Sunday, March 15, 2009

Newspapers, Education and the PRinternet

Full disclosure: This is the same post as I did this morning at ToughLoveForXerox where I follow the printing industry. Only the title has been changed. Over there it's called Lessons from the Past and the "PRinternet."

This morning I found an unusual post by Tim Windsor at the Neiman Journalism Lab. He said,
I try not to do too many of those “You’ve got to read this” posts. But you’ve got to read this. Clay Shirky:
So I did.

Usually when searching through the internet you find blog posts, such as you find at this blog. Every rare once in a while you come across an essay. This is a very good essay.

Shirky says we are living through the 21st century replay of the 1500's. I agree. Last time it was a network of print enterprises.. This time it will be a network of networks of print output, both machines and print enterprises. That's the reality I'm trying to capture with the term "The PRinternet."

Below are two excerpts from Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable .
Elizabeth Eisenstein’s magisterial treatment of Gutenberg’s invention, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, opens with a recounting of her research into the early history of the printing press. She was able to find many descriptions of life in the early 1400s, the era before movable type. Literacy was limited, the Catholic Church was the pan-European political force, Mass was in Latin, and the average book was the Bible. She was also able to find endless descriptions of life in the late 1500s, after Gutenberg’s invention had started to spread. Literacy was on the rise, as were books written in contemporary languages, Copernicus had published his epochal work on astronomy, and Martin Luther’s use of the press to reform the Church was upending both religious and political stability."

What Eisenstein focused on, though, was how many historians ignored the transition from one era to the other. To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child’s play — those dates were safely distanced from upheaval — but what was happening in 1500? The hard question Eisenstein’s book asks is “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?”

Chaotic, as it turns out.
This is the heart of the matter for our industry:
If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. This bit of economics, normal since Gutenberg, limits competition while creating positive returns to scale for the press owner, a happy pair of economic effects that feed on each other.
"Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and run" is still true for offset printing. Still true for production digital printing. No longer true for printing at home, the work group, or the classroom. But it doesn't have to be a zero-sum game.

The New Value Created by a PRinternet
The deep fundamentals are Time and Space. After 40 years, the internet has redefined Time to "now." and Space to "everywhere people live in communities." Every product wants to be available now. Every information product wants to be in the language of the Space into which it is delivered.

In a previous post I blue skyed how it is plausible to believe that a "PRinternet" could enable 700,000,000 print products versioned for hyper and micro communities produced and delivered in a couple of days, with a minimal carbon footprint. The exact number is irrelevant. The issue is that it could be produced closer and closer to now and delivered in any quantity to anywhere close to a Print output node.

Below is a mash up built on Shirky's paragraphs to try to clarify how this might play out.
. . . descriptions of life in the early 2000's, the era before the PRinternet. On a global scale and at the bottom of the pyramid, literacy was limited. In all parts of society the ability to think logically was an ongoing challenge. As nation states were losing their power in the face of the most recent stage of globalization, implicit tribal divisions were becoming the basis for violent conflict. Science was written in specialized language, unaccessible to both politicians and citizens. Education, while expensive, had only minimal effect on those whose learning styles did not fit the value chain model of education. The fruits of the breathtaking medical innovations had yet to help more than a fraction of the world's population.

By 2020, when the PRinternet was only 10 years old, literacy was on the rise as information organized on the the web was fixed and distributed in space defined world on paper. Books, posters and newsLetters (newspapers for micro audiences) are written in the language of hyper local and micro local communities they serve. As Print enters the space of communities, micro cultures move closer to civility and responsibility.

Print + Newspapers for Education
Students work with teachers-as- mentors to write their own "textbooks" and "supplementaries." The focus that organizes the curricular content changes with the ever changing focus of the class group. The specific content also depends on information harvested from on line, real time diagnostic testing of each student.

The form of publishing is chosen as appropriate. Day to day, the content is organized in the Cloud and published to the Screen, appropriate to each student's learning style. A key element of education has become nurturing a responsible civil culture. Culture grows best in small groups - like familes, or "people like us." Print is the vehicle of choice for an information laden cultural artifact.

Every school and some classes have their own newspaper. But the newspaper has become central to the process of education. A team composed of an educator, an editor, a writer with the help of a designer manage the school newspaper.

The educator clarifies the standards and content the students need. The editor selects just the right stories from the morgue and current events. The writer produces a couple of hundred words and captions to frame the stories for a specific community of students.

Before publishing to Print, the newspaper is published to the screen. Students have a week to read and comment. The editor and educator go through the comments to find the most interesting threads. They ask just the right questions to move the discussion forward. As the threads get complex, the moderator -educator, editor, journalist as circumstances dictate- intervenes.

At the end of the week, the Screen version is ported to Print. The Print can be a book, a magazine, a newsletter, a newspaper, a banner or a poster. It will depend on what best moves toward the educator's goals. As standards evolve, there is a "Print as" button on the screen and/or someplace to go to talk to a person. (Staples? Costco? WalMart? local printer? a publishing center in the building? a local newspaper?) In either case, once ordered, it enters the PRinternet. Two days later it is in the teacher's hand.

If it's a book, a publishing party is in order. If it's a newspaper, the students talk about it in the lunchroom and the classroom. If it's a poster, students see a new information addition to the hallways, as they listen on their iPods, text message their friends and twitter to their posse.

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