Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blogging vs. Printing

Anyone doubting Columbus' HQ (Hipness Quotient, of course) would be well advised to note that blogs all over town are noting that Columbus has been ranked as the eighth-bloggiest city in the country, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Naturally many of the Columbus blogs are abuzz with the news. The Other Paper also managed a cover story on the topic. Of course it's nice to see that Columbus is making good use of technology, helping to keep people tied together but I confess that I am disappointed in the real lack of thoughtful assessment about what it all means.

Blogging, in my view, does not replace the traditional role of print media. The simple fact is that blogging—or electronic publishing, more generally—is simply another medium available for the distribution of information. The idea of comparing a blog to The Columbus Dispatch is absurd. It's not only bloggers who are doing it, though: we're seeing tremendous problems with print media in general failing to find a viable business model in a world where the newsfeeds from AP, AFP, UPI, etc., are readily available.

There are cases where instant information publication makes sense. In these situations, broadcast media often is the most appropriate means to get the message out. The instant nature of blogging makes it possible to add this medium to that list of methods by which information can be distributed when the most important feature is speed.

Instantaneous publishing (or broadcasting, for that matter) brings with it other properties, including a lack of analysis borne of reflective thought, or even the ability to catch obvious errors. This kind of publishing is, therefore, not appropriate for every situation.

Furthermore, it's also true that bloggers can publish according to schedules if they so choose. In 2004, I began a Web site where I would write on topics other than those I addressed personally in writings elsewhere. Since I started that site nearly four years ago, I have published one article weekly, each Monday morning. Not only did this give me an outlet for writing, but Ergo Sum did not become a burden. If I should get a creative streak going and I produce a bunch of articles, I can queue them up for subsequent publication. Sometimes I'll get as much as five or six weeks ahead, which makes up for times when things get really busy and I have difficulty producing something worth reading in addition to all of my other work.

It's also worth noting that there are plenty of other blogs out there that are not all about speed. One of my favorites, for example, is all about reflective thought that inspires action. Find it at the Art of Manliness.

Finally, I'd like to return to the issue of the business model. Amid all of this discussion of what is and isn't relevant, or what will and won't make it into the future of publishing, we see some rays of hope. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has made a success out of publishing its newspaper in a digital world. Its Web site has not gone the route that so many others have—giving away free content in hoping of catching enough eyeballs to make support by advertising a viable option—but has instead continued to charge for its site. The critical difference is that what's online and what's in print aren't the same thing. Some types of information—such as breaking news—make sense for publication online, while other types of information—analysis of news and commentary on trends—make more sense for publication in print. Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of the Journal discussed these issues for the Chicago Graduate School of Business some time back, in a talk well-worth consideration. Consistent with new-media style, it's available online in the form of a podcast.

We do well to remember that new technology should do much more than displace “older” technology. Upgrade for the sake of upgrade is not sustainable or even very interesting. When we imagine how new technology can be used more creatively, we can find ways to exploit new business models that will make it possible to succeed even where a whole industry might otherwise implode.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Geo said...

Right on Matt. I'm tired of hearing that Print Media will die. Yes, it will dwindle from where it is today and was a few years ago, but it will never die. I even did a post on it :) here http://www.georgetuvell.com/printed-media-is-alive/

May 15, 2008 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Walker Evans said...

Hi! I was featured fairly prominently in that Other Paper article and wanted to quickly mention that my quote about never reading the Dispatch was taken out of context (as the Other Paper is known to do all the time). When I sat down with the reporter I talked about how many traditional media outlets have done a great job of embracing internet technologies to both act as a new means of distribution as well as a supplement. The Dispatch reporter blogs were an example that I gave, but the Other Paper only hears what they want to hear.

I wrote up a lengthy explanation of how I felt about the story here if you care to read. ;)

May 21, 2008 at 8:17 PM  

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