Tuned In

There's the Death of Print, and Then There's the Death of Print

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Word is just out that Domino magazine is going out of business. That sucks. Domino was an unabashedly consumerist magazine (it was the home-design sister to shop-centric Lucky magazine), but it never felt like a glorified catalog; it had taste and an aesthetic and tight but well-thought-out features. (My favorite, well, is still around, for now.) This isn’t a home-design blog, so I’ll just leave it at: That sucks. 

Word is also out today that the Washington Post’s Book World is going out of existence as a standalone print section. That does not suck—despite the New York Times’ claim that it means that “literary criticism is losing its profile in newspapers”—because Book World will continue to exist as a section of the online Post, and books coverage will continue in the Post. 

I mention these two things together because they show the two different phenomena that people are too easily lumping together nowadays when they talk about “the death of [print/magazines/newspapers/books/etc.].”

The Domino case is actually the death of something. People losing jobs, articles that will no longer be written, etc. The Book World case is just about a transition in form. You may or may not have sentimental attachment to the feel of the physical section, but in terms of the expression of ideas it is no more momentous a change than, say, “Book World will be printed with a new soy-based ink.” 

I’m exaggerating, but just a little. Yes, I know that different media lend themselves to different kinds of journalism. I know that there’s an issue of whether online media can make enough money to fund journalism in the long run, and what kind, and how. I even know that some people are attached to having a print newspaper to pass around the breakfast table. 

But there’s a difference between a journalistic voice actually disappearing and it simply moving to another platform. Put another way, there’s a difference between the “newspaper” (to mean the newsgathering organization) and the “newspaper” (its product as realized on sheets of wood pulp). It’s like the difference between a “church” (a congregation of worshippers) and a “church” (the physical building that houses them). The former is more important in both cases. 

That’s why it bothers me when people loosely talk about whether “newspapers” will be “dead” in five or ten years, without defining what they mean. If “The New York Times” disappeared tomorrow–in the sense that I no longer received a delivery of paper on my stoop every morning–I’d miss it, but I’d go online. If “The New York Times” as a news organization disappeared, that would be a much bigger, and far different, deal. (If an online-only newspaper were somehow worse, weaker, dumber than a print one, that would be bad—say if it had fewer resources to cover as much news—but you’d have to show me why that would be the case.) 

I realize that communicating online is not exactly the same as communicating in print, for better or worse or neutral reasons. I’ve worked both in print and online—online first, actually, at Salon.com—so I don’t see the point in romanticizing either. I think the people who evangelize online media and people who cling to printed paper miss the point: both are just ways of communicating, and both communicate genius and idiocy just as well. 

That’s why the end of Book World is not the end of Book World; nor is it the end of books; nor is it the end of the world. I’ll miss Domino, though. What, am I supposed to start reading Elle Decor?