I’m many thousands of dollars in debt because I’m working toward my graduate degree in print journalism. Not online journalism, or multimedia journalism, or even photojournalism, but print — as in words, set in ink, which are put upon paper, don’t link to anything, don’t make noise, and can only be sent to a friend in conjunction with an envelope and a stamp.
Is the field I’m training for becoming obsolete? Is the fact that I’m writing these words for an online news site an answer to my own question?
While online journalism has some obvious advantages over print — speed, convenience, nifty slideshows — I still hold on to the hope, perhaps naively, that both mediums can find a way to peacefully coexist. Sometimes, I like flipping pages rather than scrolling down. Sometimes the computer screen hurts my eyes. Sometimes I like to read in the bathtub.
Monday evening I got some reassurance that the field of print media, while perhaps going through some tough times, hasn’t exactly gone the way of the typewriter.
Thomas Goetz, the deputy editor of Wired, came to Missoula to speak with NewWest.Net’s Jonathan Weber about technology, the evolution of the media business, and the separate niches for online and print publications. The NewWest.Net/Missoula event, held at the Missoula Art Museum and co-sponsored by Pyron Technologies, was attended by many in the Missoula journalism scene, including the dean of the University of Montana J-School, Peggy Kuhr.
Wired, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is both a print magazine and an online news site, both dealing with technology and how it relates to health, the environment, art, culture, and other aspects of our existence.
One of the first questions Weber put to Goetz concerned one of “the obvious kind of anomalies of Wired.”
“[It’s] a print magazine about the things that are going to make print obsolete,” Weber said.
In his response, Goetz explained many of the reasons that Wired magazine works is that it does things that the online Wired cannot. For one thing, Goetz said, the magazine features a lot of long-form journalism — “two, and four, and six-thousand word stories” — that are more conducive to a print medium.
Another thing that keeps Wired magazine afloat (well, with a circulation of around 700,000 and an editorial staff of 40, it stays slightly more than afloat) is its visual layout. “We think of the magazine as an idea book,” Goetz said.
“We have a real emphasis on design. For us that has always been paramount.”
Weber then asked how the magazine manages to keep increasing its circulation while so many other print publications see theirs declining.
Goetz said that one of the ways Wired keeps so many loyal readers and continues to add new ones is that it does a good job of “filtering” information for its readers.
“It’s about what we include as well as what we exclude,” Goetz said.
Goetz then talked a bit about the Wired philosophy of storytelling and about how ideas eventually turn into layouts. One way that Wired likes to approach stories, Goetz said, is with a multi-disciplinary approach.
|Click here to download or stream audio from Goetz and Weber’s discussion. Audio courtesy of the Montana Web Designers and Developers Association.|
“Actual innovation happens by crossing disciplines,” Goetz said. He used the example of biology and engineering, which of course combine to form bioengineering, a discipline Wired explored extensively in a piece on cellulosic ethanol that appeared in the October 2007 issue of the magazine.
Weber also wanted to know: How do Wired editors and reporters come up with such great story ideas?
Wired once ran a story, Goetz said, about a company that had come up with a process that could create synthetic diamonds. How did the reporter get the idea? By Googling “diamonds technology.” “Usually it’s not that easy,” Goetz joked.
Goetz, like anybody in the news world, knows all about the sometimes ugly business of courting sources to get a story, and one thing Wired does not do, Goetz said, is promise cover stories.
“As a journalist you do not want to be creating a release schedule for a product,” Goetz said.
Wired once lost a story about a big-blockbuster movie, Goetz said, because the magazine wanted a story about “the drones in the back office doing the CG [computer graphics]” and the Hollywood people wanted a big profile of the film’s star.
After a few more questions posed by Weber and a few from the audience, the crowd was left to mingle.
With his upbeat attitude and good sense of humor, Goetz had left me feeling good about the future of journalism — for about 30 seconds, that is. As I was happily making my way to the hors d’oeuvres table I stopped to chat for a minute with Dean Peggy Kuhr.
We started discussing my professional project — the J-School equivalent of a thesis — and she asked me if I was planning on making it into a multimedia project.
“Well,” I said sheepishly. “There’ll be photographs.”
“And what about audio?” she asked.
Editor’s note: By the way, if you’d like to listen to the audio of this event, click here to download or stream the mp3.