Sir Harold Evans opened the Decatur Book Festival on Friday by declaring how much he loves newspapers, loves books, loves his Kindle and his computer, too, but not like he loves the printed word. When he turns a page, he knows right where he is.
This being a book festival, he fit right in.
Addiction to print, he explained, is much different from addiction to reading. (His background — newspaper, magazine and book editor, reporter and author, husband to Tina Brown — suggests he’s got a long history with both.) He savors the design of letter. He misses the lead-and-tin smell of printing presses. The first thing he does in the morning is check out his wife’s Web site, The Daily Beast. The second thing he does is read newspapers, four or five of them.
Evans seems to live by the idea that news is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress. (Sept. 11, 2001 he argued, wouldn’t have caught us by surprise had someone investigated and reported suppressed information.) Despite that, he never knows what will interest him till he reads it. In news, he likes surprise, and curation.
He’s optimistic about print, and information in general. He finds hope especially in print-on-demand papers and books, an idea that eliminates the enormous expense of printing and delivering daily papers, or printing books and magazines that will never sell. His great fear: that companies like Yahoo, Google and Microsoft will make it impossible for anyone to make a living producing investigations or writing.
What can I say? It’s nice to be in a room with someone who loves you, even after the staff cuts and daily reports of journalism’s death. I love my Kindle, and obviously spend an enormous amount of time on the computer, but I still read the printed paper delivered to my house and have enormous shelves of books threatening to collapse on us any time now.
I doubt print-on-demand will solve all of journalism’s troubles, nor do I think every open-information agenda is evil. Evans began more than one sentence with “Young people today…” which always makes me a little nervous about where the conversation is going. Optimism is still priceless. I could listen to that man talk all weekend. Alas, Evans has already left Atlanta, but there are still days of programming left at the book festival. Here’s info about what to know before you go.
And if you missed it, here are a few Evans-isms that seemed to amuse the crowd at Agnes Scott College:
“How many of you have seen a Linotype? Oh, thank god, there’s some of you still around.”
“A really alive and vigilant press isn’t something that can be substantiated by an instant electron. We’re going to suffer if journalism becomes an exercise in electronic transmission.”
On television news
“Vivid, but inherently superficial.”
In relation to hurricane season, “Why not just get a wind machine and a palm tree in the back?”
“Sans-serif is a particular irritation of mine. Think of the word ‘Illnois.’ You can’t tell the I from the L.”
“What’s my favorite font? Such a good question. It’s like asking ‘Who’s your favorite woman?’” (His answer: Century Schoolbook, or maybe Caslon.)