There's been a scrabble of activity among the icons of print journalism these past months, and even in its broad variety - The New York Times features all manner of blogs; Time Inc., like Hachette before it, shutters the print version of a youth magazine but keeps it alive online; Meredith is developing a separate video group to complement its magazine content; and The Wall Street Journal announces a committee to reconsider news delivery altogether. Though some are desperate-seeming measures (both The Times and The Journal will cut their trim size), the actions are still good news for those who care about keeping today's print content alive and relevant in the modern age.
This blogger happens to love print on paper. I love magazines and newspapers, their tactile elegance and portability, their sequential, narrative format, their ability to relate a sound bite or long-form policy argument on the same page. I love picking up magazines I'd never read at home at the doctor's office (even when you think you understand the orgasm, there's more to know about the orgasm, for example). I like reading the New York Post between the W. 50th and W.81st subway stations, because that's as long as it lasts. I like hiding behind The Times at home when someone's seeking me out for dish duty. I sign up for long New Yorker subscriptions, renew when told to and maybe am even influenced by the ads.
Which is to say, I'm a ghost of media past, and not only for my content provinciality.
While I live and act in the present and contribute to the still-healthy margins of the print industry I and my kind are a shrinking breed, and to the degree that the industry refuses to think past us will it diminish accordingly. Of course, it's already begun. Circulation is famously down at newspapers, revenue for magazines remains flat and the internet -- with its digital applications and implications -- is like Cookie Monster on steroids. If print properties don't continue taking bold measures, Web 2.0 will not only continue chomping away at its ad revenues, it will eat up its readers too. Because readers want it!
Those of us who are practitioners can't be sentimental about print on paper, as AdAge's Scott Donatan points out. (The New York Times' David Carr even suggests that journalists should consider side businesses, which seems both counter-intuitive and extreme.) The traditional print community needs to embrace its inner Monster and meet the reader with our wits - and strengths - about us. Which means, as has begun to happen, looking him in the eye and taking his full measure: would he like a podcast of that CEO interview? Might she be looking for a pregnancy calendar along with a service piece? Isn't there even more to learn about the orgasm from peers than is detailed in colorful print pages? Let's expand the interactive charts, progress analyses, daily video diaries and places for all member groups of the Long Tail to congregate: at the magazine or newspaper that best recognizes and serves their needs. The internet opens up a whole new world of opportunity for print to find its audiences, provided it's not determined to convert each find to a print target, but rather supply her with all the authority and inspiration she needs to revel in her niche, through whatever delivery platform suits best. Which will likely always be a mix.
Today's best print content will continue to be in demand, over the long haul. The producers will just become more fluid in their identities - how would you like that served, ma'am? - and catch the wave.