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Is This the Future of Print Media?

Here's an interesting idea: "[For] people around the world, who need to and want to consume information, whether it be in developing countries or emerging countries, newsprint is still going to be a main mechanism for information for years to come." So says Joshua Karp, founder of the new hybrid print-digital media service, The Printed Blog. The service, debuting in Chicago (and expanding to New York and other cities after), will take localized web content and print it out on broadsheets distributed in train stations, twice a day. (I take this moment to point out that Chicago is part of neither a developing nor emerging country.)It's an interesting experiment, and I certainly applaud creative new approaches to publishing in the digital age; Lord knows we need them. But my guess is it's a flawed one. While many have argued that the future of journalism is local, limiting the volume of content to a handful of pages seems like a mistake (as does basing your revenue model on classified ads-newspapers lost that bid, embarrassingly, to Craigslist almost a decade ago). And while there's something to be said for curating the mess that is the internet, I doubt the "nine people on staff, mostly unpaid interns" at The Printed Blog are going to be the ones to do it in the most satisfying way. In other words, if I'm getting off the train at Wicker Park-one of the three initial drop sites for The Printed Blog-and want to know where to eat, or what do to, I'm not sure I'm going to find the best answer, or the one most suited to me, on three 11 x 17 pages. I'd be better served whipping out my smart phone: Google can tell me exactly where I am, while showing me Wikipedia entries on items in the vicinity; Flickr can show me what interesting photographs have been taken nearby; Twitter can tell me what people are talking about in the area. And those are just the big ones. (Great article in Wired this month about someone living a totally Location-Aware lifestyle).Print can't continue to exist if it's primary function is to serve as some sort of civilized ritual. That's awkwardly nostalgic in the face of superior distribution mediums, and problematically indulgent in the face of how much waste we all produce. If we make something, it ought to be worth keeping around. There's a reason The New York Times increased their print run by 75 percent the day after the inauguration (and sold papers in advance at several times the newsstand price): people are going to keep it around. They're going to frame it, or put it in a shoe box and show it to their grandchildren. It's a useful artifact of an important moment. It's the same reason we print our own magazine on heavy stock and try and frame our stories as elements of a time capsule for the two month period during which each issue is created. (And it's the same reason this project is one of the best I've seen recently.)
There's an argument to be made for collecting, and archiving physical things (this is a great one). But I don't see much of an argument to be made for the success of The Printed Blog, despite how much I like the impulse to figure out a way to take the scattered content of the web and present and distribute it in a useful way. So is this the future of print media? I doubt it. But it's also not the last thing creative people will try.

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