I'm not the kind of guy that feels awkward very often, which can really work to my advantage a lot of times. Having to go to the drugstore by myself to buy a girlfriend a box of tampons? Sure, honey, and I'll pick you up that nail polish and pantyhose that you want as well. But for me, as someone who makes his living in the online world of media and HTML code, writing about paper and ink feels just a touch, ahem, uncomfortable. For those that don't know, Dirt's owners, Factory Media, have decided that none of their titles will continue on in print form, and that they'll instead put their efforts towards online content. Factory Media's reasoning boils down to where advertisers are wanting their ads to pop up these days, which seems to be on computer screens rather than pages of paper, and the economics of it all means that, at least in some markets, print is having a harder go of it.
So hopefully you can see why I'm more than just a little hesitant to share my feelings on Dirt's wholesale change in content delivery, but I'm also hoping that you can look past the irony of an online editor writing about the demise of a print magazine that was, for all intents and purposes, his competition. Like I said, this could be awkward, but let's embrace it like I embraced that box of feminine hygiene products.
I know that I'm not alone when I say that I've been reading Dirt nearly since it first came out, although that usually meant that I was flipping the pages of a two month old magazine by the time it got to my neck of the woods in B.C.. I remember driving the forty five minutes West as a seventeen-year-old kid solely to get to the only bookstore large enough to carry this oddball 'bicycles and dirt action
' magazine from the UK, and then spending much longer trying to decipher the then-strange British-isms that filled the pages. It turned out that those "ramblings" (other peoples' words, not mine
) were most often Steve Jones' words, and the sometimes odd style was put down in a casual manner that was more like friendly banter than the 'look at me, I'm a writer!' copy of the competition, including what you sometimes read here on Pinkbike. There is zero pretense or posturing, which is why I believe so many riders take his thoughts on bikes as gospel. After all, there's a lot to be said for being able to relate. But it doesn't follow the rules, which makes Jones' style a bit like the sushi of the cycling media clique - you either love it or hate it.
|The print world will be a bit less Sex Pistols and a bit more Ikea now that Dirt has left, and those who will always want to hold paper in their hands, which includes myself, will be poorer for it. |
That writing style fit Dirt's pages so well because of the shirking-of-the-rules approach that applied to a lot of what the magazine did in print. In contrast, many (but not all
) North American magazines look about as exciting as an episode of the Golden Girls, are usually filled with perfect English that so often reads more like a university paper rather than anything that would take a reader out onto that same hill with the tester, and the images are usually of people who look like they would feel a real sense of shame if they were to accidentally skid around a corner. Open up an issue of Dirt and you'd be just as likely to see a photo of a helmet-less kid launching his rigid 24'er over a sketchy looking double in the forest as you would a pajama-clad racer with his foot out and a spray of roost and plant life in the air behind him. They'd see nothing wrong with devoting multiple pages to reviewing a near one-off bike welded up in some mad scientist's garage and that maybe only a handful of people would ever get to ride, simply because both it and the man who created it are interesting. They'd interview pros, but the banter was actually good because they're proper friends and not just in touch with each other through a marketing person. Their layouts were more punk rock than set in stone.
The print world will be a bit less Sex Pistols and a bit more Ikea now that Dirt has left, and those who will always want to hold paper in their hands, which includes myself, will be poorer for it. All is not lost, though, because we've yet to see what's in store for Dirt's online presence. This may sound odd coming from someone who calls the internet his office, but there's something about print that no amount of fancy coding and near instantaneous delivery will ever be able to touch, although that's not to say that Dirt won't be able to deliver some classic Dirt-esque style content in their new form. I realize they're now even more aligned as rivals in this too-small and underfed fish tank that we call the cycling media, but a large part of me is looking forward to some of that original 'f*ck it' Dirt attitude that made the magazine what it was. I think we all need a bit of that in our lives, don't we?
There's a lot of great things about the internet beyond the easy access to questionable pornography: race results only seconds after the last competitor crosses the finish line, being able to keep tabs on your favourite pros (otherwise known as stalking
), a level of interaction that you just won't ever get with print, and truckloads of content dumped onto your computer screen at a whim. That last point could be looked at as either a plus or a minus, though, as I'd argue that there's just too much B and C-grade stuff filling browser windows every single day, and, given who I'm employed by, I'm fully aware of the irony of that statement. Believe me when I say that I make my feelings on this subject known in the office, and all my peers know where I stand on this topic, but I'm also not an idiot - people want to see more videos, more photos, more everything, and they want to see all of it faster.
It is what it is, and although I do hope that a different, more measured and filtered approach will be equally successful one day, I also know that tactic won't be employed here. Print, on the other hand, has a definite amount of space to fill, meaning that Dirt was never able to stuff their pages with words and photos that, while being very interesting and entertaining to many people, aren't worthy of being included when you consider that there's only so much room. I'm not going to say that Pinkbike and other online media sources aren't putting out at least some print-worthy content - I know we are, and I know others are as well - but I'm also fully aware that what Dirt did in their magazine isn't something that can be easily matched on a computer screen. And that will be the challenge: Dirt keeping their voice despite the change in medium.
Longtime Dirt contributor Seb Kemp probably summed it up best: ''So what's the result of losing the Dirt voice? Well, who is going to fill that void? Who is going to be the voice of the rider? Who is going to balance out the vapid catalogue-copy copying, the yes boys? Let's hope that Dirt continues to be what it is, but just with a different delivery device. The message is what's key, not the medium. This is something that some of these upstart online "magazines" have not learnt. They are so focused on which way things swipe or scroll or expand or play multimedia content that they haven't spent enough time on figuring out their voice and what it is they should be saying and how they should say it.
I think that the very large majority of Dirt's readers would agree with that sentiment, and many of them made their thoughts clear on Dirt's Facebook page. ''Damn. That means that now 100% of the things arriving through my letterbox are crap,
'' wrote Rik Legge about the news. Rik is probably correct, as the only thing in my mailbox right now are overdue bills and flyers for crap no one really needs. Jonathan Thorburn made a good point regarding the massive volume on online content that we all now expect, saying: ''Yes, I'm sure it'll be available digitally, but let's be honest, who looks at old digital photos? The flow of the web will drown Dirt in sheer volume, where the print copy will still be there for me to read. So long, Dirt. It was good while it lasted, but the newsagent shelves will be poorer for you passing.
It will be interesting to see how the new digital Dirt adapts to the ''flow of the web
,'' and an optimist might see Dirt washing their hands of print as just one part of their evolution. And maybe I'm that optimist, but I'd really like to believe that's true. Here's hoping that they lose none of their attitude and zeal for all things related to 'bicycles and dirt action
’ in the switch over.