Friday, November 24, 2006

The Death of Print?

I am indebted to the ineffable Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this article from The Atlantic, for me one of the best magazines in the business. The article is inspired by a beautifully-made film - see it here - which presents a vision of the immediate future in which Microsoft and Googlezon (a merged Google and Amazon) fight for control of the world's media. Googlezon wins. Note the old media groups are not involved. So what happens to newspapers? In The Atlantic Michael Hirschorn provides one scenario. They go utterly digital, becoming social networks in which reporters blogs are the hubs. Something like this scenario is exactly what newspaper managements are currently contemplating. It is somewhat comforting for me in that it justifies the role of the writer and my own decision to blog. It is less comforting in that, digitised as I may be, I like newspapers and print on paper. They provide something that cannot be had online - a feeling of contemplation combined with the serendipity of finding something you weren't looking for. However, Hirschorn provides another scenario which, I am happy to say, exactly matches the one I have been propagating at dinner parties, in pubs etc. To quote Hirshorn: 'Counterintuitively, I'd argue that this disaggregation strategy could provide a renewed logic to the printed product. As news itself becomes more of an instantly available commodity, readers will crave an oasis of coherence and analysis ... Online news, microchunked, consumed on the fly, is fast food; the newspaper, fed by its newly invigorated journalist-brands, is the sit-down meal. In this marginally more optimistic future history, the roles of print and digital are inverted. Original news - in the form of stories, postings, and community - begins online, while print offers an intelligent digest/redaction that readers - and not only the elite and elderly - can peruse at their leisure.'
Exactly. Newspapers will go through a phase of trying to turn themselves into iPods and then, finally, return to what they do best - being newspapers.

15 comments:

  1. Such a vision is good news: journalists and their readers have nothing to lose but their chains. Newspaper managements and senior newspaper executives, desperate and paralysed by fear of an internet world that appears so threatening, have been trying to keep the chains on for the past few years with potentially crippling consequences. With a few notable exceptions, they have diminished their winning brands, under-invested in a complementary balancing of internet and newspaper functions for those brands, underestimated the intelligence of their readers, writers and editors and indulged in collective baby-boomer panic - cutting budgets and trying to hold everything tight until an illusory way forward manifests itself. Miraculously, while they have flapped and blamed everyone for their own executive short-sightedness, the readers, writers and lower-ranking editors have been ignoring them, slipping out of their chains and moving forward. All the baby-boomers have to do is listen to what the readers/writers and editors already know and release the dosh. Everyone wins. But are big babies clever enough to see that?

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  2. Sharp stuff, Anon, I would just love to know who you are.

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  3. Another Atlantic reader here (have subscribed for about 10 years now). My question is, how do magazines like The Atlantic fit into the equation. In this new world, wouldn't newspapers become increasingly like magazines with more in-depth reporting and longer pieces while breaking news happens online?

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  4. It mightn't be quite fair or appropriate here but to be the barbarian at the gates, I quite like Nietzsche's "They vomit out bile and call it a newspaper." By and large I don't think newspaper reading amounts to much more than a daily comforting immersion in gossip, powered by the delusional notion that one's understanding of the world one lives in is being improved.

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  5. Newspapers won't die, they will just clarify their niche. Every time I see these kinds of articles I think about what happened to plays when "moving pictures" appeared. Live theatre didn't disappear, it just refined its niche. When TV came along, same deal: Movies, TV, Broadway & other theatre venues: They all have their own corner of the market and their own favorite consumers.

    And, despite all the hype, newspapers still make wads of dough. Even our "poor" newspaper in Philadelphia turns a profit every year of nearly 20%. I think most people would be very happy to invest in a stock with that kind of return!

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  6. Anon's identity? Well, I'm still semi-shackled by the big babies. But the revolution is coming.

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  7. Before being reduced dramatically in size all broadsheets will have a stab at the Berliner, with more free DVD's before the paper eventually turns into a DVD, then it'll be endless podcast articles and internet based logins. And after a technological 'scare' (presumably from a terrorist attack), there'll be a nostalgic attempt to bring back the news-on-paper format. So, if it ain't broke....

    I'm not sure if I agree Andrew. I'd never say reading a newspaper is comforting. Most articles fill me mostly with dread and anger. No matter how hard i read between the lines i can find no 'global improvement' stories.

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  8. True, Lee, that struck me later and perhaps "comforting" could be sacrificed from the notion. But to give it at least a modicum of a defence, comforting in the sense that a kind of mundane map of reality is being propagated by things like newspapers- though events may change, the newspapers remain and life is roughly so. One is justified in a life of comfortable mediocrity, "povery, dirt and a miserable ease" as my friend Nietzsche would say, because this is the way life is meant to be...read the newspapers, sigh at the bad news therein, and feel justifiably disempowered by one's insignificance before all these bad events. An activity of pointless wallowing. Not that I'm saying be ignorant, but I'm also very sceptical about the quality of the information contained within newspapers as it relates to current affairs.

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  9. Recently read a very interesting and strangely timely (considering it was written during the Weimar Republic era, in Berlin) novel that has quite a modern take on newspaper journalism. Anyone know _Fabian: The Story of a Moralist_ by Erich Kaestner? Try it. Especially if you're American, you'll get the feeling we're living in a version of the Weimar Republic here!

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  10. I think, Susan, the States has taken quite a few steps into the phase follwoing the Weimar period.

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  11. Though to mention an honourable chink of light in the media thanks to Bryan's blogroll in the form of Peter Hitchens. This being an excellent article
    http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/

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  12. Sorry, "this" being the Problems of Re-entry article, but also "Why it is better that the guilty sometimes go free" above it.

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  13. Someone here suggested that newspapers might respond to their new situation with "in-depth reporting and longer pieces." This person evidently does not work at a newspaper, or at least not at my newspaper, which has done precisely the opposite: close national and foreign bureaus, stick articles about TV shows on the front page, and (I'm not making this up) include poetry and theatre reviews by high school students.

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  14. Every matter that I have been involved in that has received newspaper coverage has without exception been erroneously reported. Newspaper writing is simply too superficial to be taken seriously, other than as fodder for critical deconstruction. Knowing some journalists, it is not difficult to see why. Zturning newspaper into something other than establishment-supporting, day-old superficial biased, inaccurate reporting would turn them into weekly magazines. Perhaps this is why the only newpaper editions working reading are weekend editions that contain in-dpeth articles that do not go out of date before they are published--like magazines on that annoying, messy paper product called newsprint.

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