The Soapbox – Do mention the ‘c’ word
Something strange happened while having a night out recently with work colleagues. No, I didn’t embarrass myself (that would not be strange); nor was there fumbled colleague-groping (it wasn’t me, I swear); nor the discovery of a new kebab flavour (just imagine…!). No, what was strange was the topic of conversation. Even stranger is the fact that I remembered it the next day – and I present the guts of it here in this blog.
As a magazine editor I often find myself questioning the future of my profession. Not only is the National Enquirer up for a Pulitzer, but reader attention spans are waning, venerable newspapers are folding, and frankly, the internet has opened publishing up to anyone who wants to string two sentences together. Traditional notions of the fourth estate appear to be withering.
Who would want to be a journalist of the ‘old school’, labouring over hardcopy publications for little return?
Anyone who’s seen the movie ‘State of Play’ knows the, er, state of play: Russell Crowe is a crotchety ‘old school’ journalist, fanatically researching stories, asking the tough questions, exposing governments and generally ‘doing good’ with his words. His editor hates him because he grunts at people and ignores deadlines. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, is a young gun online journalist who breaks stories every few minutes. That her stories revolve around c-grade celebrity hook-ups and bust-ups is a minor quibble. Life in a tabloid world demands instantaneous words. It’s all about information – right now.
I presented this compelling evidence regarding the imminent death of my profession to my colleague – an online marketing expert – and his response surprised me. Hardcopy publications, he said, will always have the advantage. How so? He dropped the c word: credibility. It seems that although ‘Joe’s blog about stuff’ may hit on some fantastic stories and be a wealth of well-written information, at the end of the day it simply floats out there, with nothing so mundane as pages or a spine or dirty ink to tether it to the real world.
People still like to feel there’s something concrete to back up what they read. They like to know there’s someone in an office (or home) researching, interviewing, writing, subbing, designing, proofing, and publishing. And then they like to walk to the newsagent, weigh the pros and cons of all the other publications, and then – hopefully – settle for yours. Understandably, people do tend to care more when forking out their hard earned for something.
Both aesthetically and from a job satisfaction standpoint, the biggest thrill I get from my job is being able to pick up a magazine at the end of the production process: the ‘new page’ smell; the ‘d’oh!’ realisation of a spelling mistake or misquote; dodging the sales rep for burying their prized client on the back page…that’s all hard to top.
Perhaps this is an outmoded way of thinking. I mean, ‘All the President’s Men’ – the book/movie that presents the image of journos that all journos aspire to – was set in the 1970s. Like so many professions, perhaps journalism needs to move with the times?
I noticed recently that newspapers in the US are scrambling to develop apps to make their publications suitable for iPads. Could this be a way out?
I also note with curiosity how many of my print colleagues are now suddenly also popping up on video streaming websites. I’m not saying I’ve got a face for radio, but I’m pretty sure I went into print journalism so people wouldn’t have to look at my mug on TV – whatever form that TV takes. Obviously this is also an outmoded way of thinking and I’m on a sinking ship. Or am I?
Can print and online mediums live side by side and be leveraged off each other? A blended approach perhaps – the shallower, interactive media online and the more in-depth stuff in hardcopy? Do people even want to read in-depth features anymore?
How about advertising? Will advertisers fork out for online? And perhaps most importantly, will standalone online content ever build the same level of credibility as print?
So many questions – and all from a kebab-inspired conversation.
Tell us your thoughts.