Digital and Print Both Have Their Place

The following director's report was delivered by EPA's former Executive Director Doug Trouten during the organization's annual business meeting, May 11, 2012.

The board has asked me to give a sort of “State of the Industry” report. And frankly, our industry is under siege. We keep hearing that people aren’t reading any longer, that newspapers and magazines are dead, that we’re headed to a digital-only future. We’re scrambling to make the transition from print to digital, and worrying that we’ll be left behind.

Some of us have boards that are saying, “Let’s dump the print edition and just do everything online. We can lose our printing bill and our postage bill.” But what isn’t always seen is that we can also lose a bunch of our readers. Because for all of the hype of digital, there’s nothing quite like having a tangible product show up in your mailbox.

Print does things that digital doesn’t. If you haven’t read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, I recommend it. In it, he presents a lot of well-designed research demonstrating that when people read online, they understand less and retain less. There’s a fascinating study showing that the more links there are in an on-line article, the less well people understand it.

Why? If you think about it, the Internet is one big distraction machine. Every time  you look at a web page, you’re bombarded by visual cues suggesting that  you really should be looking at something else. Each link, each alternative, exacts a cost in attention. As a group of people with a life-changing message that needs to be heard, and understood deeply, there’s a lesson here for us.

Digital has its place, but so does print. Each does certain things well. We need to be seizing the new opportunities that exist online, through social media, and through mobile devices. Many of this year’s workshops address that very need. But at the same time, we don’t need to back away from print. Reading on-line is like exchanging text messages with a friend – reading print is like sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee. Both have their place.

Paul wrote, should the ear say, because I am not the eye, I am not part of the body? In the same way, should print say, because I am not digital I am not part of the 21st century? Of course not. Expecting digital media to replace print is like expecting the eye to replace the ear -- both have their place.

Digital platforms are a great extension of the work God has called us to do – sharing His love through the written word. The media world is changing, and EPA is changing too. We will be increasingly embracing digital media, as our members are increasingly called upon to share the greatest story ever told across multiple platforms. But we remain people of the word, whether we’re illuminating phosphors or smearing ink on dead trees. We may be an indusry under siege, but I believe our future is bright.