Accountability in Printing

Is it disappearing?

Yesterday, a Senate Committee heard the experts of the newspaper and journalism world testify on the subject of whether or not the industry needs a government bailout. Not surprisingly, the Huffington Post reports Arianna Huffington testified to the effect that the future of journalism lies not with newspapers, but on the web.

And while most of those who testified agreed, others, including David Simon (producer of 'The Wire'), and Committee Chairman John Kerry expressed a concern that the integrity and accountability of journalists might not survive the transition. After all, at a time when there's almost no difference between a news site and a personal blog, how can we know who's telling the truth, who's not being motivated by financial interests, and who's not messing around, just because they can.

Interestingly, we've got a similar situation in commercial printing these days. It wasn't too long ago that all print was purchase by professionals whose particular job was print buying. Printer buyers would be in close contact with printers throughout the printing process, and would normally proof a piece of printing before approving a run.

Although this print buying culture is far from extinct, the trend is towards an inexpensive, automated web-to-print world where anyone can order cheap printing online, have it proofed online, and shipped, without ever leaving their computer. The first time a business sees its investment is when the boxes arrive.

The question is, has this web-focused, less face-to-face system of print buying affected the quality of print negatively? And this provides a thought-provoking correspondence with the newspaper problem.

You could argue that without thorough, personal, by-hand checking (editing), and print buyer (journalist) accountability, you end up with a lower quality product. However, in the commercial printing industry, as in the news media industry, the customer at large has yet to complain. People are more interested in fast, inexpensive results (flow of information), than in meticulous quality.

So does this mean that web-to-print or web journalism are of lower quality than the efforts of the old school? You could almost draw the parallel here with the factory-made furniture we buy now, and the handmade pieces of the past. It's not a matter of better or worse, just one of difference.

But the concerns expressed by David Simon and John Kerry still apply, both to commercial and news printing. As we become increasingly detached from working face-to-face, we can't also dispense with the integrity and quality that has made both industries so powerful since the invention of the printing press.

David Simon is quoted in the Huffington Post saying, “High-end journalism is dying in America and unless a new economic model is achieved, it will not be reborn on the Web or anywhere else.” And he's right about that new economic model, but the onus is also on those of us within the industry to maintain our standards and the integrity of our product, now more than ever.

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