Why do we still need magazines in this day of unlimited digital access? What role do they play in communicating and connecting the world despite the open portal of the Internet?
These are some of the questions that I have been contemplating recently in light of certain events that have taken place on the world’s stage, and in my personal experience, over the course of the past few months. From the transitioning of Caitlyn Jenner, to gay marriage, and last but not least to the public display on social media of the killings and beheadings of people whose only guilt is that they happen to be from a different faith or lifestyle, media coverage differs greatly. This happens when you have checks and balances to figure into the equation.
Before you say anything; yes, I know that I’m biased, but at least I base my bias on reality and things that I see. This is not a sentimental or emotional rant, but rather something that is based on facts that I can back up and actually show you, for those of you who are interested in seeing the evidence.
Having said that, let’s start with the news and how social media seems to not have a single civil responsibility to present a fair and just reporting of the stories that make our headlines today. It’s as if the world belongs to them and they can say and show whatever they want and bring their message very easily to an audience; whether it’s invited information or not. It comes to you through your email, phone and search engines that provide you with so much unwanted junk, you forget why and what you were originally seeking in the first place.
When visiting some of the social media apps that are out there, it amazed me how much people can get away with, without anybody calling them out on their lack of responsibility. Yet, I see more rather than less of the unfiltered content. Yes, we live in this globally-free world where if someone wants to display an inappropriate picture of his or herself or someone else, the option is there without any apparent reproach from the site who governs the content.
Now it’s not as though social media first introduced pornography or lewd pictures to the masses; there have been porn magazines and photos of naked individuals for generations. It’s not a new concept, by any means. But the difference is you – the buyer – the consumer, made the conscious decision to go out and buy those types of publications and the content provided in them, while ultimately the same premise as what the web sends out (most times without audience provocation), the content within these magazines was edited and curated and the photos professionally taken. Even if it was pornography – there was still a sense of responsibility with what was being published, as there is today in adult magazines.
And it wasn’t like someone didn’t know what they would be getting when they intentionally went out and purchased any given adult magazine; using the word “adult” pretty much told them all they needed to know without skimming the contents.
Today, you can go to a site simply to connect with a friend or post your own comment about something important and within a matter of seconds you’re viewing porn videos, ribald images or language that would make a sailor blush. (No offense meant to any of my sailor friends out there; but you get my point).
The magazine industry has never been as invasive or presumptuous as to pummel your senses with any type of content that you didn’t ask for. From the ISIS beheadings to a college-aged individual decapitating a hamster with his mouth, which happened here at the University of Mississippi where I teach, social media sites have bombarded us with vile and unasked for content almost incessantly. Short of deleting one’s account, there’s no way to avoid the debacle of debasement that awaits you on media that has been wrongly termed “social.”
It seems to me that there is a dark, dark side of social media that cloaks itself in the light-hearted and convenient banter that we are able to join with just the touch of our fingertips. Yet, a lot of the time, the easy accessibility and casual connections cause people to find a mirror image of that darkness within their own psyches, especially when there are no repercussions to speak of.
Furthermore, although not on the same level as the social responsibility that’s missing from social media, we also have to deal with all of the unwanted ads and popups that continuously browbeat us while we are on the web trying to read or do research or simply catch up with family and friends.
These irritating little cyber snits are there to tell us that they’re following us stealthily and uninvited as we go about our online business, in order to shove ads for things we do not want or need down our throats simply because we clicked or read something inadvertently online. It’s that intrusiveness of the advertising; that intrusiveness of the selling model in general that can be so annoying.
And I know the critics are going to say it’s like the old days with television; you don’t like what you’re watching, you can turn it off. You don’t like what you’re reading or seeing on social media, turn it off or better yet, stay off of those sites and delete those apps. Yes, you can do that, but that just allows the “anything goes” mentality to continue without any liability or obligation from the sites themselves to justify their shocking content. They’re free and clear to debase, demoralize and demean people and places all they want.
And that just ups the selling points for magazines as far as I’m concerned, especially with this global movement of positive publications that are coming into the marketplace such as “Remarkable” from the Netherlands that just arrived in the United States. It’s a magazine about people doing more remarkable things and less harmful things during their lifespan. Or magazines like “Executive Life” from Lebanon, which is more of a cause and more about the good things in life, or “The Escapist” that comes from Monocle magazine, which is devoted to enjoying life, traveling and seeing the bright side of things.
Another name for that type of curation could easily be social responsibility. When you have those editors, those people curating all that information; it makes a difference in the quality of the content. The same cannot be said for the dark portals of the Internet and the digital apps; oftentimes the word quality doesn’t even exist.
Take one social media smartphone app, for example, that allows people to read and compose content anonymously within a 5-mile-radius, in the attempt to make the connection more relevant and personal. Well, it’s a given, the things one can read on this app are definitely personal all right, but I’m not sure how relevant they are when it comes to informative content.
The dark side of social media is something we are all responsible for in one way or another, either by adding to or subtracting from the black vortex. And while I am not opposed to using online access or from enjoying the convenience and wide-opened expanse of knowledge that’s available; I do think there should be a light showing the way as we all consume what’s out there. Being socially responsible isn’t limiting our advantages at all; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Weeding out the things that are taking over the garden is the only way to keep it healthy and growing so we get the best of the crop.
That’s why we will always have magazines and why we will always have that documented, curated, edited permanent print that we will continue to proudly display on our desks, coffee tables, night stands and/or take to the beach without ever being surprised by anything less than the great content and the great experience that flows from the content.
And, that in short, my friends, is why we will always have and need magazines and other printed material today, tomorrow and forever more…
Samir A. Husni is a professor with the Meek School of Journalism and New media. He is “the country’s leading magazine expert,” according to Forbes ASAP magazine; “the nation’s leading authority on new magazines,” according to min:media industry newsletter; and “a world-renowned expert on print journalism,” according to “CBS News Sunday Morning.” The Chicago Tribune dubbed him “the planet’s leading expert on new magazines.” Husni holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas.