If “Print is Dead”… it is too early to toll the bells

ArabAd - - CONTENTS -

Cel­e­brated Aus­tralian Au­thor and Fem­i­nist, Ger­maine Greer, who has metic­u­lously been saving her ar­chive, has sold 150 fil­ing cab­i­nets to the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne. She has, since the 1950s, used all types of items to record her thoughts - whereas her type­writ­ten and hand­writ­ten notes pose no chal­lenge; it is the ex­trac­tion of the con­tent stored on floppy disks, CDS and cas­settes that is prov­ing chal­leng­ing for the aca­demics, due to data de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, as op­posed to gath­er­ing the in­for­ma­tion con­tained on sheets of paper, which the­o­ret­i­cally could last hun­dreds of years.

USB sticks and clouds are al­ready pos­ing the same prob­lems, delet­ing in­for­ma­tion "by mis­take" with the press of a wrong but­ton is some­thing most of us ex­pe­ri­ence while get­ting used to a new de­vice. Most of the time, the in­for­ma­tion we lose is ir­re­triev­able, which is not the case with paper or even hol­i­day photographs...

Printed book sales have in­creased as e-book sales have dropped for the first time in four years in 2016. Though de­fin­i­tive ev­i­dence as to why that is the case re­mains, at this point, un­clear, what is cer­tain, is that one does not need to recharge a book while on a plane or while ly­ing un­der a para­sol on the beach, mak­ing the medium an op­ti­mal choice.

An Ital­ian mar­ket­ing ex­pert, in a 2011 con­fer­ence held in Beirut, said he would judge CEOS based on whether he found the day's news­pa­per on their desk. From ju­nior ex­ec­u­tives to ones sit­ting on the cor­ner of­fice, it is more rea­son­able to as­sume that they have read their news, ei­ther on the com­puter - most likely a lap­top or on some form of por­ta­ble de­vice such as an ipad or tele­phone.

The phys­i­cal­ity of the daily paper, whereas still here and ubiq­ui­tous, is at times be­com­ing re­dun­dant. Lebanon's As­safir news­pa­per, which was due to close its printed edi­tion ear­lier this year, is still be­ing printed. An-na­har news­pa­per, also one of Lebanon's old­est news­pa­pers is still in print, de­spite ru­mours that it too will soon stop its paper ver­sion and shift en­tirely online.

Nat­u­rally, one ex­pects that, like The Guardian news­pa­per's web­site in the United King­dom, which is a multi-award win­ner, the jour­nal­is­tic con­tent will - not only be as good as the print edi­tion - but even more reg­u­larly up­dated with a spe­cial blog on trend­ing events up­dated with real-time news. News­pa­pers in the re­gion have so far treated the online edi­tion as an add-on to the orig­i­nal "bread and but­ter" print edi­tion.

That is right un­til the printed edi­tion stopped gen­er­at­ing traf­fic and rev­enue, mak­ing the web­sites a des­per­ate click bait op­er­a­tion fo­cus­ing on sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive ti­tles and provoca­tive sto­ries to in­crease its po­ten­tial read­ers. The choice of the printed ar­ti­cles only high­lights the des­per­a­tion, which makes them a far cry from the jour­nal­is­tic rigor these news­pa­pers were, for a very long time, known for and read.

In the mid-90s, An-na­har ini­ti­ated a cam­paign that read, "The news­pa­per, which is not bankrolled by the reader, is bankrolled by the un­known." This state­ment was in­ten­tion­ally crafted and ad­dressed to the read­ers. It also was a call for them to con­tinue pur­chas­ing the phys­i­cal edi­tion to al­low the pub­li­ca­tion to main­tain its in­de­pen­dence and in­tegrity. In­ter­est­ingly, the same news­pa­per chron­i­cally runs an ad in their classified section part which says "if you see this ad, then your ad can be seen".

A quick glance at a news­pa­per will show that it con­tains many ads for the day's tele­vi­sion pro­grammes. The logic of course is that, any­one who wants to take note of what is hap­pen­ing on the screen can take men­tal or writ­ten notes based on the ads seen in the news­pa­per. But much like tele­vi­sion, which pre­vi­ously brought fam­ily mem­bers to­gether, to­day di­vides them. As a con­se­quences, the schism af­fected the advertising bud­gets al­lo­cated across the var­i­ous chan­nels. Along sim­i­lar lines, news­pa­pers are fac­ing the same di­chotomy in the pres­ence of dig­i­tal me­dia providers. How­ever, online seems to be the stem of new in­for­ma­tion. One no longer seeks news as much as news fol­lows us.

A ca­sual hash­tag on Twit­ter, a photo on In­sta­gram (again with an ap­pro­pri­ate hash­tag) makes one go to Google im­me­di­ately to check what the fuss is all about. Oh, there has been an ex­plo­sion? So and so got elected? A ma­jor fire? A po­lit­i­cal blun­der? And the list con­tin­ues.

With news­pa­pers be­ing printed once a day, it is dig­i­tal web­sites, which of­fer up-tothe-minute news, even ed­i­to­rial or opin­ion pieces and anal­y­sis. Un­der­stand­ably, ma­jor news­pa­pers such as The Tele­graph and the Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor along with week­lies such as Newsweek have stopped their print edi­tions and pooled their online re­sources into web­sites. What ef­fect will this have on the qual­ity of jour­nal­ism is nat­u­rally a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion that touches all pub­li­ca­tions in gen­eral. With few news­pa­pers or mag­a­zines able to af­ford news bu­reaus through­out the world, most rely on agency news to repack­age the con­tent and in turn make it theirs with­out adding much value to the orig­i­nal ‘bor­rowed’ sto­ries.

De­spite hav­ing to nav­i­gate these trou­bled and un­charted wa­ters, the print in­dus­try con­tin­ues to pro­duce new pub­li­ca­tions op­er­at­ing on mod­ern business mod­els. Some of these of­fer pod­casts, oth­ers pro­mote and sell art…

Yet, ir­re­spec­tive of ser­vices of­fered and top­ics cov­ered, what is cer­tain is that the read­ers them­selves have nat­u­rally changed. At times they ex­pect en­ter­tain­ment as news and at other times they ex­pect news as en­ter­tain­ment. They seem to be as in­ter­ested in po­lit­i­cal par­ties as they are in the dress that what­ever star, or even fe­male politi­cian wore for a cer­tain oc­ca­sion… The list is as di­verse as the tastes and trends them­selves.

In com­par­ing how in­ter­ests shift, the ar­ti­cles that were writ­ten prior to the In­ter­net, were lengthy in­ves­tiga­tive or an­a­lyt­i­cal pieces that were thor­oughly scru­ti­nised and triple checked. Back then, such was the norm in those days. On the other hand, lighter shorter and more con­cise ar­ti­cles are the rule to­day. Still, it is re­fresh­ing that The Guardian news­pa­per has a section en­ti­tled "The Long Read", which is ex­actly what it says, very long ar­ti­cles on spe­cific top­ics. The section be­came so suc­cess­ful it needed to have its own Twit­ter ac­count to of­fer read­ers the op­tion to com­ment and de­bate.

What once were clearly-de­fined fea­tures of lo­cal, in­ter­na­tional, and en­ter­tain­ment news, have now be­come hotch­potch of ev­ery­thing all at once. A car­i­ca­ture by Mazen Ker­baj made the front page of Al Akhbar news­pa­per, which runs in tabloid for­mat, so that the full front page was un­prece­dented for a Le­banese news­pa­per - taken over by a car­i­ca­ture.

Lebanon is the birth of award-win­ning magazine The Out­post, the brain­child of Ibrahim Nehme, who is also fol­low­ing a very un­con­ven­tional business plan. "A" magazine, pub­lished by the Aishti Group, also con­tains many ads by the in-house brands the group sells at its stores in ad­di­tion to in­clud­ing cut­ting edge fash­ion pho­to­shoots by some of the world's most im­por­tant tal­ents. In­ter­est­ingly, the pub­li­ca­tions of the Aishti Group also in­clude advertising from com­pet­ing stores with their own brands in tow, mak­ing them more than an in-house lux­ury cat­a­log.

Vogue Ara­bia will soon launch in the re­gion, and as a his­tor­i­cal first, will be dig­i­tal prior to the print run. Mon­o­cle has a se­ries of stores to sell its branded items on the force of the magazine it­self. Kin­folk, Polka and Cab­i­net are but some of the mag­a­zines which own art gal­leries, and it is not un­heard of for pub­li­ca­tions to or­gan­ise side ac­tiv­i­ties such as lit­er­ary fes­ti­vals and work­shops such as the well-re­spected lit­er­ary monthly Tin House in the United States - to fi­nance their main­stream pub­li­ca­tions.

Iron­i­cally, the first video clip to be broad­cast by MTV was Bug­gles' "Video Killed the Ra­dio Star". Yet here we are still lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio while wit­ness­ing how MTV it­self was taken over by Youtube as the goto-source for young­sters dis­cov­er­ing mu­sic. How­ever, the sta­tion re­mains op­er­a­tional and even holds an­nual award shows that carry cause plenty of buzz through­out the me­dia in­dus­try.

To an­nounce the death of print is a lit­tle pre­ma­ture, as it might evolve in terms of con­tent, change its business model, and adapt to the times. This does not mean we should al­ready be dressed for the funeral, since it may never come at all.

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