Friday, 1 March 2013

A Watershed moment for printed media

I read some sad news today that hit me surprisingly hard – much harder than it should have done given all the other shit going down these days. But perhaps in light of all that other shit (unemployment, poverty, coldness - and that's just in our house), this seemingly low-level sad news was heightened. Then again, this particular bit of sad news is only happening due to all the other shit that’s screwing up our world economy.

In short, my favourite cinema (Watershed in Bristol) is no longer going to be printing a monthly brochure. Wait! Before you click away and read something about genuine tragedy, consider this information in context.

Production costs 

The monthly, glossy, A5 Watershed brochure is folding due to high print costs and the time it inevitably takes staff to produce. But it is also folding due to the variety of other means in which customers can apparently get the same information. In monetary terms, it makes no sense to spend a few thousand a month (I’m guessing) on printing and distributing a well-produced booklet, when customers can get up-to-the minute information that duplicates this online via computers and smartphones, as well as weekly email bursts.

Technology and times are changing, but not in the favour of printed media.

This makes me very sad. I’m a print journalist. I grew up in the 1980s and got my fortnightly news fix from Smash Hits. If anything happened in those intervening two weeks, I either heard about it on Radio 1 or simply waited 14 days for the next inky rag to arrive through the door. That was how it was, and I liked it. Times were stress-free. There weren’t a million news sources on 20 platforms all simultaneously wanting to invade my consciousness, demand my attention and suck at my energy and happiness.

As a print journalism student in the 1990s, I was taught paper proof marks, learned how to copy edit on paper, and how to research background information via libraries, telephone calls and old-fashioned face-to-face communication. As times changed, I moved with them (reluctantly), and now I’m as guilty as anyone – I have a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 4 and a Nexus 7.

Digital technology

I’m only 35. But I steadfastly refuse to enjoy interactive i-magazines, I’ve never read an e-book, and I prefer reading a printed newspaper to its digital cousin. All of these things combine to make me no longer want to be a journalist (my dream since childhood, pre-internet), and to find something ‘real’ to do. I passionately hate the way digital culture is killing printed media. A website on a glassy screen will never replicate the joy of turning the pages in a well-designed magazine.

Which is why I feel so sad about the demise of Watershed’s brochure. The editorial introductions from cinema staff are not reproduced anywhere on the website (although there are podcasts, which I’ve no desire to listen to). And the sense of authority and personality I feel from reading printed descriptions of the upcoming films in no way echoes the online version – even though the text is the same. I’ve considered why this might be, and firmly believe the immediacy of holding tactile, pliable, folding and malleable paper information far outweighs the tedium of staring at yet another screen. I stare at screens all day for work, the last thing I want to do when considering leisure (and going to Watershed is leisure) is stare at yet another bloody screen to enable me to achieve that down time.

A bit of autobiography 

I first lived in Bristol in 1996/7, when I was a goofy 18/19 year old pretending I’d moved out of home. I did a secretarial training course at Pamela Neave’s (it’s still there, near the Hippodrome, but no longer a college) and spent every spare hour in Watershed, where I was introduced to so many exciting films that would otherwise never have crossed my path. The monthly Watershed brochure (in those days an oblong booklet) was a treat that revealed my entertainment for the coming month, and I followed it religiously. And after I’d been to see the films, I cut out the relevant section from the booklet and pasted it in my nerdy scrapbook… along with the ticket and my handwritten review. (Don’t judge!)

When I moved back to Bristol in 2008, on my second night in the city I returned to Watershed and saw Somers Town. I hadn’t been to Watershed in more than 10 years, but it was reassuringly familiar and I felt right at home. 

In my first year back in Bristol I was doing an MA in Cinema Studies, which gave me the perfect excuse to go to Watershed several times a week and see pretty much everything they were showing, ‘cos it’s really cheap to go to a matinee with an NUS card! (And I’ve still got all those tickets, tons of them, stuck in another scrapbook.) All of those choices were informed by Watershed’s printed brochure.

An inferior experience 

For some reason, the first time I made a choice from the website sticks in my mind. I decided to go to Watershed on a whim, consulted the website as there was no brochure to hand, and saw Wendy & Lucy after also booking my tickets online (another first). I’m not making it up, the experience felt different and it felt lesser. For some reason, that cinema experience felt inferior to the others, even though the film was excellent.

So even now, in 2013, I continue to book in person or over the phone, and around the 20th of each month I start keeping an eye out for the new Watershed brochure, and it’s always a treat to be grabbed and savoured. 

I’ll miss the printed Watershed brochure. Obviously, I’ll get over it and move into the 21st Century with the rest of you. But what the folding of the brochure symbolises to me is the further marginalisation of centuries of printed media history – a format I wholeheartedly and unconditionally love. And this makes me feel very sad.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for bearing with me in this very indulgent post. It’s intended as a celebration of quality printed paper mediums, and a mini eulogy for Watershed’s brochure (1982-2013, age 31, RIP).

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jane

    First of all, thank you so much for your very kind words and for writing this thoughtful and poignant blog post. It is clear you understand and appreciate our reasons for no longer producing the current printed monthly brochure, but are understandably a bit sad about it happening. We love printed media too and we understand how people love having something in their hands, love reading it, keeping it and referring back to. However for all the reasons you listed and more, it has sadly become a necessity to stop making it.

    I'd like to reassure you that we will continue to have editorial introductions from Mark (and other members of staff too) on the website. We try to talk about the meaning and the why of what we do not only through the podcast, but through editorial-lead online content in the form of articles, interviews and videos. Online gives us many more opportunities to produce editorial content - so much more than the brochure.

    The way you feel and talk about the brochure and Watershed (loving the brochure, keeping a scrapbook, feeling at home here) reiterates our belief that Watershed belongs to you, our audience, and we are the lucky custodians of this wonderful enterprise that is Watershed. Although some people have been a little sad about the demise of the brochure, we have been overwhelmed by how supportive you have all been and that is truly humbling.

    While raising a respectful glass to the brochure, I'm also excited and positive about the opportunities ahead. Print hasn't gone forever. We'll still produce it for certain seasons or programmes, and of course we'll be printing our weekly listings too.

    Once again thank you for your brilliant words, and perhaps I might see you at our Open Meeting on the 19th to discuss it all in person?