That is the question
One of the workshops at the NYC Grassroots Media Conference was entitled: "Dead Trees: Small Magazines and Newspapers in the Digital Age."
Sitting on the panel were Chris Anderson, Francesca Firoentini, Juana Ponce de Leon, and Josh Breitbart. It was in a way an autopsy of recent organizational deaths in this independent media community. And also a discussion of what happens in their wake.
From a publishing standpoint, everyone is asking whether there is a point to words printed on paper. Publishing does not seem to be a super-robust business. The digital age is a bitch. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch worries about it. At the place-I-try-not-to-mention-where-I-spend-most-of-my-weekdays a consciousness of this question exists. Hell, even the New York Times worries about it.
At the end of last year, in the world of books there was the bankruptcy of the book distributor Advanced Marketing Services
In the independent small press universe there were the collapse of the Independent Press Association and the closure of Clamor magazine. This closure, probably among many others I have not heard about.
Sad times for Dead Trees.
But that's not exactly what I am here to talk about. The question posed in this workshop was: If print is as dead as everyone says, why do it? It costs a lot. It's hard to do. And it's hard to do without losing money. One person at the workshop recounted how she works on a journal that lost money for 40 years. 40 years at a loss.
There was some lively discussion on things including the Digital Divide, but no clear answers by the end of the session. But before we cleared outta there, a young woman stopped us and wanted to know the answer. She creates a zine. The question of the relevance of dead trees hits at the heart of the labor of her love. "I have to know!" she said.
Chris Anderson replied that the question to ask yourself is: "Does doing it on Paper create social change in a way that is different from other media?" He extended this question out further to this question: "How does media create change?"
How does media create change?
Media introduces you to people. To ideas. To groups. To organizations. To activities. To events. To situations.
It can introduce you to allies and help you identify enemies.
It can introduce new words into your vocabulary. Words that represent new ideas or refine old ones.
Media can make you feel. It can make you cry. It can make you angry. It can make you laugh.
It can make you ask questions.
Change the questions that you ask yourself.
Change the questions that you ask of the world around you.
Change your mind about what questions are worth asking to begin with.
It can change the way you think. Change the way you dream.
Media can change your expectations.
Change what you consider to be an acceptable answer, or an acceptable standard.
It can rearrange the furniture in your head.
Or help you redecorate it entirely.
And when that happens to you who knows what solutions you will find.
Solutions to the problem.
Answers to the question.
Who knows what you will say,
What you will do.
And if you, then why not someone else.
If that person then why not another and another.
I do not know how media creates change.
But I do know that change happens and Media plays its part.
As Francesca Firoentini said - "It's the radical tradition."