The “Print” Reformation: Crumbling Civilizations Being Chronicled by Common Correspondents Using the Complex Creations of Consumer Compulsion

Posted: September 21, 2011 in Culture, Media
Tags: , , , , , ,

Print is dying.

We’ve all seen headlines screaming that message. (There’s irony in those two sentences. Real irony, not the Alanis Morissette kind.)

Such and such magazine’s subscriptions are plummeting. It’s horrible; they’re a cultural institution; society is crumbling. Etc.

Newspaper X is resurrecting itself as a tablet app. Newspaper X only sold 8 installations of its app and is now sharing afterlife space with Hansen and the political career of Ross Perot.

I’ve seen articles in favor of revamping long form journalism as a digest service. I’ve seen articles calling for its destruction in the face of the rapidly diminishing attention span of a populace that no longer cares about writing as art. I’ve seen micro-theses written on the self-indulgent notion that there will always be a place for print and that traditional news channels simply have to weather the storm.

The truth is, no one knows what’s going to happen. But things are certainly going to change.

Print news media was the foundation on which human data consumption was built. The work that goes into researching, sourcing, verifying, and ultimately writing a story to be read in minutes by millions is a grueling labor of love that is no longer appreciated. And it’s not because we’re all consumption driven assholes.

It’s because that whole methodology is simply too slow.

Everyone is now an amateur journalist. Not necessarily great ones, but we all produce and share content as it breaks around us. We’re no longer content to wait for the news; we’re in it, writing it (often badly and without regard for those pesky things called facts) sharing it, spreading it virally and spinning it to suit our purposes and those of the people we share it with.

During the Egypt riots, breaking news didn’t come from CNN, it came from people hiding behind milk carton barricades, taking pictures on battered smartphones. It’s an odd juxtaposition; crumbling civilizations being chronicled by common correspondents using the complex creations of consumer compulsion.

Between Twitter, Tumblr, LiveBlogs, Facebook, Diggit, etc. we have countless avenues with which to discover and share a story, seconds after an event occurs. It is an explosion of information that utterly sweeps aside print media’s comparatively meager contributions.

What good is one refined voice in a screaming sea of noise and fury?

But all is not lost for the weathered journalist of yesterday.

The common theme in the emerging technologies game has been, if you can’t innovate, don’t even bother trying to catch up. Newspapers and magazines desperately need to learn this lesson.

There are people out there who still savor long form news and opinion pieces; I’m one of them. There will always be people who want to understand events, not just learn the high level details. But good journalists and institutions of journalism have another skill set that is completely lacking from the user generated news monolith that is squeezing them out of place; research and verification.

In other words, truth.

Truth is lost when news becomes opinion. Truth is what journalism used to be for, and used to excel at. Why not let journalism re-inject truth into the digital dialogue?

Imagine an app for your local paper. Maybe it’s on your iPad, maybe it’s on your Android phone, maybe it’s on your Chromebook. But, instead of this app being laid out like a traditional newspaper or RSS reader, it’s broken into wheel like structures. Remember the paper brainstorms we had to draw for group projects in school? Like that.

Each of these news wheels would have a central story, say the Egypt riots. And, stemming out of that story, would be all the online sources talking about that story, ranked by overall truthiness. Instead of just creating content (late, at that) journalism would regain relevance as the gatekeeper of truth; mapping sources in real time, like rapidly materializing wiki pages.

That’s just one idea, raw, and probably untenable. But I’m not a journalist. I’ve never had a story published, or had to work at verifying my facts before sharing my opinion. (although I do try) I’ve never run a newspaper and seen the world laid out as copy.

Imagine what someone like that could come up with. Certainly something better than just a newspaper transplanted to a digital screen.

It took me an hour to write this piece.

It took you minutes to read it.

It’ll take you seconds to share it.

And then it’s fact.

That’s scary. We need someone to protect the things that are true and vanquish the things that aren’t.

That’s what the news is for. Let’s at least try to make it relevant again.

  1. One big yellow star from Bob. You WILL do something about this idea – unless you like scathing.

    I remember when small seeing piles of old newspapers, seeing huge lorries with big rolls of newsprint (paper) go past almost every day, realizing how little of thick newspapers people actually read, and KNOWING something was wrong. Cheap oil was wrong and now it’s gone, and with it, hopefully, paper media. And just when 5-colour repro has reached a state of perfection that makes my eyes water.

    But – the image quality of my own cheap digital images (not from a bloody telephone for sure) are making my eyes water again, and could be a lot better. Knowing this keeps me interested.

    I digressed. Sorry. It is the sheer difficulty of paper media that helps to create the climate for research and verification. (r&v) It is the ease of twittering that floods this medium with twats, and makes twits of
    people who think the garbage exchanged is worth-while. r&v will always be the essential ingredient of information, however flawed it will always be in practice. BUT with modern (future) search solutions it will be possible to evaluate text output claiming to be information and give it a score.

    Religion shows us that vast numbers of people can only believe stuff from special people, ideally in special clothes (long black dresses are fav.) and if the stuff is unbelievable. These people will scream for their freedoms if control on lies is attempted. Let them. Religion is dying at the hands of the internet. Thank god for that!

    Exchange rolls of newsprint and coated paper for glossy mags for A4 smooth paper sold everywhere, and let the paper people subsidize printers, and you have a more viable replacement for the hugely wasteful publishing industry. Who needs news to be permanently printed on paper anyway? Well, some of us want to create and organize our own library of special info on paper. There would be a local market for stuff to read when papers have gone, and people can afford to supplement their diet of monitor brain-food.

    The more i think of it the more attractive the idea of the death of press becomes. I wish i was young like you Julian; these are exciting times. Give my love to the family.

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