The digital landscape is constantly changing and evolving, effecting not only how we communicate with each other, but also how we interact with news and media. Social media platforms have become our main source for breaking stories and thought pieces. While the more analog newspaper creeps towards becoming a thing of the past, news institutions have to go digital and find innovative ways to make their sites the ones you link to and share, so they can get those ever precious clicks and page views. This topic could very easily be played in a negative light, a tale of the once great papers competing with listicles and anonymous trolls for people's attention in the digital wasteland, but the new documentary short Digital Edition by James Kicklighter chooses to tackle this story from a different and personal angle.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a combination of two papers formed in the late 1800's that merged entirely in 2001, serves as the subject of Kicklighter's documentary. We see all the different sections and specialties of their staff through talking head interviews and seeing them in action, from the videographer on the street sending back news to the writers and radio hosts that give it to the public. We also get to see how they've been attempting to go digital in the face of dwindling circulation and what seems to be the inevitable end of the print edition. They explain how they've set up their site and everything they do to push people towards their premium subscription to generate revenue, as well as the different approach to journalism they must now take in the face of hashtags and buzzwords. The film goes through all the different social media avenues at their disposal and while we're all aware of these platforms and their uses (except Snapchat, I think I'm just an old fogey that doesn't “get it” on that one), there's something inspiring about how they use all of these together to keep their passion (and jobs) alive. Seeing how all these people work together to keep their publication relevant and take advantage of all the newfangled ways to do that actually made me feel like we here at Crushed Celluloid need to step up our game. It was impressive, to say the least.
Kicklighter's direction has a kinetic pace to match its subject matter, but always keeps everything on a very human level. The AJC is apparently the only major daily newspaper in Atlanta and the Georgia-born Kicklighter seems to have a personal connection with the paper and the people that run it. He starts the film with some background on the publication and setting up the story of their switch to digital, but it's never really played with a dour note. This is because the staff of the AJC comes off as enthusiastic and completely on board with the change. They all know the end of print is imminent, but even the seasoned vets love the immediacy of the digital landscape to get their stories out and receive feedback. Everyone is working to keep the publication going and make it the best it can be, concentrating on solid journalism, even if they have to compromise a bit with the packaging. The only real frustration felt is when one writer explains the difficulty of putting big ideas in less than 150 characters and having to use more blunt/clickbaity titles, instead of the more clever headlines of yesteryear.
This film covers an important topic that I don't feel has been given much thought in media. We all know of this shift and that we mostly absorb our news and media digitally, but I doubt we ever really think of everything a publication has to do just to be seen. The Internet can feel like an infinite slog where it's easy to be lost and overlooked, but seeing this one group make it work for them puts it in a very personal context. We have no idea where the state of media will be in 5 or 10 years, but Digital Edition shows that the writers and publications that care will roll with the punches and try to keep wowing you with their words and stories. You can currently watch a trailer for the film on Kicklighter's website and it will soon be available to the public through Vimeo and Amazon. I would definitely recommend checking this out and it will only cost you a worthwhile 28 minutes and maybe a few bucks.