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3000 community, let's go to press

February 2010 print Just an hour ago, my partner Abby delivered the 138th issue of The 3000 NewsWire from the printer. We hurry up the delivery of this newsletter carried through the postal service, trying to put the freshest stories in our readers' hands by sometime next week. We still believe in the concept of a printed newsmagazine, even as the world defines journalism with new delivery conduits like tablets and smartphones.

Simply for the asking, you can receive your own printed copy of this February issue, compete with a roundup of the open source license campaigns, details of the massive migration in Washington state of 28 HP 3000s, even the editorial and Wide World of Web columns. All these haven't been posted here on the blog, not yet. We still believe in delivering some news and analysis by print first.

We believe in it because Abby and I started our lives in the printed publication era, she in magazines and I in newspapers. The glossy and newsprint worlds ran on different clocks than today's post-and-read today timetable (this blog) or the immediate feeds of Twitter tweets or social network messages. Even in 1996, though, we'd send an Online Extra with fresh news out once a month by e-mail. Digital delivery has been a part of our process since the 1995 launch of the NewsWire.

Why bother with print anymore, you might ask? The experience of settling in with a printed magazine or newsletter is unlike anything you will ever see in an iPhone app, off a Zinio Web site, or even on an Apple iPad sometime this year or next. Print invites you to immerse yourself in a story, while it erases the digital distractions.

Our print edition won't ring while you're reading it, or report that its battery is low, or beep at you to remind you of a fresh e-mail, tweet or Web page update. You get to focus on print, a skill that our readers have polished long ago. Short attention spans and wandering are for the Web and the like. A printed news source keeps you engaged on the page, until you decide to turn it.

There is a lot of weight being thrown behind digital delivery of journalism, and with good reason. The new economics of bypassing print, or tapping new audiences with the likes of the iPad, empowers independent voices and starts to level the state of play among publishers. Design remains important, maybe even more so, while you transmit an issue of Esquire or Wired to an iPhone or an iPad. (The former is already arrived, while the latter is expected to debut this summer.)

But design alone is only a part of the toolbox to tell a tale. The experience of reading off paper with ink is a sensual one, something no tablet is going to match in emotional impact. Most of us grew up reading paper to learn and see stories. Digital devices, no matter how sleek and interactive, won't sound the claxon call of news the same way that staples, glue and ink can when applied to paper.

Last week I came back from Macworld Expo 2010 with a relationship renewed. On the show floor of a 20,000-attendee conference I reconnected with Hal Goldstein, the man who founded The Portable Paper in the 1980s that tracked HP's first portable computer community. "Even after HP cancelled it," he said of the HP 110, "we had readers and sponsors and a marketplace. The aftermarket was healthy."

HP-110-portable This year Goldstein is publishing iPhone Life, a magazine printed quarterly about the most advanced mobile device of today. The iPhone owes so much to the innovations of the HP 110, even though the Hewlett-Packard device only boasted a 16-line screen and weighed 8.5 pounds. HP loaded it with its Memomaker word processor and Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet, much like Apple ensures there's a mail client, Web browser and more shipped with the iPhone. The 110 even had a RAM disk, way ahead of its time and a lot like the multi-gig memory storage of the iPhone. Like the HP 3000, the HP 110 was abandoned by Hewlett-Packard long before the user base left the computer. It was innovative and at $2,995, a remarkable value for an era where a Compaq "luggable" was 25 pounds and built in a metal case.

The 3000 NewsWire owes a lot to The Portable Paper, because it was a simple black-ink newsletter, stapled in its spine, full of user and vendor reports and founded on the attraction of good content. Glossy, photo-jammed publications were the big dogs of that day, but I could find more to investigate in any issue of the Portable Paper than two or three Interact Magazines of that era.

These days, Goldstein's iPhone Life has many lives beyond the Spring 2010 issue of "96 pages-plus-cover," as we used to describe print issues. He has an iPhone app for the news and features, a Web site and series of editors' blogs, and he even hinted at plans to ensure the iPad readers can enjoy his publication. But even with all that digital push going on, he knows the difference between push and print. In his editorial The Print Magazine -- So 21st Century, he writes

If you are holding this magazine, you likely appreciate its sensuality. The tactile and visual nature of the magazine adds a dimension that cannot be replicated digitally. Whether in bed, in the tub, on a commute or in that favorite chair, readers enjoy paging through a magazine letting words and pictures grab their attention.

These vehicles are simply a means to convey stories, but being at press or in print is still something special that we're devoted to, even in an era when postage and printing costs move in the opposite direction of digital delivery. Printed pages lift up the stories to a different level than we can give them in our blog. We hope you can make time and space in your mailbox, to enjoy the bedrock of our storytelling history.