Why do we cling to print?

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The figures are in and print is dying. A report from the Audited Media Association of Australia, which canvassed national newspaper sales over the June quarter, revealed plummeting figures across the board. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Monday to Friday sales fell by 17%. Weekday sales of The Daily Telegraph stared down a double-digit drop of 11.2%. The Australian took a hit of 9.8%.

The periodicals that litter our lecture theatres and neatly-trimmed lawns remain insulated from the pressures facing the rest of the print world – in part because sales, and profits, aren’t necessary endeavours. So why then, on a campus of laptops and tablets and smartphones, teeming with digital literates, do we keep pulping our forests and sating landfill?

Honi Soit prints 4000 copies a week. Editor Lucy Watson approximates about 3000-3500 are picked up each week, though she notes that is a “conservative estimate.” Their website, by comparison, receives between 4500 and 5000 views over the same period. Its tentacles are extensive. Only 65% of readers are based in Sydney; Watson informs me that the website attracts more traffic from New York and London than it does from Hobart.

Rebecca Dang, editor-in-chief of The Sydney Globalist, a bi-annual foreign affairs journal, suggests print has a “personal, even social, character.” Available on-campus and online, Dang highlights the unique intimacy that physical mediums hold: “you can annotate it, draw on it, and more importantly, you can take it with you… [to] social settings” where issues and ideas can be more readily discussed.

Like clockwork, copies and copies of Honi are churned out each week; the USU’s Bull, each month; and The Sydney Globalist, twice per year: as a campus, we’re drawn to print. Perhaps it’s the same nostalgia that lured us all to the sandstone. Watson recalls the excitement that followed her first published piece and recounts the minutiae of picking up her copy, taking it home and showing her family. “I can’t put it into words,” she says.

Digital media has its own champions too. Bull Editor Eleanor Gordon-Smith believes that “student media needs online outlets.” Gordon-Smith remains sceptical about the relationship between print and student journalism. “I don’t think [it’s] a product of the medium,” she tells me, “I think it’s a product of students’ interest in their environment and in each other.”

There is, also, political value in print. Fellow Honi editor Rafi Alam contends that print journalism is traditionally deployed by the mainstream press as a form of “propaganda” meted out through “sensationalist covers.” Student journalism, however, has “the reverse effect…it’s alternative journalism without having to go online to seek out alternative news.”

I ended our interview by going off-script. I ask Watson if she believes digital media will one day totally eclipse and replace inky student newspapers. Her cheer dampens, “I hope not,” she says.

And neither do I.

 

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Justin Pen

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