TEXT as a machine

Details, FHM and Zoo are joining Nuts and Loaded in a string of decisions by major publishing houses to close down their gents magazine outlets (n1). Advertisers are rushing to move their money away from print and so even the most prominent publishers are trimming down the number of their publications to focus on a catalogue-like experience for the fashion industry (n2). GQ, the crown-jewel of Condé Nast is expected to double its Style publication to consolidate and retain the revenue from the fashion advertisers (n3).

“Consumers love the magazine. It’s not fair or right.”

The apologetic words of the CEO of Condé Nast in relation to the Details shutdown frame the situation rather well (n4). Expensive toys and naked women are now just as popular among men as they ever have been, but not on paper, thank you. Gents magazines at large tend to be text-shy and picture friendly. Their low-IQ content is just that much better looking on a touchscreen. That they would be the first victims of the digitalization of journalism was inevitable.

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Futurists and TED speakers have been announcing the end of journalism for some time now (n5). However, the downfall of gents magazines has less to say about the future of journalism than it would seem. Images and videos inspire feelings, but cannot get across more complex messages, because they are illusive and confusing. A one and the same image can mean many different things to different people. The move online is an inevitable trend, but the words should not disappear.

Making predictions about future usually requires a fair amount of arrogance.

No one can say with certainty what will become of journalism, but there are trends which give a glimpse of things to come. Sure. Washington Post is a nice trophy of an achieved billionaire, but there may be more behind Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of the failing newspaper. His Chinese reflection, Jack Ma is expected to buy similarly troubled, if profound South China Morning Post (n6). Is it possible that they see a trend emerging?

For all its transformative power, digitalization has left journalism nearly untouched. Sure, there has been a shift online, but virtually nothing has changed about the form of newspapers and magazines (n7). Written text has been merely lifted from the paper and sticked on the digital screen. It remains just as passive a medium as it was on the paper. For no good reason, written words retain a form constrained by the limits of print media. For centuries, news have been published as passive unalterable text that reported on events. Any change required a new article being written and printed. Moving online, the text may have been enriched by a creative use of images, video and audio, yet it still retains the form of dispatch – written and conceived of for a one-off use. At best, text in its present form would feature links and references to other related stories, so that one can skim through many interrelated strings of text, searching for the bits that are relevant to him.

To truly digitalize journalism means to dissect strings of text into interactive particles. Sentences and paragraphs should be conceived of as reactive, adaptable and accumulative pieces of content. In the first instance, written news will be evolving; articles will be consuming latest updates and incorporating them to remain relevant. Using data stored by webbrowsers about the search and purchase history of a user, the text could react and adapt in response to who is looking at it. Beyond this, the text will become interactive. Just like Xbox Kinetic can scan players movements to transpose them into digital field, smartphone cameras could scan our eyes, predict and understand the moments of emotion and adapt visual aspects around text to enhance our experience.

Men’s magazines were the first victims of digitalization, because their low-IQ content is just that much better looking on a tablet screen. Nudity with short strings of text has become interactive in a “swipe-able” touch screen format. Despite the first impressions, this is not the sign of a downfall of journalism, but rather of technology that could make the written word more engaging.

n1 – n2 – n3 – n4
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3322084/The-death-lads-mag-FHM-Zoo-join-Loaded-Nuts-closing-men-turn-away-magazines-smartphones-instead.html

n1 – n2 – n3 – n4
http://www.wsj.com/articles/conde-nast-to-shutter-details-magazine-1447869601

n5
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-rosenblum/the-end-of-journalism-as_b_8358296.html

n6
http://nytlabs.com/blog/2015/10/20/particles/

n7
http://fortune.com/2015/11/23/jack-ma-newspaper/

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