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Renewal Notice: Thoughts On Old Media While Reading On The Couch

July 13, 2009

After a morning of hunching and squinting, I wolfed down some lunch, flopped on the couch, and opened Wired.

I’d had enough of the internet’s version of good enough: the templated blog designs,  the unedited writing, the amateur video, the stock photos, the self-serving research,  the email pings and update interruptions,  the twitchy or pinched ads. Most of all, I’d had enough of the internet’s content. Too much of the supposedly cutting-edge thinking I’d encountered had the stale recirculated quality of airplane air.

As I began flipping through Wired, two things occurred to me: 1) I love magazines.

And 2) Chris Anderson is a great ink-on-dead-trees-for-money magazine editor.

With my head on a pillow and my legs stretched out, I learned about Muslim contributions to science; Google’s ad pricing formula; various tubes including OrigamiTube; an array of super-duper vacuums; and a new album by David Lynch, one of the guys from Gnarls Barkley, and some producer I’d never heard of but who seemed cool. The world seemed a wonderful place in the original sense of the term: full of wonders.

Many of the ads did not suck, and they all paid their way.

I was reminded of what editors can do. They can prompt, subsidize, gather, challenge, filter, distill, enhance, orchestrate, and present writing like no one else. They can make thought pieces punchier and fact pieces smoother.

Thanks to the editors at the New Yorker–another magazine on my coffee table that day–I remember phrases from movie reviews and I get to the end of multi-thousand word profiles of disgraced banking CEOs, scientists who wrote their dissertation on the Venusian climate, and obscure federal agency heads.

And yet I have heard a smugness that verges on glee when some “old media” that doesn’t “get it” stumbles.

Yes, the web may usefully replace many trade pubs and glorified catalogs. While the job losses are tragic, the correction may be needed.

But to say that the web in anything like its current form replaces what the best editors do at the best print magazines is to misunderstand the web itself. The web is a place to search and scan, archive and converse, annotate and link, purchase and complain.  But it is not anywhere close to recreating the experience of reading Wired or the New Yorker, even though those publications are online.

To dismiss those ad-funded, gate-keeping, paper-based, pleasantly floppy and portable marvels as “old media,” and to take any satisfaction in their troubles, is to applaud the destruction of a part of Western Civilization.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2009 1:49 pm

    No one can calculate the hole in community that will open up when we no longer have these old foursquare media.

  2. Dan O'Shea permalink
    July 13, 2009 3:47 pm

    The now-ubiquitous United Breaks Guitars video of last week underscores what can be right with the web — it is a completely democratic outlet for any content that end-runs traditional gatekeepers and that, in this case, put a previously unknown singer from Halifax on an even playing field with a Fortune 500 company that had, through the all-to-usual bureaucratic inertia, carelessly and callously wronged him and then passed on providing appropriate redress simply because, well, it could.

    But everyday, we’re exposed to what’s wrong with the web. The very lack of gatekeepers makes it society’s refrigerator door, except that you don’t even have to hand your latest finger-painting or paranoid ranting or artless video or ill-considered attempt at singing to your parents to get it up there. You just grab a virtual magnet and stick the sucker to the public consciousness yourself so that any of us may have the misfortune of tripping over it when we open the on-line door because we are just looking for a glass of milk.

    There is something in the human character that hates an editor. I suppose it’s a tacit admission that our own taste is not necessarily to be universally trusted, and that there may be an intellectual or aesthetic elite out there with a better idea concerning our media diet. A good magazine is like a good restaurant compared to the Web’s grocery store. From the former, the entire possible universe of food stuffs in distilled through the trained and creative eye of the chef into a tasty meal, efficiently served, and enjoyed in comfortable surroundings. With the later, you’re on your own.

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