Meanland: When does print matter?

NewspapersPicking up where I left off… though not with Nicholas Carr (at least, not immediately).

At the Wheeler Centre’s weekly lunchtime soapbox event Anna Krien addressed the question of whether newspapers still matter in the digital era. Krien’s central argument was that print newspapers needed to recognise and mobilise the features that make them unique and play to their strengths, rather than playing catch up with their online competition. Print newspapers can make a virtue of their relative slowness; can devote resources to research; can provide in-depth analysis and long-form reportage; can deliver a product that is worth the paper it is printed on (i.e. is worth its cover price and is worth whatever effort it takes to carry it from breakfast table to briefcase to beachside). In so doing, newspapers can leave the speedy work of ‘news coverage’ to the web. Printed papers, with their research, analysis and critique, can be the roughage in our media diet, giving us something to chew on: slow-to-digest information that complements the news snacks we get online.

It’s just possible that the same idea could be used in considering how to respond to talk of the demise of the novel in the digital era. That is to say, what if we proposed that it was the slowness of print books that provides a pleasure that online forms don’t deliver? In an essay in The Millions, Garth Hallberg notes that ‘the current profusion of long novels would seem to complicate the picture of the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span.’ Just like Krien’s proposal that the newspaper should seize its potential for (time-consuming) considered investigation, many novels make a virtue of their ‘bigness’ and ‘slowness’; make a virtue of being substantial food-for-thought.

Read the rest across at Meanland.

Caroline Hamilton

Caroline Hamilton is the McKenzie Research Fellow in Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. Her research concentrates on the small publishing and literary cultures of contemporary Melbourne.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays