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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why Dave Eggers Loves Print -- And Why He Could Love Online News

Posted By on Thu, May 13, 2010 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge Hey Dave -- stop kvetching!
  • Hey Dave -- stop kvetching!
We've written several times about San Francisco author Dave Eggers' love affair with print newspapers, and how frustrated we are that someone with so much talent is still fetishizing a product made from dead trees.

It doesn't have to be that way. As the Nieman Journalism Lab's Megan Garber points out, the qualities that Eggers most values in print are completely transferable to the web.

After listening to Eggers speak at last month's American Society of News Editors conference, Garber highlighted four qualities that make Eggers prize the print newspaper experience:

1. Calm and Focus

"It's too distracting

online...there's always some button that wants you to click cat porn,"

Eggers said. "You try to read something, and it's flashing, it's

telling you to go somewhere else."

2. Scope and Depth

As

Garber put it, people "want journalism that has taken a little time to

marinate." Eggers suggested that print could survive by going in-depth

and "leave the Internet to do the more quick-thinking and

quick-reacting things." (Of course, this sounds less like a contrast

between mediums, and more like the contrast between blog and long-form

writing that Andrew Sullivan described masterfully in 2008.) 

3. Expertise

"There's

room there for the less experienced journalists, but mostly I want to

hear from the people that know how to get at the facts, that know where

the bodies are buried," Eggers said.

4. Beauty, Surprise & Expansiveness

Eggers doesn't

like looking at screens. "I think that it's a time to make the paper

form more robust and surprising and expansive," he said.

click to enlarge newyorktimes.jpg
As Garber very elegantly explains, these

are all principles that could be applied to the web -- and they are, in

fact, the exact principles that are motivating the next generation of

online publications in San Francisco.

Two examples that spring to mind are Pictory, an online magazine of user-submitted photos, and The Bold Italic, an experiment in first-person storytelling about local activities being developed by the Gannett newspaper chain.

Both

sites rely on gorgeous design and a calm, focused  viewing experience. The photographs or stories on each site fill the whole screen, and

there aren't distracting advertisements or flashing banners or many

pop-up windows. The Bold Italic

publishes only stories that are several thousand words long, and they

call their contributors "Bold Locals," highlighting their local

expertise.

Neither of these are news sites, of course, but

they are examples of how the reading experience that Eggers values in

print is being recreated online -- just as the buzz and openness of a

Twitter conversation, and speed of the web, were used to catalyze an old-fashioned print magazine last weekend.

In the comments section of her post, Garber noted

that she highlighed Eggers' remarks in part because debates about the

future of journalism often get caught up in arguments about print

versus web, when what they're really arguing about is what kind of

experience  people want.

And it turns out there are a lot of ways to re-mix the more traditional print and web experiences, from the Twitter-sourced 48 Hour Magazine, to the launch, last fall, of a German newspaper that personalizes news content, web-style, and then publishes it as a print newspaper and delivers it to subscribers' doors.

Not

that you can't love print for itself -- the ungainly pages of a big

newspaper, the smear of ink -- but it's unfair to divide print and web

into separate categories, as Eggers does, and ignore all the

interesting ways the mediums are influencing each other. 

Photo   |   David Shankbone

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Lois Beckett

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