June 19, 2014 Last Updated 4:29 pm

Print and digital media critics are finding it hard to get along

Effort to expand print newspapers into L.A. market by Freedom Communications crashes… now comes the reaction from those who saw the effort as a losing proposition

Can’t we all just get along? Those who still believe there is a future for the print newspaper (and magazine, for that matter) and those who are convinced that print is dead? No, and that is probably a good thing.

I have to say that I smiled when I read the series of articles that followed a blog post by Clay Shirky where he says quite plainly that those waiting for a return of print are delusional. He goes all “emperor has no clothes” by calling out Ken Doctor and Ryan Chittum as being cheerleaders for print, and in particular, the attempt by Aaron Kushner to expand Freedom Communications into the LA market with print newspapers. (I’d love to link to this post, but the site is dead at the moment, but here is a cached version).

laregister-prototype“People who ought to have known better,” writes Shirky, “like Ryan Chittum at Columbia Journalism Review and Ken Doctor at Nieman, wrote puff pieces for Kushner, because they couldn’t bear to treat him like the snake-oil salesman he is.” Ouch.

Neither Doctor and Chittum take the criticism lying down, as well they shouldn’t as it kind of calls into question their authority to speak on such matters.

“I have to say, I find it funny to be called an apologist for the legacy news industry, as Clay Shirky suggested in an overnight post,” Doctor writes in a posted with a headline that screams PRINT LIVES!

Doctor then goes on to defend his posts on the expansion by Freedom Communication – expansion that came crashing down only weeks after it was first launched. But ultimately he admits the future is digital, but that at present the profits are in print.

Clearly we are moving toward a mainly digital and majority mobile world,” Doctor writes. “The smartest publishers would love to throw the switch from print to digital and just be done with it. Costs are so much lower, likely profit margins so much higher, and the pain of transformation reduced. But 75 percent or more of the money flowing in to pay the journalists still come from print — and we know there is no digital business model yet able to pay for large local newsrooms.”

Chittum, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, has a problem with Shirky’s claim that Freedom’s paywall was at the center of the expansion.

“Shirky is flat wrong that the hard paywall was the ‘core of Freedom’s strategy.’ It wasn’t, Chittum writes.

I think what both Doctor and Chittum miss out on is the basic premise of Shirky’s piece which is that there are a lot of media reporters and consultants out there that are giving the impression that print is not in serious trouble, even if Shirky’s aim is not true.

Go to any industry conference – newspaper, magazine or book – and somewhere on that program will be someone whose goal it is to make attendees feel good about being so behind in digital. (I avoid conferences like the plague because the programs are so predicable.)

I think Shirky was wrong to call out Doctor and Chittum for this, however, as both have written extensively about digital v. print. But there are a limited number of voices that write about the publishing industry and most are coming from the newsroom, not the publisher’s office.

Journalism writing in the U.S. is a closed club, and Shirky’s “mistake” was calling it out. It is a fool’s errand as the community of journalism writers do not tolerate outsiders.

(It should be noted that on the magazine side of things there are several print apologists who have become synonymous with print-forever thinking. But while some in the trade press may not be aware of it, these writers are more and more seen as laughing stocks in the industry, even if they continue to pen columns and teach their classes.)

But to all sides of these debates here’s a little news:

Those working in print today, those who write on journalism websites, those who attend industry conferences, represent a smaller and smaller portion of the actual industry today. Many new digital start-ups simply don’t see themselves as part of the same business that debates these issues.

In fact, most industry gurus might be shocked to discover that most new digital publishers don’t talk about the future of print in overly negative terms, they are way beyond such conversations believing that print is like any medium, it has its place and always will.

They’ll just excited about digital publishing and have no fear, unlike their print counterparts. They wish print folks all the best, they just are glad not to be part of that industry. There are, as Doctor points out, still challenges in the world of digital publishing yet to be worked out, though they seriously doubt print publishers offer many solutions to these challenges.

  • Phil Hood 3 years ago

    Due to its distribution costs print is dying if not dead. It will have a role because paper will have a role but consumer magazines and newspapers in particular probably won’t find a way through the thicket.

  • Eric Wolferman 3 years ago

    Print or digital, one of the obligations of journalism (IMHO) is protection of the language. I cringed when I read above that writers “continue to pen columns and teach there classes” (fifth paragraph from the bottom). Hopefully, the incorrect use of “there” was a simple oversight. In that case, one should heed another journalistic obligation: diligent editing. That said, the calamity at hand is less about “digital versus print” than it is about society’s diminishing investment and interest in serious journalism on the whole.

    • D.B. Hebbard 3 years ago

      Auto-correct, sadly, changes many words without the author being aware. As I have written before here, it is difficult for a website where one person serves as publisher, editor and main author to be properly edited.

      But as you seem to believe that a misplaced word is a reflection of the quality of writing here at TNM, I should point out that your website describes itself this way:

      “Rocky Mountain TechLine is a website serving the information technology community in Colorado. It is a vauable (sic) resource for anyone who works in, or has an interest in, the computer‐related and telecommunications industries.”

      But I wouldn’t base my opinion of your website based on a typo or a misspelling. But as you do, TNM is clearly not a website you should bookmark.