The Destiny of Print Media


 

By Edmond Y. Azadian

When influential publications such as the Christian Science Monitor or Newsweek decided to drop their print versions and survive in an online format only, many people began writing the obituary of print media. But when the New York Times released the global issue of its 200-plus-page weekly magazine (by “reimagining a magazine”) one is reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “the reports about my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

In the February 22, 2015 issue of the “reimagined magazine,” we read: “This magazine is 119 years old; nearly four million people read it in print every weekend. It did not need to be dismantled, sawed into pieces or drilled full of holes. Instead, we have set out to honor the shape of the magazine as it has been, while creating something that will, we hope, strike you as a version you have not read before … ideas about the relationship between print and digital and animating it all, a new spirit of inquiry that is subversive and sincere.”

We at the helm of Armenian publications have faced the dilemma of going digital or continuing still with the print version of our publications. When we approach potential donors to solicit funds, we are often told that Armenian publications are still in the dark ages and they have to be propelled into the digital era. Yet, when publications like the Times still explore “new ideas about the relationship between print and digital,” it means that Armenian publications are not out of pace with the new technological developments. Many weeklies or dailies have already stepped onto a stage where they provide a kind of amphibious exposure to the readership, both in print form and online. Technology has helped to enhance the print media and will continue to do so for some time.

There is also an unmentioned truth about the Armenian publications. No matter how much they try to appeal to the younger generation, the majority of the readership is mostly older in age, and tend to be those who have missed the digital fever. (Of course, like many diasporan publications, we do have a website [www.mirrorspectator.com] and a presence on social media.)

The definition mostly relates to diasporan publications. Two recent examples were AIM and Yerevan magazines, which decided to be exceptions to the pedestrian traditions of Armenian newspaper business, but did not survive, for reasons that have yet to be fully analyzed.

The dizzying pace of technology has emancipated the printing business from its dark ages, when 30 or 40 years ago, the Armenian publications were being typeset letter by letter with lead typefaces.

Armenian newspapers are published for the public good. They have not been created for profit. They are enterprises that exist for public service. That is why they remain vulnerable and sometimes they suppress their independence not to offend potential financial sources.

Publications in the US and Europe are mostly business ventures and the moment they begin to operate at a loss, they discontinue their existence. But there are some rare examples which pursue a specific goal, like the Armenian publications and they persevere in adverse conditions. Recently, Joe Nocera was writing a Times opinion piece (“New Republic’s Rebellion,” New York Times, December 9, 2014): “I asked Marty Peretz the other day whether his goal during the nearly the four decades that he has owned the New Republic was ever to make a profit. ‘Absolutely not,’ he bellowed.” Further down, Nocera continues, “Strange as this may seem, this has been the ‘business model’ for policy and political magazines. Harper’s Magazine is published by Rick MacArthur, and its losses are covered by the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation. For years, Mort Zuckerman, the real estate mogul, picked up the Atlantic losses.”

Coming to Armenian publications, the “business model” has consistently been the same, with unsung heroes covering the losses day in and day out.

The functions of Armenian publications include informing the public on matters that concern Armenia and Armenian life; building bridges between individuals and communities and above all, shaping public opinion focusing on issues that impact Armenia’s future.

The digital era was introduced in Armenia by Azg daily, which along modern equipment was able to recruit the best of the crop of the journalists. The daily not only pioneered the new technology in publication, but also Western standards of reporting and journalism. Many journalists were also trained by Azg to take responsible positions at other papers and television stations.

Today, many newspapers, sites, TV stations crowd the media space. The well-funded ones are sponsored by foreign agencies, which serve little news but much brainwashing. And indeed, why would foreign agencies support newspapers, websites and TV channels if the latter would not help push forward their agendas?

Some newspapers and websites are mostly dedicated to scandals, doing a disservice to the news business.

Magazine publishers have caught up with the new technology. Magazines and books uphold world-class standards. A young man in his early 30s, Pavel Sargsyan, began publishing a youth-oriented magazine called Menk Mer Massin, which has since broadened its scope to cover history and culture. He also undertook a medical monthly, PharmaArmenia. Many outstanding (and aspirational) magazines have sprung up competing with each other in design, content and pizazz. The most popular ones are Elle Style, De Facto, Ardin, Luxury, New Mag, among others.

Truly Armenia has been ushered into the splendor of the 21st century publication art and business.

Contrasting the proliferation of new magazines with Soviet-era publications, one can create a true caricature.

Print media, supported by new technology, seems to have a new lease on life.

It is interesting and reassuring to read the London Times Literary Supplement (January 30, 2015), whose back page editor JC writes, “The editor of the TLS Freelance column tells us that guidelines are issued to prospective contributors. They include: ‘no laments about the death of reading.’” The chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors, Sid Holt, stands a chance of making it into the column. “Many believe magazines are dying,” he writes in the foreword to Best American Magazine Writing 2014. “Magazines are not dying. Yes, the business of magazines is changing as it has changed before … but despite uncertain times, magazine journalism is thriving.”

Technology is a force and a force is neutral in and of itself. Only human beings can convert it into a blessing or a curse. Technology can land a probe on Mars or hack the emails of Sony and likewise, nuclear power can illuminate an entire metropolis or annihilate it such as Hiroshima.

It is hard to predict who can harness it properly and what direction the runaway technology may take. Predictions may even misguide us, as JC continues in his column: “The arrival of television sets in every living room in the 1950s was predicted to kill off radio. Result? More radio. In the 1970s, television was on the point of annihilating newspapers. Result? Thicker newspapers. We were warned in the ’80s that video spelled oblivion for big-screen movies. Outcome? The extinction of video.”

After all, the zigzags in the development of technology when we hear any prediction of the demise of print media we can always remember Twain’s statement that “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”