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Control report from Jim Montague: Print is old news

Aug. 27, 2021

I've been told repeatedly in recent years that many readers are devoted to printed books and other publications, and they won't give them up to consume onscreen equivalents. They prefer print because it engages touch as well as sight, and it feels more solid, reliable and permanent.

I sympathize with this view because, like most oldsters, I grew up reading all print, too. Plus, I've spent my entire career writing and editing print newspapers and magazines, and only about half of it producing content for websites, including text, video and audio formats.

However, my sympathy for print doesn't extend very far because, even though I saw hot type get replaced by cold type and computers, I can't say that I miss the old methods, and I sure don't think we should go back to them. No more cutting Compugraphic photo paper with X-Acto knives and waxing it to blue-lined paper templates, thank you very much.

Another problem with print is that it's heavy. Especially as I get older, I'm increasingly glad that I don't have to lug around all the magazines, books, press releases and press kits that I used to. Given the sales of e-readers, tablet PCs and smart phones in recent years, I'm pretty certain I'm not the only one who's happy about this.

However, the primary disadvantage of print that I don't miss is that it physically restricts useful content—only so many words will fit in a given number of pages. Granted, this forces a ruthless and often useful boiling down of content, so that only the highest priority text is included. I agree completely that we don't want to include material that blathers on about little or nothing, but traditional space constraints in print also mean that a lot of useful content gets left out, too. Over the years, I've had to leave volumes of it on the cutting room floor.

Of course, these print restrictions are lifted online. I'm free to include as much useful content, specific case studies, and expert comments as I can find on every topic, and our readers can take in as much or as little of it as they desire. The point is that online editorial gives us both far more flexibility, scope, variety and choice about what content to produce and consume.

Consequently, I've been able to research, write and edit cover and feature stories that can be three or four times as large as their counterparts in print. I know the risk of conveying baloney is high, so I try to be vigilant when interviewing by encouraging sources to provide specific comments and practical advice on the topics we cover. I know that I don't always succeed, but I believe we generally deliver a good selection of voices and experiences, whether they're talking about edge computing, data analytics, Internet, mobility, wireless or cybersecurity.

To make these larger stories easier to approach and digest, I've been gradually dividing them into multiple parts or episodes, which Control's digital engagement manager, Amanda Del Buono, can serialize over several days at www.controlglobal.com. This lets visitors read the sections that are most interesting to them, such as specific examples, system integrator strategies, supplier trends or concentrated steps for achieving gains. However, it also lets speakers and other sources spread their wings, and get a complete opportunity to weigh in on each topic. In addition, this allows readers to quickly scan what the group of sources in each story is saying, and take in whatever apparent consensus or common threads they've come up with.

In the long run, print is still fine, when needed. Similar to dietary fats and oil—and fossil fuels—they should be consumed sparingly. Luckily, they sure don't need to be the main dish anymore. Consequently, more of the print, paper and pulp can remain as trees, just as the silver used for chemical photography can be used for something else or stay in the ground until needed.

Frankly, whether it's print, electronic, video or audio, I don't care what editorial format we use. All that matters is that ideas, advice and other useful content gets across from the sources to the readers, viewers or listeners.

About the author: Jim Montague
About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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