you, “USA Today” is the perfect travel companion for the reasons you gave. However, I’m at my destination, I read local papers that fill me in on what the issues du jour are — something neither national cable or network news nor USA Today cover.

    • Not one word about the millions of people who could NEVER afford an iPod or whatever else next week’s big $400 consumer item might be. Or how this trend does more than just about any other single factor to turn our society into a have vs. have-not world. But, of course, that’s the Republican’s biggest wet dream and the media marches along like a Jack Russell terrier on a short lease. The demise of the 50c newspaper may be the undoing of our entire democracy. And it is sad that many of the best educated are the ones applauding this the loudest.

    • USA Today is an example of how our society is gravitating towards having all of its information delivered in as few bytes as possible. I prefer finding a local paper, one that gives me the long story.

    • The night of the Anniversary Party was beyond comprehension!!! The cirque performers were scarily entertaining, the Maxi Priest live performance left nothing to be expected, blew me away and personal assistance was at its best even at its busiest. I mean a thousand people is kinda hard to handle after booze and excitement. Thumbs up Guys!!! Special thanks to everyone who made my stay so much fun and made me feel like I was never there alone. Nikki Beach Rocks!!!.

    • As travel gets cheaper, more and more people will spend more and more time traveling.
      I think this article is from the pre i-pad days, where one had to lug the book. The ipad, all 100 million of them which have been sold, will change this. All my content will be on the network, or the cloud, and I will read whichever e-content I please.

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