Thursday, August 6, 2009

Staying with the times

I received a solicitation in the mail yesterday from the Columbia University Journalism Review, inviting me to take advantage of a very special offer that they had prepared especially for me. I was immediately excited, and hoped very much that they had prepared a very large shipment of chocolate chips. But before they would tell me what it was, they extorted me to feel the fire of indignation over “ethical scandals” going on every month at newspapers! OMG! WTF! And that the field of hard-hitting journalism was changing, very quickly, and I didn’t want to be caught adrift in it. No! In fact, I wanted to be very much a part of it. It transpired, after several more outrage-tinged paragraphs, that I could stay up to date with the lighting-fast changes in our world by subscribing to the Columbia Journalism Review, published at the snail-like pace of six times a year.

Here I required a pause in order to take in the staggering lavishness of this offer (prepared especially for me). Although I could not find where they included chocolate chips, it seemed to me that six issues a year “packed with information and research” on the livelihood and trends of journalism might be, possibly, a bit….stale. Surely there's a blog with more timely information. Things change quickly. I’m not sure the Columbia Journalism Review will be able to keep up with that, although how awesome would a copy of that look sitting on my coffee table, right next to Architectural Digest? Pretty snazzy, I’d say—pretty nouveau, pretty post-Middle Class modern. Especially with my two year old’s trucks and stray Goldfish pieces piled on top.

I recognize that it takes time to get compile meticulously researched articles and lay out austere and academic-looking design on glossy paper that make subscribers feel like that came from a school with weight (which never seems to be my alma mater, San Francisco State, but whatevs). But let’s not kid ourselves, Columbia School of Journalism! The impact of telling me that "Technology is changing the forms in which we deliver the news to the public--so rapidly that it can be frightening" is rather lessened when you then publish your Review six times a year. At six times a year, I’ll have already moved on to the New Thing! I am hoping very much the New Thing is something called Chocolatwitter Chipbook.

My point here is that times, they are changing--and I have seen this with my use of Twitter for my company in the last month. The goal is to stay up to date at blur-speed, and press releases and newsletters and direct mail must all change to keep up. Gone are the days when companies send out paper copies of these things (ahem, Columbia Journalism Review)--it's all by e-mail. Except e-mail is too cumbersome now. E-mail gets cluttered with inane requests and spam. What's required now is an even faster way to reach an audience, and here's where Twitter's potential really steps up. A colleague of mine recently commented that Twitter was a waste of our time; that he would think our audience didn't have Twitter accounts. Au contrare, mon frere. They do, and the morning he sent me that comment was the morning a major industry news outlet with 1,200 followers of its own on Twitter subscribed to my company's feeds. This is the way it is. It took me a long time to see Twitter and Facebook's business potential too--but I assure that it all boils down to their instant communication capacity.

Of course, Tweets don't look as good as a thick copy of Columbia Journalism Review does sitting on the corner of your desk, a last bastion of the print world, and more about the name than about the content. And that's sad to me--because I want CJR to maintain its good name (as I want all university or academic reviews) by staying with the times.*

* Times still include chocolate chips.

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