Recap: MediaLab Session – The Good Long Read

Raise your hand if you believe paper and ink news is dying.

There are ever-fewer people who believe in the future of print. This is why we decided to feature an article on why the printed press is neither  dead nor dying.

This is the time of “digital first,” in which few people and even fewer media organisations turn to print.

Yet there are some who think print is not a thing of the past and pursue what they call “a personalised newspaper”.

Speaking at the first ever MediaLab Session in London last Friday was Tom Taylor from Newspaper Club, a service which helps anyone make and print their own newspaper.

“It’s about allowing one person make a newspaper in one hour,” says Taylor, co-founder and Head of Engineering at Newspaper Club. “We then print it in how many copies it is needed.”


The ultimate goal set by Newspaper Club was to make the process of producing and printing a newspaper quicker and easier. They accomplished it with the help of ARTHR, an algorithm-based home-coded tool which – once fed with articles – takes care of the layout and design of a newspaper, adding images and quote boxes.

All it needs is a selection of URLs, from which it extracts the headline, the leader and the body text. ARTHR wraps it up together, chooses the most fitting layout and produces a paper, which – with a couple of manual tweaks – yields rather impressive results.

Take the Long Good Read project, on which Newspaper Club teamed-up with the Guardian. Simple yet bold, the design of the paper invites the reader to grab a copy.

“It’s not like a daily newspaper. It feels more magaziney,” Taylor said at the meet-up. “Unashamedly, there is a machine behind it.”

And here is how it works:

[vimeo 60265454]

So much for design. What about content?

Again, it’s all about algorithms

“We feel that print is great for the long form stuff,” said Taylor. Which is why Newspaper Club and the Guardian embarked on a joint experiment with the long reads published by the newspaper online. Thanks to a bunch of algorithms, some “30 ‘top’ articles, about 1% of all articles originally published by the Guardian” find their way to an editor, who then juggles them around to see if they are not out-dated, makes the final selection and sends the paper to print. All of this ad-free.

The articles are meant to be good, interesting and funny. They are to grab and to be grabbed. How did it work?

“We watched people in the Guardian coffee shop. They were resting the newspaper on tablets [fixed on the tables], which felt like a metaphor for something,” said Taylor with a smile.

Initially shy, readers needed a hint that they may take the paper with them when leaving. This is why the initial 500 copies dropped to only 250, but once the customers got more confident and the copies were gone the next day, the number went back to 500.

Telling, isn’t it?

“People still like print. At Newspaper Club we don’t necessarily have a nostalgia for it, but we are trying to use it for what it’s good at,” Taylor wrapped-up his presentation.

(If you want a copy of The Long Good Read, make sure you pass by #guardiancoffee in Boxpark Shoreditch. The project has been on for the past 6 weeks and Newspaper Club is still waiting for the Guardian to decide whether it will continue.)

Check out their Flickr gallery here

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