Serendipity is part of the magic of the newspaper. Not the newspaper as a concept, or simply the work of hundreds of news professionals at the big dailies, but the physical artifact itself: the bundle of paper with numerous articles on various topics scrunched up together in the columns of a broadsheet.
The key being that even if you're focused on articles on topics A & B, you're bound to have your attention focused on articles on topics C & D, articles that actually turn out to interest you a great deal but which you wouldn't have thought to look for on your own.
The web has made that factor of serendipity all the more apparent to me because I've seen how focused -- and thus, in key respects I think, impoverished -- the web has allowed my newspaper reading to become. (Of course, the web has also allowed us all to have instant access to newspapers around the world -- something once possible only for heads of state and CEOs, if even for them).
As you no doubt know if you read this site on a regular basis, there are a host of topics that interest me a great deal -- basically, national politics, intelligence, foreign policy and military affairs. The web allows me to focus in on those topics. And I've found over time that I end up never seeing a lot of stuff I would have seen if I were still reading the paper paper.
In any case, largely for this reason I've started experimenting with getting the 'electronic' editions of the Times and the Post -- something which is now available for many papers, but not all.
Basically what you get is an exact copy of the physical newspaper on your computer, the same layout, the color, the ads, everything. The Times and the Post both use proprietary services, each of which I'd call 'okay' in terms of ease of use and navigation, though the Times set up seems marginally better. (I'm still getting the feel for them -- so that's a tentative judgment.)
One thing that strikes me about these services is that the papers don't seem at all serious about marketing them. First of all, they get almost no play on the sites themselves. And, more telling, they are outrageously expensive, as compared to the actual physical paper itself. I can't imagine I'll keep subscribing to the electronic edition of the Times, for instance, because it seems to cost as much to subscribe to as the paper paper itself.
Price aside, that almost seems galling on first principles.
In any case, here's an article today in the Times that I don't think I would have seen otherwise.
The article describes a new Spanish government proposal to finance all major religions in Spain. Spain already subsidizes the Catholic Church to the tune of $170 million a year -- no small sum in a country with a population of 40 million. Technically, the subsidy is temporary -- under an agreement brokered after the end of the Franco regime. But in practice it's permanent.
The new proposal is nominally couched in terms of equality and equity. But the Ministry of Justice and counterterrorism officials who are pushing the idea are quite open with the fact that the real aim is to wean Islamic organizations and mosques from funding from militant groups abroad.