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Another one bites the dust

I should be used to it by now, but I’m not. Another well-known print publication, Newsweek, will end its 80 years of print production on December 31. It’s not an end, says editor-in-chief Tina Brown; it’s a “transition” to an all-digital format that began with the establishment of The Daily Beast four years. She can call it what she wants, but the print industry is dying. Newsweek is not the first publication to go belly up from a loss of advertising income, and it certainly won’t be the last.

It’s not that I was a great fan of Newsweek — certainly no more than many other magazines and newspapers. It’s that I have been and always will be a great fan of the printing and publishing process. From the invention of movable type, to the Linotype machine, to computerized typesetting, it’s always fascinated me. Words and ideas onto printing presses onto paper, mass produced and distributed.

Have you ever been in the press room of a large metro newspaper, felt the rumble and heard the roar, and watched as giant rolls of clean newsprint spool onto the press, across the platens, through trimmers and folders, up, down and around the cavernous three-stories-high room on speeding conveyor belts to fly off the far end into neat stacks of completely finished and precisely folded newspapers? I can’t imagine watching that and not being utterly fascinated.

And that’s only the last step in a long process. The content has to prepared before those presses can roll. Hours of the best creative work from many, many people. Selling and creating advertising. Researching, writing, and editing the stories. Shooting and compiling the photographs. Designing and laying out each page, each issue. Innumerable decisions to be made at every step and all finally coming together on the presses.

My favorite quotation about the business came from Newsweek many years ago:

Publishing is a manufacturing process with an absurd number of variables.

It helped to remind me that no, I wasn’t crazy; it really was an impossibly crazy business.

Today is not a happy day for those of us who’ve worked in print. Another little piece of an eroding industry is being washed out to sea. It seems with every tide, another publication disappears. Of course the capabilities and opportunities offered by digital media are exciting. Who wouldn’t be delighted to give up a typewriter and embrace computerized word processing, for example.

So no, I’m not anti-progress. I’m not anti-digital. The Digital Age is amazing, and we’ve only begun to tap its potential. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

But today, just for today, I can’t help being very, very … sad.

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