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Gamer's World | Vice Media and the Nostalgic Charm of Print Magazines

Vice Media's plan to close its flagship site prompts the author to reflect on print media's enduring appeal in the digital age and ever-evolving market.



The website of Vice Media

I've been thinking a lot about print media recently. Magazines, newspapers, fanzines — as much as I love the flexibility and immediacy of digital media, there's something luxurious about holding a wad of bound paper in your hands and savoring it. And as a longtime journalist who has had so much work wiped off the internet with the flick of a switch as yet another site dies, it's nice to have physical objects that definitely, unequivocally exist. This reverie was prompted by multiple happenings. As you may have read, in February Vice Media announced plans to cease publishing new content on its flagship site, Vice.com. It's unclear whether the existing content on the site will be preserved. 

Articles Daniel Robson wrote for Vice.com

I used to write for Vice Media, about a decade ago, for its music site Noisey. And many of my articles are still on Vice.com — for now, at least. These were mostly interviews with awesome Japanese musicians, from Cibo Matto to Melt-Banana, Shonen Knife to Oomori Seiko. I loved writing for Noisey, where I could expose cutting-edge new artists from Japan while writing with pith and humor. But it seems this could be the latest batch of my work to disappear from existence — along with hundreds of my articles over the years from now-defunct sites like MTV Iggy, CNN Go, Edge Online, and PlayLouder.

'nero magazine'

The sad fact is that digital media is inevitably impermanent. When a magazine gets shut down, the printed issues can be preserved, but when a website is switched off, everything vanishes into the ether. (Excepting the efforts of the Internet Archive, that is.)

Along with the news about Vice, I had various encounters with print magazines over the past couple of months. 

The most impactful of these was meeting Yukiko Inoue, a longtime music journalist who is the Editor-in-Chief of nero magazine. Inoue was a founding member of Flipper's Guitar, the legendary 1990s Shibuya-kei band featuring Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) and Kenji Ozawa. She later went on to write about music for various Japanese magazines, before founding Nero in 2010. 

Daniel holds issue 8 of "nero magazine," themed on "Art & Romance" and featuring Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.

This deluxe magazine has a meaty page count, is printed on gorgeous high-quality paper, and has featured interviews with culture-shaping musicians, artists, and fashion leaders, from Sean Lennon to Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh. It's published in both Japanese and English and laid out with striking photography. A stunning boutique magazine, it's published roughly once a year — and a clear labor of love for Inoue, who pretty much makes the whole thing by herself.

Paper Treasures

I started my journalism career in 1999 with a job at a magazine called Disorder. It covered both music and fashion, with a similar high-concept flair for visual design, so seeing a magazine like Nero brought back fond memories.

I have boxes and boxes stuffed with hundreds of magazines and newspapers featuring my work. Some highlights from memory include an interview with Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd frontman John Lydon that I conducted for Japan's Rockin' On magazine. Lydon was so verbose that the article ran on page after page alongside amazing photography. Another is the time I posed with the members of the Japanese electro-pop unit Perfume for a selfie when we had them for a special photo shoot to accompany a newspaper article. 

I used to keep all these paper treasures on shelves that bowed under their weight. But after moving house a few times, they're currently in storage — calling for me to sort through them soon.

The latest issue of Edge magazine, at a local magazine store in Tokyo.

Writing for Print

Anyway, back to the story. This month in April, I had a similar brush with nostalgia upon visiting a local library that had a selection of English-language magazines. There, I read interviews with rising British musician PinkPantheress and pop superstar Dua Lipa.

Another few days later at a splendid magazine store in Tokyo, I came across a copy of Edge. It's Britain's most revered videogame magazine, for whom I used to write. Edge is probably the most elegantly designed magazine about videogames in the world, and seeing its bold layouts and opinionated articles brought back warm memories.

I often miss writing for print. I miss walking into a newsagent and seeing several magazines on the shelf with my work inside. Or better yet, seeing someone reading one of my articles in the wild. Once, I even found myself sitting on the Narita Express next to a tourist who pulled out a carefully clipped and folded article from his pocket that he was using to find his way around pop-culture spots around Tokyo — written by me.

Writing and Editing for Print

The very act of journalism is different when writing for print versus online. Generally speaking, print encourages economical writing. The length of an article is partly dictated by the amount of space on the page. That means you must choose your topics and your words carefully.

As an editor at publications from Smash Hits! to The Japan Times, I would go hands-on with the layouts in InDesign and carefully cull copy to fit the available space. I would patiently chat with writers who had gone several hundred words over the requested word count (as usual) to rewrite and refine their work without damaging its nuance or voice.

Adobe InDesign is the industry standard software for creating magazine layouts.

Writing or editing a weekly or monthly magazine about games or other pop-culture topics gives time for more measured reflection before putting pen to paper. It promotes articles that will be engaging to read for several weeks to come, with less regard for timeliness. 

Difference in Nuance

On the other hand, producing a daily newspaper is similar to online media. It requires quick decision-making and a nose for topicality — but with the understanding that readers will not see your words until tomorrow, requiring a slightly different nuance.

By comparison, online news media can be a mad dash. When news breaks, SEO rankings reward the earliest published sources with higher search results. Fast turnarounds are essential for getting clicks. However, keeping an eye on the quality and accuracy of each article is of course just as important as it is for print, so balancing this with the urgency of the news cycle can be tough. 

The plus side is, of course, that we can deliver the latest news to readers in real time — a game changer for writers, editors, publishers, and readers alike.

Also, while printed media is permanent, the flipside is that impermanence gives digital outlets the luxury of amending errors in an article even after it has been published. We can also link between stories and add updates as a particular news story unfolds in real time. And we don't have to be quite so strict with our word counts, since online column inches are infinite, meaning that a story can be as long or as short as it needs to be.


Difference in Speed

When I was a freelance writer, I used to cover events like Tokyo Game Show for multiple different print magazines and websites on my own. For example, at a single expo, I'd interview a game developer for Edge, write hands-on impressions of a game for the Official PlayStation Magazine or Nintendo Gamer, write a roundup of the best PC games for a PC gaming mag, file an edition of my monthly column for Finnish game outlet Pelaaja, and so on.

I could do this because each publication had its own separate audience, so I could avoid any crossover of coverage. Each had different deadlines, usually spread over a number of weeks, so I could stagger the writing workload after the game event ended.

By contrast, news moves fast online. At IGN Japan, we cover shows like TGS completely live. We have hours of livestreamed video programming from the show floor in real time and follow-up articles during and shortly after the event. Other times, we might interview a game developer or play an upcoming game for a preview and have the article or video live later the same day, which means immediate turnaround.

(I once was in a roundtable interview where one of the writers from another outlet had his article live before we even left the room — much to the consternation of the game's PR agent, who was about to inform us that the interview was supposed to be embargoed until a later date. Oops.)

The Role of Media

As someone who began his career in magazines just as the internet was beginning to take off, the shift away from print has been a rocky road. First I saw countless beloved magazines collapse under the pressure of changing market trends, as all of the advertising dollars went online.

Then in more recent years, I've watched multiple websites bite the bullet too, as the emergence of video platforms and influencers and social media have changed the landscape over and over again. Ironically, I actually remember when Vice was a print magazine, and a really good one, long before the rise and fall of the Vice Media empire. I might even still have a few copies in one of my many boxes.

I can't count on my fingers and toes the number of publications I've written or edited for that have folded. But on the bright side, journalism never goes away. As we barrel headlong into an era of AI-generated content, deepfake videos, and fake news, the curating role of media is more important than ever. And just like how vinyl records have made a comeback as music fans crave a connection with something real, I'm currently enjoying being fully immersed in sumptuous, luxurious, nonerasable magazines.


Author: Daniel Robson

Daniel Robson is the chief editor of videogame news site IGN Japan. Read his series Gamer's World on JAPAN Forward, and find him on X (formerly Twitter).