The Future of Print: The Rival Predictions of Ruth Reichl and Regina Schrambling

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As the world of the printed page shifts around us, two warring camps have sprung up: those direly predicting the end of print, and those who think it'll pull through, cockroach-like, in spite of it all. When it comes to food, we're taking it upon ourselves to anoint figureheads. In a an interview Sunday with Heritage Radio Network, Regina Schrambling predicted that print will never die. "I was in the train for a long time today," she offered as justification for magazines' continued usefulness. "And what was in my bag? You still need something."

In the other corner, there's Ruth Reichl. The erstwhile Gourmet editor told The Observer last week that print is on the road to death, saying that "I think print magazines as we know them will cease to exist." Instead, Reichl envisions a shiny futuristic device that'll "incorporate video, instant shopping [but] won’t be online." (Reichl's ideas aren't so far-fetched: Gizmodo recently published a report that Apple is working on a tablet with aims to "redefine print," citing unnamed sources at The New York Times who claimed that the paper was approached by Apple to "talk about putting the paper on a 'new device.'")

The question is who to believe. In a Reichl vs. Schrambling "Future Of Print" predictions racket, we have a feeling that most oddsmakers would go with Reichl — after all, she's one of the most recognizable faces in food journalism. But that's exactly why we think she's not the one to listen to.

From 1984 up until two weeks ago, Reichl's held only three jobs: top-level editorial positions with the L.A. Times, New York Times, and Gourmet, all of them salaried and benefitted, and all of them luxuriously underwritten by publishers who wanted Reichl to produce a glossy, exciting result. It's not exactly the position of the everyman.

So compare Reichl's top-down view of the food world to that of Regina Schrambling. She's freelanced all over the place — for nearly two decades her food-related bylines have shown up in publications both culinary and not (including stints at places like The New York Times, but none as longstanding as Reichl's various tenures). And, for that matter, Schrambling was one of the earliest food bloggers: the "Paleolithic" archives on her site Gastropoda date back to 2002. (In contrast, Reichl appears to have engaged with new media only in conjunction with the Gourmet brand.)

As far as we're concerned, someone like Schrambling — who engages with nearly every aspect of the media world (come on, the quote inspired us to write this post happened on the freaking radio) — has a much clearer sense of the overall media landscape. Reichl, after all, believed that her magazine was invulnerable. We're not saying that Ruth Reichl is wrong about everything — like everyone who's ever met her, we love her, and we think she is wonderful at what she does. But what she does is not try to make a living by cobbling together freelance assignments and building a personal brand by sounding out what it is readers (and listeners, twitterers, ann viewers) are interested in. That is, however, what someone like Regina Schrambling does. And we're much more inclined, in this matter, to believe someone coming from her position and experience. Print media has a lot going for it, and as we've written before, food writing in magazines is alive and well. We don't think it'll die out anytime soon.

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10 Comments

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  1. I think we are going to end up with something halfway between a podcast and what we read now on a kindle. We will download them monthly or weekly into our mobile reader. Mark my words.

  2. Unless ebooks have unbreakable screens at sub-ipod prices, the print will never be dead.

  3. Doc

    This post comes across as an elaborate ad hominem. You're not being nasty or anything, but essentially you're saying that Schrambling is right because of the sort of person she is, instead of actually looking at the arguments that each side presents.

    Print is dead - at least for magazines and newspapers. It may still be walking around like a zombie, but that doesn't mean it's going to get healthier.

    I've seen nothing that even vaguely suggests how the economics of printing magazines and newspapers is going to improve, ever.

  4. Damien

    Print isn't dead, but it is dying a slow death. I won't be renewing my newspaper because I can get my news online. I already stopped all my food/recipe magazine subscriptions. Why pay when I go to FREE sites like http://www.FoodBlogs.com and http://www.FoodGawker.com and all of the food and recipe blogs they link to for cooking ideas and inspiration? Print is slowly dying away.

  5. Foodchick

    I agree with Damien. And as a point of interest, Emeril began blogging on his site, emeril's.com in 2000.

    • Sabayon

      Well then I'd trust Emeril over Reichl, too. The point isn't I think that Schrambling's the only person in the world who's right abotu print, it's that just because Ruth is high-profile doesn't mean she has ANY perspective on the matter at all.

  6. S. Coop

    "Reichl, after all, refused to cut costs at Gourmet when ordered to do so"

    She did? Where did you hear that? Sheds a whole new light on the loss of nearly 200 jobs. Nobody has printed that before that I know of, so please do share your source and any other info you have on the matter.

    As for the actual topic, print isn't dead, but the old business model that values the product at $0 and values the end user even less may be dead. Perhaps that's a good thing given what I see on the newsstands. What's the new model? I have my ideas, but since I'm not on the radio or in a newspaper (the two media you're using here as a springboard--you're right old media is so dead; where the hell will we get our ideas in the new-media future?), I'll keep them to myself.

  7. Anna

    I also would be interested in hearing about Reichl refusing to cut costs, although I believe it. I love her, but she apparently had a compensation package as intense as Anna Wintour's at Vogue. Chauffered cars, first-class flights, suites on the road at five-star hotels, the works. She does not like to take freebies - and its great that she had that conviction -- but that means all those dinners at Daniel and Per Se were picked up by Conde Nast.

  8. Stefanie Griffin

    I work in several school buildings and they all have newspapers in the teacher's lunchrooms/workrooms. I wonder if the small town and community newspapers will rise again when the big print ones go out of business. People take newspapers on trains, into restaurants, and even into toilet stalls; they read the local papers when traveling and staying in hotels and I am not sure they want to give them up for tiny electronics that need a source of energy.

  9. S. Coop

    The author of this post hasn't seen fit to provide a source for an outrageous assertion (or correct the misinformation). This came to mind as I read the following very interesting piece in The New Yorker on "Rumors in the Age of Unreason."

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/11/02/091102crbo_books_kolbert

    And Anna, it's nice that you "believe it," but belief is different than knowledge. This is precisely the danger of broadcasting lies: they play into the belief systems of those who hear them and can lead to real and dangerous consequences.

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