The conventional wisdom for quite a few years, since the Internet really began to flourish, has been that when it comes to news and media, print is dead. After about one month of full-time freelance work for a print publication, I hope the conventional wisdom is correct, at least when it comes to my job search.
Disclaimer: I have a great deal of respect for both the publication I’ve been working with, and all of the individual editors I’ve worked with, and what I’m about to write is not meant to reflect poorly on the specific magazine or any of the people I’ve encountered.
Disclaimer No. 2: I have not had a full-time, permanent job since October 2008, and acquiring one has been my goal from the second I left the building that housed my old company, so I am not going to do anything stupid. I am certainly not eliminating print positions from my search for employment, nor would I do something foolhardy such as turn down a potential gig because it was in the print sector.
Now that I’m done with my disclaimers: For the love of God, don’t make me go back to print media on a full-time basis.
I have been spoiled by working on the Internet side of things since 2000, and I have become fully accustomed to a culture of getting things done, and not stressing over every single phrase, every single link break, or whether text is a tiny bit tighter or looser than other text. My work on the Internet always involved posting stories onto the site on a timely basis, and not agonizing over minute details.
To be fair, layout is an issue in print, where it has no impact on the Internet in most cases. Print stories have to fit in their allotted spaces, whereas on the Web, items can pretty much run as long as necessary, unless they’re slated for slots on the home page.
One of the other things I miss about working on the Web is the simplified process. For the most part, barring exceptional issues, editors filed stories to me, I copy edited them and read them for context, I asked any questions I might have had (usually none), and I posted the items. If anything needed to be changed somewhere down the line, I took care of it, but that was rarely the case.
I understand that once a print story is final, it’s really final, and the only remedy for correcting errors is running a correction in the following issue, which is far from desirable. But when you allow every single person who’s ever been involved with a story to read it and offer their input several times during the process, you’re just trying to ensure that nothing ever gets done. Is it really necessary for several people to read the exact same story over and over and over?
Another thing that drives me insane is that by a certain point, when a story has been read time and time over, it’s time to pull the plug and get things done. If I sound like a slacker, I’m quite the opposite. I was one of the few journalism majors at NYU who absolutely loved the mandatory copy-editing class and didn’t regard it as a necessary evil. I started out as a copy editor, and at one point in my tenure at my old company, I was the copy chief for a weekly newsmagazine, meaning that at some point in the process, I saw every syllable that made it into the magazine. To be a good copy editor, you have to be somewhat anal-retentive — especially when it comes to consistency — and I consider myself to be a good copy editor.
However, in my opinion, where you are in the process should dictate how anal-retentive you choose to be. Something that might be an issue worth pursuing at 2:30 in the afternoon is not necessarily worth pursuing at 8:30 at night. When things reach a certain point, it’s time to let things go and move on. After staring at text on the monitor and on page proofs for 10 hours, there is not enough caffeine on God’s earth to make me care about some of the issues that turn into long debates.
Think of it this way: I think it’s a fairly safe estimate that 99.9% of the people who read an article in a print publication will read it once and once only, and they will never notice things like bad line breaks, tight text, loose text, or whether a certain clause would work better. The only people who are going to read something more than once are people who are quoted or discussed in the piece, and they don’t give a crap about the minutia, either: All they care about are the parts of the story where they’re featured. So is all of this pain-staking effort really, truly necessary?
I’m not saying every effort shouldn’t be made to put out the perfect issue. I’m just saying that at a certain point, people really need to take a step back and decide if going further is really worth it. And I’ve obviously made my decision. When someone cancels their subscription because the text in one paragraph is ragged right instead of justified, that person is clearly a disgruntled copy editor, because no one else on the planet would give half a shit.
Again, as I said, I am in no position to eliminate print jobs from my search, nor would I turn one down at this point, since July 2 will mark the 21-month anniversary of my layoff. But to say that I would prefer an online position to a print one would be the understatement of the year. To me, print is most definitely dead.