Being Nostalgic About Print Media
Writers, let’s be real. If you didn’t have fundamentally idealistic notions about writing, you’d probably be in some other profession. No matter how cynical or world-weary you might be, the truth is this: most writers are romantics at heart – myself included.
I first fell in love with writing before the print industry started showing noticeable signs of trouble, and by then, I’d already internalised quixotic ideas about what writing can and should be. Because print was what inspired me to write in the first place, those ideas were inevitably tangled up with idealised notions of old school publishing and journalism.
But the tendency to romanticise our craft blinds us to the reality of what the media actually is, and was, all along. As writers, we might live to tell stories, but capitalism means that everything, including the stories we tell and the media in which they reside, is driven by the need to sell things.
And the bottom line is this: the media is diversifying, audiences are shifting their attention elsewhere. Companies realise that print is no longer the only place to have a brand voice, so they’re following audiences and moving towards other platforms. It’s high time we moved on, too.
The State of the Media
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen all the evidence of the steady decline of print media: bookstores are closing down, unprofitable newspapers are being sold at huge losses, and newsrooms and publishing houses everywhere are continually facing layoffs.
It’s a sorry state of affairs, especially with what’s at stake. Legacy print institutions possess vast institutional experience, expertise and resources, and have traditionally been seen as the champions of investigative, incisive, unbiased content. Understandably, many are worried about what their decline means for the future of civic life.
Moreover, studies show that print facilitates deeper, more meaningful reader engagement and retention than online content, which could be lost with the increasing prominence of new media. The proliferation of new media alters the way we think, read, and remember, and could potentially hinder cognitive and intellectual development.
Evolve, or die
While there’s been much weeping and gnashing of teeth over the decline of print, everyone recognises that content creators need to adapt to survive. Even the largest and oldest institutions of legacy media are scrambling to stay relevant in the digital age.
But many old school writers like me may remain apprehensive, even fearful, of efforts to update print (and ourselves). For us, the decline of print possibly signals that people are no longer interested in the stories we want to tell, and how we think they should be told. When considering a new social-media savvy colleague hired as part of his publication’s modernising campaign, the late, prolific New York Times journalist David Carr remarked: “I still can’t get over the feeling that [he] was a robot assembled to destroy me”.
But that doesn’t have to be our only reaction to this period of change. The rise of new media may mean the end of an era – a time in which print might have been king – but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep on telling the stories that you want heard.
New media really isn’t the end of content creation
Much has been made about how the new media’s lower barriers to entry have contributed to lower standards of content. However, this new openness also means that creators no longer have to rely on the old gatekeepers to get their content out there, allowing them greater flexibility and room for experimentation.
The internet also poses unprecedented opportunities for immense reach and engagement with all kinds of audiences – look no further than the increasing number of successful, unconventional and socially relevant campaigns enabled by the rising prominence of new social media.
New media platforms also facilitate the relationship between creators, texts and audiences. Whether it’s in the comments section or on Twitter, audiences can now interact with texts and creators directly and quickly – whereas those interactions might have previously been limited and mediated – which creators may find a fulfilling and valuable resource.
Critics argue that new media doesn’t create any actual, quality content, but new players such as the Huffington Post, Vice, and Buzzfeed have shown otherwise, adeptly moving beyond mere content curation and commentary into the creation of novel, relevant content which also manages to be financially viable.
Conventional media outlets have also found that new media, freed from the spatial and textual constraints of print, can in fact enrich storytelling via the incorporation of audio-visual content with the written word.
Time to get on board
Ultimately, opportunities for content creators – even old school writer-types like me – are still out there, and can be even more exciting than before. And while there’s nothing wrong with being a romantic idealist, getting nostalgic about print media shouldn’t keep us from exploring new frontiers of content creation.
Print as a medium may be on a decline, but the good news for writers and creators is that storytelling survives, and in many ways, it’s better than ever.