If you didn’t read the publisher’s note, please go read it now. It gives the whys behind The Reader transitioning from a weekly newspaper format to a monthly magazine format. The shift in publication calendar in January means the end of the longest-running alternative weekly newspaper in Omaha history.
I make it sound bleak. In fact, the change will be looked upon as an improvement by many. Moving to monthly will mean a return to the long-form journalism that used to be a hallmark of this newspaper years ago, before advertising began to shrink the editorial hole, before everyone cast their attention away from the printed word toward the electronic shit-heap we call the Internet.
Needless to say, The Reader‘s 2015 transition also will include an enhanced online experience at thereader.com, and our hero, editor/publisher John Heaston, promises daily and real-time online updates rather than merely updating the website’s content once per week.
It also means that after more than 500 entries and about 500,000 words, this weekly column, which began on Dec. 2, 2004, will be no more. No doubt Over the Edge will be back in the new monthly edition of The Reader, but we’ve yet to determine if this screed will have a weekly place at thereader.com. Or should I say, I have yet to decide.
Because writing for online publications just ain’t the same as writing for the printed word. I have been asked to contribute to other online-only pubs in the past, including a couple “national” blogs, but the appeal of writing for digital just wasn’t there. For years now, anyone with a computer and access to the Internet has been able to set up their own “online publication.” I include myself in that digital cacophony. Lazy-i.com, my personal music website, has been online since 1998, but only because back then The Reader didn’t have a website, and it was a convenient way to prove to record labels that I did, in fact, review their lousy records.
Whether it’s online news sites, blogs, Twitter or Facebook, anyone can write and “report” and criticize to their hearts content to a potential world-wide audience, all at the cost of nothing but time and electrons. The Internet is the ultimate vanity press.
Writing for a printed publication is different. A real printed publication — one that exists on paper — requires a commitment of money and other costly resources. It is tangible. And having your words published in one means someone thought enough about what you’ve written to invest in taking your words and physically printing them on paper thousands of times and then physically distributing that paper so others can read it, hold it, pass it along or crumple it up and throw it away.
There is a sense of commitment and permanence that comes with the printed word — with print publications — that simply doesn’t exist in the instant, online, disposable, short-attention-span world of the Internet. In the world of journalism, putting ink on paper is a commitment to the truth. It means someone will stand by what you’ve written long after the lights go out.
That is why the printed version of The Reader is so important. When it finally got to a point where he needed to make a decision about the future of The Reader, John could have done what so many other weeklies, magazines and other publications have done. He could have folded up his tent and walked away from the physically printed word and dedicated his resources solely to an online publication. Instead, he’s made a commitment to continue printing on paper.
It’s a daring choice. It’s risky. It’s bold. On the other hand, some will say it’s stupid. They’ll point at the Internet and say, “Why bother?” These are the same people who will tell you they no longer buy physical record albums (if they ever did). They don’t watch “TV” because they stream programs and movies on their tablets. And they haven’t held a physical, printed newspaper, magazine or book in their hands in years. With the internet, they’ve had no reason to.
It’s up to John and his staff to give them a reason. And knowing what he has in mind for this new monthly publication, I think he will.
To the faithful who have been with us over the years and don’t want to see it change, don’t worry. You’ll still get the news, features, columns and writing you’ve come to love in the weekly version of The Reader. But in addition you’ll get insightful, in-depth reporting on topics and issues that touch your lives in a way you won’t find anywhere else — in print or online. Wait and see.
Hopefully it will be enough to keep the presses rolling. Maybe it won’t. Maybe we’re headed to a future where the printed-on-paper word is doomed to go the way of the dinosaur, where every bit of news and information and “media” will be received via the Internet.
That future is up to you. And when it comes to the future of the printed version of The Reader, it’s in your hands, literally. You can either pick up a copy and pass it around and tell other people about it (including its advertisers), or you can leave it in the stack and keep on walking.
Hopefully, we’ll continue to give you a reason to hold a copy of The Reader in your hands. But as they say, the future is yet to be written…or in this case, printed.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org