I have been writing for ink. It feels quite unusual, doing something that will be printed, rather than appearing on a screen; I didn't think there would be much of a difference, but having gone back to ink from ephemera, I realise there is, a little. Ink makes you think a bit harder about what you're writing in one sense; you worry a little more about making sure you're going to get it right. This is, after all, a one-shot deal: you either get it right first time, or you don't get it right at all.
But on the other hand, there isn't the pressure of knowing you're going to be leapt upon in the comments, either. Knowing there are comments under a story means that you have to try and get it right, too, but it's a different kind of pressure, I think, a different kind of discipline. When you're writing for online, it does make you think a little harder about counter-arguments to whatever polemic you might be coming out with, for example, given the instant way in which you can be made to look like a mug if you've got something wrong.
Ah, but then there's that other thing, isn't there. You can luxuriate, in ink, like sticking your feet into a warm footspa, knowing that you're not going to be exposed to the usual nibbles and stings. Writing for online sometimes feels a bit like sticking your jam-covered face into a nest of angry bees, or Sheriff Bart saying "Hey, where the white women at?" to the KKK guys in Blazing Saddles. You just know what's going to happen, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. With ink, there's none of that. Sure, you might get a grumpy letter from someone who's been upset, but it's not that immediate sense of dread.
The other odd thing about writing for ink is not linking to sources. It seems bizarre, when writing a long and detailed piece in which you reference a number of different bits of data, not to simply tell your readers where to go and find them so they can check them out for themselves, as you would do when writing, say, a blogpost. It becomes second nature, when you're blogging, just to link to stuff. There's an awful lot of trust involved when you're writing for ink. Since you can't link to sources, and since lengthy reference lists generally aren't the done thing, your readers are trusting you that you haven't made up what you're claiming. It's a fascinating piece of trust, when you think about it. This is what I am telling you, you're saying, and you're just going to have to take my word for it.
I suppose that's at the heart of what I have been trying to bang on about here for the past three and a half years. There is that trust, and there should be, but in a world in which people couldn't link to sources, you did just have to take people's word for it. When you can do a bit of digging yourself, and find out what's true and what isn't, that changes the level of trust. I suppose that's what media bloggers like me have been trying to do, ever since they set up their stalls; to look at that relationship of trust that's been there since the time of ink, and to examine people are as healthily sceptical about what they read or not.
As I've said before, the demographic of some newspapers' readership is such that they're stuck in a place where people don't even Google things they want to find out, but perhaps that attitude is changing. Perhaps things are moving away from a world in which facts are solely put down in ink, and the way in which things can be scrutinised online means what's written needs to be checked even more than before, rather than less - though I don't think that's universally happening.
Maybe there was a time when ink indicated credibility; maybe the 'tomorrow's fish and chips' attitude always existed. I do think being online does add another layer of welcome scrutiny, and should, if anything, make journalists want to be accurate and responsible even more than they already were. But all I will say is this: It's rather lovely to submit an article, and not have to worry about the comments at all. Rather lovely indeed.
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