Sep 21, 2010

I'm a paper hugger

I spend most of my day staring at dual flat screen monitors. The one to my left displays either Microsoft Outlook or Word, depending whether or not I’m on email. Sometimes when I’m lucky, I’m using MS Word to write something that could eventually make its way into actual print, in the form of a magazine, newsletter, brochure or advertisement. A paradox of sorts, the printed pieces are about technology - computer technology, to be exact. Meanwhile, to my right is always a web site of some sort. Right now it’s the San Bernardino National Forest web site because that’s where I wish I was at the moment – amongst the trees instead of the dual flat screens. Regardless how cheap, small, portable, and fast a PC, or a Kindle, or an iPad, or the next big thing gets; I prefer that my media began life as a tree. I’ll take paper pages over web pages any day.

As a kid I honed what little writing skills I now posses by reading mostly motorcycle magazines and Rolling Stone. I could even argue that in my junior high and high school years, I had two writing styles. One was that of a late ‘80s moto rag, with wit, humor, and passion, while the other was more of a long-winded rock ‘n roll inspired rant like you used to find in the pages of Rolling Stone. In college I began to branch out, but before I could get too far I found myself as a contributing writer for Cycle News and Dirt Rider. I thought I had hit the big time. I was, to quote Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe, almost famous.

But even before seeing my name in a by-line, or my picture as a test rider, when the thought of writing for a motorcycle magazine seemed like a pipedream, I took my magazine reading serious, like an education. There was no internet. It was just paper and ink and I loved it. My mom was forced to hide whatever magazine came in the mail on a given day because my dad and I would fight over first reading rights. Her method for preventing these quarrels was simple. Whoever asked about the day’s mail first got the first read. Nearly every day I’d come home and before she could ask me how school was, I’d ask her if the Dirt Rider came. Once we started getting Cycle News on a weekly basis, I knew that every Wednesday, sometimes Thursday, there’d be one waiting at home.

No matter which of the magazines it was, there was always great anticipation over who was going to be on the cover, and what stories would be inside. And because it wasn’t like the web where stuff changes hour-by-hour, sometimes that anticipation lasted for weeks.

As the internet continues to change the way writers write, readers read, photographers shoot, and unfortunately how magazines and newspapers layout, plan, and print their publications, I hope that the print media finds a respectable balance that will keep them afloat. Obviously, some of the damage has already been done. Many magazines have revised their style to more of a Web-like format. It’s not often you open up a magazine and see a page with words, a photo, and a caption anymore. Your average page now is cut up into little pieces – each piece a different “story” or a sidebar to the main story, which in itself is a fraction of what a good magazine article used to be. It’s no wonder so many people suffer from A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. Where does one begin when you open up a magazine and the layout looks like the graphic designer played 52 Card Pickup all over the page? Ever wonder why National Geographic doesn’t look that way? Probably because they’ve done an extensive story on how the human brain isn’t made to process unrelated tidbits of information that way. When I sit down to read a magazine I don’t want to feel like I’m an air traffic controller. That gives me a headache. I want the full story, not the Cliffs Notes.

I can go on and on about this topic until you are blue in the face. The irony is this: I went to school and worked hard so I can write things that get printed on paper, yet in order to do that, I have to spend all day in front of a computer.

Within the last two years more than 500 magazines have ceased publication. Doomed from the start if you think about it, PC Magazine and Computer Shopper were two that folded. Go figure.

Good old fashion paper.

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