It's a pleasure to join Mere Comments. In this initial post, I'd like to pick up on a discussion we had at the PowerBlog a couple weeks ago about journalism in what has been called the "late age of print."
I mentioned a number of print publications that have been started amidst the recent economic downturn, including Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Connection. A number of these start-ups are the products of nonprofits of one kind or another. When asked about launching a print magazine in the midst of an economic recession, Warren conceded, "No magazine is doing really great right now. These are tough times for print magazine right now."
I neglected to mention Touchstone or Salvo, in part because neither of these magazines were initiated within the last few months. But they are worthy of mention within the broader discussion because they represent an important trend away from the facile, free, and immediate transmission of digital text. By this I mean that Touchstone does not make each new issue available immediately on the web, either for free or to subscribers. Indeed, some of each issue's content will never be available digitally. Hunter Baker's institution Houston Baptist University has launched another publication, The City, that fits this same model (its web presence is here).
The days of clipping an item from a newspaper and magazine and dropping it in an envelope to send to a friend are over for most of us. But the impulse for us to share what fascinates and challenges is still there. When I read something in the newspaper or a print magazine that strikes my fancy, my first instinct is to share it with others by looking up the electronic version of the piece and sending along a link.
When such a link doesn't exist, or cannot be easily found, the sharing of a text is usually short-circuited. You either have to scan the piece and send it digitally or resort to the old "clip and post" method. In an age of attention spans formed by Twitter, both options are often passed over in favor of a third: do nothing and move on to the next item. An opportunity for edification and community-building is thereby lost.
But there is yet another possibility. Within a community that subscribes to a text there is no need to transmit the text itself. Each member already has access. The focus can be placed squarely on the text rather than its transmission. This is the kind of community that is fostered by the intentional disruption of the chain of easy digital sharing. It promotes a kind of leisurely reflection that is sorely lacking in our digital world.The existence of the Treaders discussion site speaks to the success that Touchstone has met in its goal to create this kind of reflective community.
I'd like to think that a community organized around a print publication still has a place in this world. I'd also like to think that hope is not just the unfounded sentimentality of the son of a newspaperman, but rather a recognition of the critical place that these kinds of communities fill in a flourishing society.