Thursday, February 23, 2012

Where Have all the Readers Gone?

I enjoy writing a good tale - whether the story is my own creation or that of another whose tale I'm sharing in a non-fiction piece.

The ability to string together words that elicit emotions or reactions in others - or has them consider an idea from my perspective - offers a creative adrenaline rush.

This quality led to my decision years ago to pursue an education in journalism, which I have used as a newspaper reporter, a communications staffer for several non-profits and for my own writing over the years.

Many in my extended family and circle of friends are voracious readers. Being around others who value the printed word is a constant validation of my writing efforts.

And yet I can see a growing void beyond my circles - one of non- or limited readers.

Technological advances have, in some ways, marginalized the printed word. We receive our information in smaller portions - e-mails, texts, tweets and websites that promote a "less is more" approach with regard to content.

As a society, we're in a constant state of hyperactivity - too much to do, too little time in which to get it done. And readership suffers as a result. Who has time to sit and leisurely read anything of substance, without feeling somewhat guilty about it?

The impact on the newspaper and publishing industries has been dramatic. Many newspapers that have failed to create and embrace an online presence are no longer in business - or in danger of going that route.

That situation is certainly the case in central Maine, where my local newspaper and two others in its chain have teetered on the brink of closure in recent years.

I've also seen the change in my full-time role as a "communications specialist" for a central Maine health care system.

Where I once wrote longer-form articles for our publications and local media submissions, I now write pieces half as long - or less. The articles also must now be written for a sixth-grade reading level to make them more readily understandable for the general audience with whom we're trying to communicate.

I won't lie in extolling the virtues of the new media channels that now exist. I use them regularly as essential tools that enable me to share my writing with a much larger, more global audience than I could otherwise.

They also allow me to connect with fellow writers and editors, literary agents and publishers in real time, creating valuable personal and professional relationships.

Still, a part of me fears what the future may hold with regard to those who read for the sheer joy of it - who expect to have ample reading material and willingly support it with their wallets.

Without them, we may be singing a modified version of the old Pete Seeger classic...and it will be a soulless dirge for sure.

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