Picture yourself on a two-lane road in a car that’s headed for an accident. A semi appears out of nowhere, forcing you to swerve into an embankment. As your bumper hits the grade and your car starts to turn over, you reflexively reach for the roof of the car to brace yourself, and time slows almost to a stop.
Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine, at that moment, trying to think of something else.
The YOU in this little vignette is what is derisively known as “old media” or “print.” That semi is the world—the global economy, a new matrix of communications technologies, changing consumer attitudes, and new ways of learning and knowing things.
The embankment is not your fault: It’s just a big pile of lousy facts—the high cost of paper, ink, and distribution.
“You” are actually a perfectly good person, exemplary even: You work hard to tell the truth, to hold public officials accountable, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” etc. You weren’t doing anything wrong, like driving drunk, or speeding, or texting with both hands.
Still, some people in the crowd that has gathered for this crash like to say it was your fault: You were arrogant, monopolistic, thoughtless, blind!
This is nonsense , like blaming slow horses for the advent of cars.
It’s not arrogance: You are just transfixed by the prospect of death, as anyone in your position would be.
Some of us have one foot in the semi and one in your car, which is, among other things, awkward.
I left Time, Inc. after twenty years to write books and consult. Now I’m at an online magazine called FLYP. If you came to our office you’d know me right away: I am the old guy working hard to learn everything, from everyone. I was lucky to leave print when I did, but I take no pleasure in watching the fall of “dead tree” media.
I feel bad for you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were great. And to watch you stare at death, unable to see your way up and over to storytelling heaven, where paper, ink and distribution are free, is in fact exquisitely painful.
The road there is plainly marked, but you wouldn’t be able to find it with a map and a compass and a tour guide. In the crisis of this moment, you can’t see anything but that terrible fate growing larger in the windshield.
Below are links to a couple more perspectives on this subject. Let me know your thoughts and ideas.
FishbowlNY: Trying to Find a Business Model That Works
Mediaite.com: Free Online Content? Steve Brill’s “Definition of Stupidity”