Print journalism teaches us the importance of precision

My start in journalism was at a Web site. This experience is increasingly common today. But I had long anticipated working on a print publication, as that was really the only type of outlet discussed in my magazine journalism class.

My start in journalism was at a Web site. This experience is increasingly common today. But I had long anticipated working on a print publication, as that was really the only type of outlet discussed in my magazine journalism class.

We had rudimentary classes on how the Web would affect our daily responsibilities, but I don't recall anyone prognosticating the dynamic effect the online environment would have on all aspects of journalism.

Now, of course, every print publication is diving headfirst into the digital domain, offering podcasts, videos, blogs, and other conduits to its important audiences. PRWeek is just as enthusiastic about the space as any other publication. And while I personally have found great opportunities in the Web environment, I am as excited for the opportunities still offered through print publications. You should be, too.

Admittedly, the much-cited justifications for the viability for print are used for a simple reason: They're obviously true. You can't read Web sites in the subway (though you can read RSS feeds, and wireless connectivity is on the way); print publications are easier on the eyes; everyone wants something tangible to hold in his or her hands; and a spread provides a better opportunity to display a story's expanse than six page breaks online.

But those aspects seem to me, more cosmetic than effectual. They make things easier, but they don't necessarily make things better. So why should we care about print?

1. The judgments of journalists and readers keep things in context. The print issue takes the news of the world into a substantive, concise solution. No print title can ever encompass all the news that's fit to print (sorry, The New York Times), but it can constrain it.

2. In each story, we have to reach the core elements in a shorter space. This benefits all, providing both writers and readers the challenge of constructing arguments in shorter spaces and times. The world still revolves around the elevator pitch, which is what a print story resembles. I have never encountered a piece written above word count - including Op-Eds - that couldn't do with a fat trimming.

3. Deadlines help us all. I know very well that the "unofficial deadlines" of a Web property are frenetic and unforgiving. I know very well that a publication that wants relevancy online needs to publish as close to instantaneous as possible. But those online deadlines that never begin nor end don't teach us much. Print deadlines are real. They control the situation. There's no room to follow up - or amend - later that day. Print deadlines give us a structure by which to operate.

Will all content move to the Web? Probably not. If you ask any hardened journalist this question, they will likely say it will never happen, citing the cosmetic reasons that most offer. But it is the underlying, important explanations discussed in this column that should ensure print stays viable forever.

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