What happens when print dies?
Nov 15, 2017 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
While strolling through one of my favorite places on the internet (HelloGiggles), I came upon a captivating article on the death of print media. The author was viewing it through the lens of the millennial (a demographic I admittedly struggle to fully understand), yet one of her points spoke to the vintage maven in me. She was discussing the connection between the loss of print and the loss of quality content. In the age of the internet, when anyone can become a content creator how do you ensure voices speak true? The reality is that when you combine this flurry of expression with a society that craves instant gratification, you can’t control it and the result is phenomenons like “fake news.”
Thinking about this media climate makes me feel blue and it’s a difficult juggernaut to fight. For example, when I think about my own habits – I no longer subscribe to a newspaper. My morning tradition is to look at NPR on my phone while I enjoy my toast and jam; I don’t flip through the paper at the dining table like my grandparents do. Yet I appreciate thoughtful journalism, detailed articles, and the feel of a real book in my hands (I just can’t go Kindle yet). So what does a mismatch of habits like mine signify? Can a society be technologically advanced without losing its soul? Armed with a snack, I approached this philosophical query like I would any other – by looking to the past. Let me know what you think about my findings in the comments…
First, let’s consider one of our most well-known forms of media – the audio-visual, looking specifically at the relationship between television and movies. Movies were considered the premier storytelling vehicle during the first half of the 20th century. Hollywood was big business, but by the 1950s television came in to steal the studios’ thunder. How did this shift in controlled messaging impact quality of content? Interesting data points for the evolution of moviemaking include – a definite shift toward shorter clips (which also usually meant fewer key characters sharing the same shot), an adoption of patterns that considered shorter attention spans, and deeper color contrasts. In essence, bold simplicity is how you can define modern movies.
When I consider these elements I think the connection to television is obvious – limited time to get your message across before the next commercial break, smaller budgets, etc. So the argument that small screen influenced big should be an easy one to make. The million dollar question is – was this influence for the better? Let’s consider what’s happened since we moved away for the RCA Victor and to the age of the internet – since the beginning of Netflix original content. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that big stars that we associate with movies are crossing into the world of television. Special effects, daring plots, intricate character development – it’s no longer exclusive to the realm of the cinema. (And given that so many Hollywood films are remakes these days, cinema’s drought for originality forges on.) I would venture to say that by democratizing content creation via YouTube, etc., storytelling has become a clearer reflection of everyday life. Especially in light of the last few Emmy Awards seasons, one could easily argue that it has made for content with a higher quality bar. But has this evolution meant that the scale of influence tilted back? TV influenced movie-making, now has movie-making influenced digital TV?
Netflix allows the viewers to once again enjoy continuous content, this time on a smaller screen. Without commercial breaks to stop the flow of dialogue, a viewer often ends an episode feeling like they wrapped a short film – not a tv episode. (Especially if you binge-watch it’s like viewing an epic film!) Some may argue it’s the perfect blend of both worlds. Funding is built in via subscriptions, so the control of a corporate sponsor appears to be minimized. Gone is the need for shows like the Texaco Star Theater – or other advertiser-funded programs. (Although I do notice quite a bit of shamefully obvious product placement on daytime television these days!) Digital media seems to be a vehicle allowing tastemakers to sidestep this forced corporate relationship, yet they’ve traded it in for popularity. The viewer’s opinion is king and while placing trust in the masses seems much more democratic, what will it yield? Only time will tell, but for print media it certainly feels like time is running out.
We’ve mused about vintage publications here before and they are certainly a joy to collect. Personally I’m a sucker for a fashion magazine. Whenever I travel, the drudgery of waiting in lines seem a bit less depressing because I know that a magazine purchase is at the other end of my security check. Excitedly, my roller bag and I race to the nearest shop and peruse the colorful, glossy covers. Bold, beautiful faces – homes – cars – destinations. It’s like the world suddenly is my oyster and I get to pick and choose where I want to go or who I want to be. Moments later, when I’m on the plane, I’m in a world of my own creation. Even the advertisements don’t bother me, because they are like works of art in their own right. They don’t feel like an intrusion, but more like a complement to the articles I’m enjoying. Why is that I wonder? Probably because with a magazine I’m in complete control. Don’t like the article – flip the page. Don’t like the product – flip the page. Annoyed with the perfume sample – rip it out. The digital media world is much different. Waiting for the little popup telling you “skip ad” can seem like an eternity some days. (And often I give up before I get to what I want to listen to or look at out of sheer annoyance.) Funny to think that in a world of instant gratification, print media is actually the best venue.
My love of magazines aside, on a more serious note, what does this impending doom for print media mean for content? In digital content creation there are all sorts of rules on how to optimize readability. I won’t bore you with the details, but the synopsis is eerily familiar to how modern moviemaking was described above. Short and sweet is supreme. Perhaps then our leading question misses the mark. Instead of “what happens when print dies?” we should consider “what happens when we learn through soundbites?” A lot of people get their news via Twitter these days – a platform perfectly designed to be succinct. Does that mean content automatically devolves when it’s a debrief rather than a thesis? Do you think the modern reader will take it upon themselves to learn more, dig deeper? Will the next generation of journalists and authors be stewards of our collective knowledge base? How do you view this issue? Shout out in the comments…