When Amazon.com decided that the venue for the May 6 launching of its new Kindle e-reader device, the Kindle DX, would be the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University in Manhattan, N.Y., the company could not have chosen a more symbolic spot.
That site was occupied in the 19th century by a building housing The New York Times. In those days, the speediest way to disseminate information was to print it on cheap paper and distribute it via a network of hollering newsboys; but with the coming of the Internet a century later, and the ability to distribute news via an electronic network, the old print-based way of doing things is becoming antiquated.
The Kindle DX, however, seems to have come not to bury print journalism, but to attempt to save it. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos announced during his presentation that his company had entered into an agreement through which three newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe, will offer a cheaper version of the Kindle to customers who live outside the home-delivery range and who agree to a long-term electronic subscription.
The Kindle DX's 9.7-inch screen, about two-and-a-half times larger than the display on the Kindle 2, features autorotation, allowing documents to be oriented either vertically or horizontally. The DX includes the same five-way controller as the Kindle 2 and retails for $489, versus $359 for the Kindle 2.
Bezos mentioned at the start of his presentation that 35 percent of book sales on Amazon.com now come from the Kindle Store, which has an e-book library of some 275,000 volumes. The 3.3GB storage space on the Kindle DX can hold roughly 3,500 books or the equivalent in PDFs.
When it comes to newspapers, though, the Kindle DX displays some unique functionality. Once downloaded, a newspaper can be flipped through sequentially or by section.
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company, spoke at the event, saying he saw the Kindle as a potential way to help incite a "convergence between print and digital." He also hinted at a "reinvention" that newspapers would need to go through to survive.
Also on May 6, Google decided to highlight its recent place in the evolution of news. Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president of search products and user experience, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on "The Future of Journalism."
In her remarks, Mayer concluded, "Preserving robust and independent journalism at the national and local levels is an important goal for the United States. Google is doing its part by driving significant traffic to online news publishers, by helping them generate revenue through advertising, and by providing tools and platforms enabling them to reach millions of people."
However, Mayer cautioned, the Web is evolving in how it treats news presentation in ways very different from its "offline predecessor." While news sites can link to past stories or a variety of supporting materials, she suggested, challenges remain as to how to direct readers to particularly relevant or truthful news, and how to establish a news source as a prime authority on a certain topic.
Her suggestions for the continuing evolution of Web news included having news agencies regard individual articles as "atomic units of consumption," treating each article as a stand-alone entity as opposed to part of a unified whole, with sufficient context for first-time readers and enough updated information for people following the story.
Other suggestions included grouping an evolving story under a single URL, similar to a Wikipedia entry, and engaging users in "next steps" such as links to similar articles.
Of course, questions still remain as to what form news delivery will ultimately take as paper rapidly gives way to digital. No matter how it changes, though, one thing will remain a holdover from the 19th century: A good story is still a good story.