Are Magazines Dead or Do They Just Smell Funny?

It’s not every day that you get challenged by Jeff Jarvis. Very well then, I accept. However, I’m not sure that I’ll win. There is more of an olympic spirit posesssing me right now.

A bit of background: Jeff took three tweets (1, 2, 3) to attack a Newsweek article that basically says that the amount of people using the internet to do meaningful interactive things in their free time (Blogging, Wikipedia, News Commenting etc.) is shrinking and gives the reason simply as “sloth”. While I certainly wasn’t fully convinced by the article I think it did make some points that I think might be true, and that scared me.

Like Jeff, I have always been adamant that people love doing things for free and can be just as good as professionals. However, I could imagine with (a) the web becoming more and more mainstream and part of our lives and more and more people using it that don’t want to contribute to it and (b) the web growing larger and larger, becoming ever more differentiated – that the actual amount of peopleactive at any one site goes down.

However, that was not the challenge. The challenge was to convince Jeff that magazines are not dead. Well, I don’t think they are, at least not for a while. While I am a supporter of a lot of the Buzzmachine theories, especially the one that the future of Journalism lies in ecosystems and not monoliths, I just don’t want to go along with the one that in essence says that journalists should stop presenting finished articles to audiences – which is what magazines do.

While I would say that written articles should be open to debate, change, admittance of mistakes and dialogue between author and audience in the wake of their publication, I also believe there should be the right to say “I like this article I have written as it is; I will gladly correct factual errors or supplement interesting addendums but I don’t want to crowdsource the whole thing until it is no longer mine but the crowd’s”. I don’t think that this is arrogance, it is artistic freedom.

But journalism is not art, you say. Indeed, most of it isn’t. I worked in a news agency for a year and I found it fascinating how we produced truly mutable articles that might begin with a quick announcement at the start of the day and end up as a summary with a completely different focus at the end of it. Then, the newspaper journalists would go and change and mold it once again for publication. A kind of b2b-crowdsourcing, if you will. I gladly accept that this process should continue down to a level of mutabilty that is indeed not restricted to journalists but open to everyone. That’s why I think Newspapers are definitely dead. The kind of articles they present us with were made to be changed all the time.

However, magazine articles and indeed a magazine as a whole, are different. They are much closer to an artistic statement than news are. A good magazine’s contents are carefully curated, designed and sometimes even timeless. The articles are long statements about “big pictures”.

I, for one, like being presented with a magazine like this as a finished – or at least mostly finished (see above, factual errors) – product, whose life cycle is a bit slower than that of an online news article. It means that I can also take the time to enjoy it because I know it won’t change for a while and the authors like their articles as artistic statements that might be refuted (or refudiated) and should please spawn debates – but for now they should stand as they are.

And because I think that a lot of people would agree, I believe that magazines are not dead yet.

I do agree that magazines have to change, shouldn’t rely on print, shouldn’t rely on advertising, build a community around their brand etc., but I still can believe that a particular form of curated, bundled journalistic content with a longevity that makes it closer to art/literature than commodity, will persist.