My alma mater, the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has announced an experimental "new electronic newspaper format." Called EmPRINT, it is a weekly digital edition of the Columbia Missourian newspaper that is downloadable as a 5-10 megabyte file and is "intended as a digital publishing standard," with "magazine-size page forms that open in full-screen view to provide a visually rich, comfortable reading experience."
Basically, it's a glorified PDF file.
I started a long list detailing why I don't like EmPRINT, but I scrapped it. Instead of taking the easy way out by raising standard PDF criticisms -- no permalinks to articles, bad accessibility, nonstandard browsing, etc. -- I'll just say this: EmPRINT is fundamentally flawed because its presentation is fundamentally tied to print newspapers. That is, it's static. Flat. Rigid. It looks the same and acts the same no matter what you do to it.
It is no more interactive than a print publication. Just replace "flip the page" with "click a link."
Get the difference? A print-newspaper journalist tries to guess the dozen-or-so pieces of information that people might want to know, freezing the facts into a flat, unbendable package. (Meet EmPRINT.) But a Web-savvy journalist tries to anticipate the hundreds of ways people will want to slice, dice and use information, and creates the infrastructure that makes it happen.
It's the difference between a flat-text schedule of sporting events (like EmPRINT has) and a deep schedule/stats database that lets me click a team, get full stats and compare players' performances on the fly. It's the difference between a flat list of marriage licenses and a searchable database that lets me type in a person's name and corrects common misspellings.
That's what Web news is all about. A newspaperman deals in information dictation; a Web journalist deals in information discovery. EmPRINT lets me look at information, but it doesn't let me explore it.
UPDATE, March 7: Don't miss the EmPRINT print ad.