I can’t remember where I first read it, but I’ve never been able to forget it: “Editorial writers are the people who come down from the hills after the battle is over to shoot the wounded.” It’s also an admonition to columnists, consultants, analysts, bloggers, and anyone else in a position to influence others by the content and the shading—intended or inadvertent—of what they write. To avoid deserving the charge, we need to approach our task with balance, tact, and, yes, a measure of humility. Here, on the final day of the old year, are some self-imposed rules for reporting and editorializing in the year that starts tomorrow.
Spend less time opining about trade associations. Sure sign of a slow news day: succumbing to the urge, yet again, to ask whether the industry has too many trade associations, what their roles are, why their services always seem to overlap, etc. But who, exactly, is asking us to ask? Just as there’s a market for printing products and services, there’s a market for what trade associations purvey—and those who trade in that market, not those who observe it from the detached vantage points of mastheads, are the ones who get to declare what the market should and shouldn’t be supporting. Last time I checked, there was intense duplication of effort among printing companies, equipment manufacturers, and, er, b-to-b media publishers. Let’s leave it to the associations’ members to decide, with their dues and their participation, which programs suit them best.
Get real on the subject of print industry employment. Has anyone been following the thread started a few weeks ago by “plategirl” at PrintPlanet.com? A CTP operator with 20 years experience, she says she’s earning all of $7 per hour: “Plus I get zero benefits, and my bonus this year was a $2 box of chocolates.” Her case, as respondents to the thread point out, isn’t typical, but it raises questions that seldom get an airing in the trade media. As journalists, we write with sincerity and zeal about the need to promote graphic communications as a career path, but do we realize what a hardscrabble road it can be for many in the industry’s rank and file? When was the last time anyone quoted an official of a printing trade union—yes, they still exist—or wrote about print industry labor issues except from management’s point of view? While we were bustling about at trade shows and vendor events, what really was happening to the employment scenario that we so often paint in such beckoning colors? Ask plategirl : “I love my work but am hanging on financially by skin and tendon, and I think I need to leave the business.”
Answer back when those who should know better misrepresent what’s happening to offset litho. To colleagues who make a habit of drawing attention to offset’s loss of market share in unrelievedly sepulchral tones: a little more perspective, please. Yes, the more we come to depend on the Internet, the less we rely on paper—I see it in my own information-consumption patterns every day. Yes, when we do opt for paper, digital output makes better sense for short runs, enterprise documents, and jobs where variable information can be used. But exactly when did the curtain ring down on the power of mass-produced, mass-distributed print with static content and traditional attributes? My mailbox is as full of catalogs, DM, and periodicals as ever; the bookstores I visit are still bursting with volumes; there’s almost no product or service of which I can avail myself that isn’t supported at some point, in some way, by conventionally printed material. Moral: the high-volume, ink-on-paper, print-and-distribute business model continues to get the job done. Offset lithography, a technology born in 1903, seems to have a great deal of work cut out for it in 2008. Although our ears sometimes ring with claims to the contrary, no bells are tolling for conventional production.
Keep an eye on those numbers. Tightened credit...a weak dollar...negative spillover from mortgage defaults...flat wages...rising personal debt...declining confidence...instability and turmoil in many parts of this troubled world. One doesn’t have to be an economist to spot factors that could spell financial distress for the industry in 2008 if they converge in trends that depress the advertising and marketing budgets on which printing so heavily depends. Fortunately, the industry has ready access to the insights of WhatTheyThink’s Dr. Joe Webb, NAPL’s Andy Paparozzi, PIA/GATF’s Ron Davis, and others whose analysis can help us to foresee the economic future to the extent it can be foreseen. We surely will need their guidance in 2008, when the economic news will be the story behind every story we file.
Continue to learn from the best minds in the business. Learning about the printing industry in order to write about it—could there be a better formula for continuing education than that? Not in this poster’s opinion. To the printers, vendor representatives, subject-matter experts, teachers, and others who have been so generous with their knowledge, many, many thanks for making my job a never-ending source of fascination and fulfillment. Best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous New Year!