Joel Johnson, in response to a New York Times article about Wired magazine, posted earlier this week about his experience in helping Wired.com set up its blogs and why he is also concerned for Wired’s future. He has some valuable insight into the class of print and online cultures within this one company, so read the entire piece. But this quote troubles me a bit:
Wired makes a fantastic magazine. The “puzzle” edition last month was just brilliant, and I skimmed it from cover to cover. But for technology and pop science reporting, the market has moved on. Tech magazines, now matter how well executed, are nothing more than a cute anachronism, with the same sort of boutique market as hand-made stationery.
Which isn’t to say that we or anyone else who writes for money isn’t doomed; we just don’t have to buy paper by the ton roll, nor keep a support staff around nearly as large as our editorial staff.
I can see what he means in that there is something odd about a publishing entity that has historically been on the cutting edge of technology continuing to do things the old-fashioned, slow-fi way: When I was a junior in college, my step-father gave me his entire collection of Wired magazines, which he’d kept in perfect condition since he started subscribing- at issue #1! Believe it or not, this was an incredible resource. Imagine a decade of technology and culture reporting- not to mention that the art direction of Wired has always been inspiring (my film degree project was ultimately an homage to the visual sensibility I inherited from my step-father and Wired). The image to the left is from a 1998 issue, but if you click it, you can browse the covers from all issues of Wired from 1993 to the present.
But, I do remember thinking that it was ironic that while Wired was covering the most current advances in technology, they still printed on cheap paper that would leave the ink on your fingertips if it was even slightly warmer than seventy degrees.
But I think the point that Johnson is getting at is this: Are blogs really capable of filling the void left by magazines like Wired if they fail? As he points out in his article, “It’s not unusual for print journalists to look down at online writers, and often rightly so. There are some amazing reporters and writers whose work appears in Wired, people who do the sort of storytelling that bloggers rarely have the time or skill to do.” In other words, writing for print publications and writing for blogs are two very different kinds of writing. On this point, Johnson also writes about the process of establishing the Wired blogs, “I cleared out writers that weren’t working. That didn’t always mean they were bad writers, but usually just bad bloggers—there is a difference. Even the best magazine writer may not be able to write and report in front of an audience.” So, if the blogs are taking off but the magazine is dying, what does that mean for the future of Wired’s content? I would say that, for me, it’s the magazine’s legacy that led me to follow their blogs, and that without the stellar long-form articles that are written monthly for the magazine, I probably wouldn’t continue to follow the blogs. So what does this mean for the future of content? Are we trading frequency for quality?