As things speed up to such an extent that there remains no time any more to muse, ponder, discuss, cogitate, and write things down, the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword appears to be morphing into “the phone is mightier than the sword.” Witness the recent rise of live streaming as a rising source of income for online content creators, in a real-time, mobile device-driven medium that blends advertising with reality TV. Content creators with selfie sticks raked in $4.4 billion in 2018, up 32% from 2017, according to Forbes. Couple this burgeoning video boom with what the Authors Guild of America calls the recent near extinction of the literary book author, and you will find a publishing “…crisis of epic proportions” that encompasses journalists as well.
A new Authors Guild survey indicates that median income for book-related income for authors is down 21% from 2013, and down over 50% from 2009. It appears that authors can simply no longer make a living writing books, despite, or perhaps because of, independent (aka “self”) publishing in the Age of Amazon. And authors’ bank balances are not the only indicator of a sudden and precipitous decline in society’s valuation of deep thinking, long-form writing, and perhaps of abstract thought itself.
Consider the increase in physical danger that accompanies seeking and revealing Truth through writing, or practicing journalism. The number of journalists killed in retaliation while working doubled from 2017 to 2018, according to The Hill, pointing to a “…profound global crisis in press freedom.” Death is not the only outcome for journalists when a free press is declared “enemy of the people”; 251 journalists were jailed worldwide in 2018, in addition to 272 in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, many of them in countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, Eritrea, Russia and former USSR states.
We experienced the power of witnessing, then publishing – in addition to or instead of writing – this past summer when ProPublica published the voices of children suffering under the United States’ “Zero Tolerance” immigration policies at the U.S. Southern border, in practice since Spring 2018. Today’s challenge to the publishing industry is how to balance the apparent demise of its traditional foundation in writing, with the opportunity, the responsibility to curate and publish selected live streams that not only entertain and advertise, but, more importantly, inform and inspire.