In an anecdotal column posted on slate.com, Jack Shafer recounts how in 2006, he canceled his New York Times print subscription.
"My cancellation wasn’t in protest of Times coverage of the Middle East, ethnic minorities, religion, sex or any of the other thousand hot-button issues that cause readers to kill their subscriptions. I was getting rid of my newsprint New York Times because the dandy redesign of NYTimes.com had made it a superior vessel for conveying the news. Another argument in favor of the online Times was that it was free and the print product was costing me $621.40 a year. But less than a year after my Times cancellation, I was paying for home delivery of the newspaper again."
Why the change of heart? Mr. Shafer explains, "I started missing the blue Times bag on his lawn and the glossy goodness of the Sunday magazine…What I really found myself missing was the news. Even though I spent ample time clicking through the Times website and the Reader, I quickly determined that I wasn’t recalling as much of the newspaper as I should be. Going electronic had punished my powers of retention. I also noticed that I was unintentionally ignoring a slew of worthy stories."
Mr. Shafer’s personal findings were echoed earlier this month in an academic study – "Medium Matters: Newsreaders’ Recall and Engagement with Online and Print Newspapers" – presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The study pitted a group of readers of the print edition of the New York Times against Web-Times readers. Each group was given 20 minutes reading time and asked to complete a short survey. The researchers found that the print folks "remember significantly more news stories than online news readers;" that print readers "remembered significantly more topics than online newsreaders;" and that print readers remembered "more main points of news stories." When it came to recalling headlines, print and online readers finished in a draw.