RIP the Printed Word: 1450-2013

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt Purdue.

Screen shot 2010-11-28 at 2.42.01 PMAs the former editor of Worth Magazine and current editorial director of Peppercomm, Matt has a unique take on the pure chaos that is today’s media universe. It’s an environment dominated by countless channels from which to select to deliver one’s message, AND a media beast with a positively unquenchable thirst for content.

I have seen the death of print…and it ain’t pretty.

As a former journalist, I will admit to a shameful predilection: I still get the print edition of the Wall Street Journal delivered to my door every morning. Yes, I support the killing of trees…but I offset my arborcide by recycling most of the 300-odd Post-its I use every day. Yes, I condone the pouring of industrial ink into the water table…but I offset that crime by wearing my “No Fracking” t-shirt to work every Thursday.

However, I’m finally about ready to enter a rehab clinic and give up my lifelong hard-copy habit. Print is dead, and it’s about time I faced reality. What pushed me over the edge? As I much as I love the WSJ and its writers and editors, the Wednesday, February 27 edition has me listening to Mozart’s Requiem for print publishing.

I present as evidence the D section of that day’s newspaper. On page D5 is a six-column article about a shoe exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. The article points out that the “show contains 150 examples” of avant garde shoes, including Lady Gaga’s 12-inch Tatehana platforms(!). Alongside the article is a photo of ONE shoe. ONE! For God’s sake, Wall Street Journal, no one in their right mind wants to read 30 column-inches about a shoe exhibition. We want to SEE the shoe exhibition! Are you just completely out of touch with the way we consume information today, or was your server down the day FIT sent you their high-res images?

Now turn to page D6. There you’ll find a sports feature on, of all things, uphill skiing. The article is accompanied by two stunning photos of…well…people skiing uphill. For the record, the writer gathered one of the best quotes I’ve ever read in any sports story: “It’s kind of an intense mental colonic,” one uphill skier said. But this treatment just leaves me frozen. If this sport is so intense, I want to see it, I want to hear it, I want to feel it. I want helmet-cam video of a skier experience his “intense mental colonic,” with extreme grunting and groaning.

Granted, I did not check the WSJ’s website to see how they treated these stories in the digital medium. But that’s not the point. (In fact, if the WSJ has photos or video on its website, the editors should have noted this in the print edition…but they didn’t.) The point is that today’s information consumers need to be informed in ways that bring stories to life for them. It’s our job as arbiters of this information to decide what stories need to be told using the most appropriate media. In these two cases, the WSJ dropped the ball.

Transmedia storytelling looks at storytelling strategically, asking which types of media will make the most impact with the target audience(s). It eschews a one-size-fits-all approach, and breaks a story into “episodes” that can be communicated in various ways: via video, on Twitter, in inforgraphics…and even in print (sometimes). It’s a bit shocking that the WSJ missed this opportunity. As PR professionals, we certainly cannot.

2 thoughts on “RIP the Printed Word: 1450-2013

  1. New York Times has been doing quite a bit of interesting experimentation with how best to tell a story. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Western Kentucky University’s search committee as they are looking to bring someone in to advise the journalists of tomorrow on how to tell stories across multiple media formats at their campus newspaper. This doesn’t require the “uber-journalist” who is a jack of all trades but master of none. Rather, it requires someone who can think about the story in a holistic way, in a way that considers what would work best for the reader/listener/viewer, and to be able to work on collaborative teams with people who have expertise in storytelling in different media formats to tell a story in a way that’s best for story and audience, not just most convenient for the storytelling entity…

  2. Excellent post, Matt. Of course, the WSJ does include QR codes at the end of many articles so readers can get more content. But have you ever seen anyone scan one of those?
    For a great example of how a newspaper can use various forms of content to tell a story, check out this avalanche story from the NYT:
    Apparently, the NYT executive editor, called it a “wildly new reading experience.”