When, after some 15 years, I finally left the Editor-in-chief’s chair at Germany’s Intro Magazin, the feelings of cold turkey you hear about hit home pretty much immediately. There I was, waking-up in the middle of the night sweating that I’d missed print deadlines that no longer hung over me...
Worse, the feeling persisted during the daytime. I absolutely missed those massive printed pages on my wall covered in last minute scribbled corrections, “absolute rubbish!”, “notice to me: fire the writer!”, “better cover image? you’ve got ONE hour!” and so on…
My friends assumed my life would be different. Surely I would be super happy now I was free of the horror of... deadlines? And it’s true that in our digital age most people don’t take deadlines at their literal best: time’s last, unmoveable frontier. For to cross that line would be death...
But you see, for me, those fixed marks on the calendar were freeing. I loved the schedule, the fixed timing that’s at the heart of the print business. No room for discussions, no ifs, or buts, just a really clear mission for everyone. But working now amongst so many who started out in the digital rather than print world I’m struck by the ease with which they postpone..., their lack of shame about the untimely uploading of that story, movie, all conducted as flimsily as an internet date...
This is the digital death of the deadline.
Not surprising from a German you might think, typically raving about a bureaucratic detail of the modern world for the first half of my editorial here. But of course this is not the main point.
My path from being Editor-in-chief of a print magazine like Intro (and its sadly-close-to-no-budget website) to being Editor-in-chief of a digital-only magazine like Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop, also charts the broader story of the old versus new journalism. It’s an ongoing saga of changing practices, new opportunities but new compromises too.
From the outside it all looks pretty similar: the writer’s job as cultural storyteller is still to experience the world with open eyes and ears, find the story, refine the angle, research the thing, and make it jump of the page (or screen).
In the old paper age this meant: good sources, compelling interviews, original quotes and great photography – and on one level digital has changed none of that but thrown in a few animated bells and whistles.
Many of us still love what print does: a beautifully composed page, striking photography, headline and an eye-catching, brain-stopping quote is still one of the most wonderful things in the world. I could look at them for hours and hours sipping on my single malt whisky and reflecting about every little detail. And of course let’s not forget that print was about sales... The money was there to make to make this work, not just potential-profit-platforms, or creative future accounting.
True, the best of today’s digital houses have managed to recapture some of that print impact in their output – particularly publications like the New York Times, The Guardian, TheNewYorker, Vice or Pitchfork with its cover splashes that really do go harder, faster, better, stronger.
That said: within the last months I learned - by having so much more time and personal resources to experiment with digital storytelling - how beautiful the dramaturgic landscape is you are able to paint by using not only written words and pictures but by also including filmed material, soundbites, songs and so on…
Also it is a super fantastic feeling to finally see people from all over the world read and watch your editorial pieces – within the first three months of our Kaput existence, we managed to cultivate already a very international readership (every fourth person who is visiting our site comes from outside German - and so diverse countries as Canada, Chile, South Africa, Japan, Australia…). Truly united in their interest for cultural journalism and Pop.
But it’s got to be said, contrary to all the early-internet utopianism that the “internet will be free! now everyone will be able to publish!” these above mentioned bodies have had to throw down some serious money to become these digital monsters. Dig into the figures behind, say, the Guardian or NYT’s investment in new digital storytelling technologies, and the ink soon runs as bloody red as in those Italian Giallo movies.
There are a few making actual money, it’s true. Vice has demonstrated that you can produce modern journalism and make money. They’ve proved that with (the right publisher) vision, tenacity and the right team it can be done – and hey, the world still needs and wants great stories, well-researched, and brilliantly delivered, 24-7, 365.
Footnote: I have to admit, I still miss those all-night-long, final deadline magazine sessions – it’s an old habit that dies very hard. So who knows, maybe Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop will pass through the rollers of a printing press at some point after all...?
More info on Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop here.