If you are reading this in its lustrous glossy printed form, you have in your hands a suddenly quite rare and precious thing: a magazine.
Things are in turmoil in all kinds of ways and the media is not missing out on its share. That party was well underway before this pandemic.
The worse it gets, the more it seems to echo farming in 1984: there was clearly a place for it; there was also clearly no way things could go on the way they were. Things were proceeding on the fond assumption the glory days of export dollars for slabs of frozen meat and bales of wool would return and all we had to do was wait and dish out subsidies. It was a delusion.
Media has had a long, golden age, awash in advertising dollars. Now those dollars are being hoovered up by Facebook, Google and YouTube. Good luck ever getting them back. Moreover, in a world of free online media, how do you get people to pay?
For farming, the moment of truth arrived in 1984 with Rogernomics. In came the free market, out went the subsidies; no more oxygen for the patient. For several years, it was awful carnage. Eventually farming found a new level; off it went again. Before long, the accepted wisdom was it had all been inevitable and the sector was the better for it.
What will become the accepted wisdom for the media? Probably the prevailing order was no longer the right size or shape, that a sustainable future lies beyond the present arrangement of huge media organisations and expensive executives.
What are the prospects for those of us who toil in this particular field, making lustrous publications, and what are the prospects for you, the reader, who might like to turn their lustrous pages?
It doesn’t take all that much to tell a story. You need someone to begin with, “once upon a time”, and you need an audience that wants to hear what happened after that. That's what the media is at its heart, perhaps with a preference sometimes for the story that involves something that someone, somewhere doesn’t want anyone to hear.
In this digital world, it’s become possible to do that without much costly overhead. So, how about in place of the costly giants, we get an abundance of smaller operations, offering many different perspectives to many different, smaller audiences - crucially - connecting people sharing a common interest? They might live in the same neighbourhood, they might have a love for the same subject, they may follow a particular field, let’s say, oh, optometry and ophthalmology.
The important thing is that whatever you do, whatever your interest, the media can enrich it, improve it, if it does its job well. The effect can be remarkable.
For many years now I have had an association with a newspaper man in Mexico. His family had a small daily paper, a modest affair. He went off to study journalism in America, came home with a head full of ideas about freedom of the press in a country where there was none. This was 40 years ago. Back then, what got printed was determined by how much someone paid, or how much you were being threatened. He set about making a whole new kind of newspaper, one that printed the truth without fear or favour; no kickbacks, no censorship. They put it in the paper and put it on the streets. Every vested interest hated it. The people loved it.
In the face of fierce and unending resistance and intimidation, he and his young idealistic team kept their nerve. They kept on reporting without fear or favour and each day more people bought a copy, and day by day, year upon year, that little newspaper grew. Today they print some of the country’s biggest daily newspapers and their influence, through exposing corruption, has been profound. They continue to succeed because their readers know they will be able to read in those newspapers what they cannot find anywhere else.
In an age where you can read for free about Kardashians and trash, the publication that reports what no one else is reporting is the one you turn to. When the online world seems to be subverting democracy, publications that speak to our interests and values, that cares about our community of interest, about you, are something to prize.
When the dust settles, I hope those will be the hearts still beating.
David Slack is an Auckland-based author, radio and TV commentator and speechwriter.