Dezeen is finally launching an opinion column. The first piece by our new columnist Sam Jacob will run tomorrow; here, Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, whose own column will alternate with Jacob's, explains why it's taken us so long to take a stance.
At last, Dezeen has an opinion
I’ve enjoyed not having an opinion for the last six years. During that time I’ve steered away from saying what I think about architecture and design for several reasons.
When I started Dezeen in 2006, the internet was awash with people sharing their views: many of the early bloggers shouted loud, and I had no intention of getting involved in a decibel war. I’d come from the world of print journalism, with its legions of professional columnists, critics, leader writers and agenda-pushers: expensive baggage that I could no longer afford to carry.
My own outspoken, shoot-from-the-hip print articles had made me many enemies – there are still designers, architects and public figures who won’t speak to me ten years on from pieces that (usually mildly and always, I still contend, with justification) criticised them – and I was tired of the flak. Plus coming up with a coherent viewpoint on a topic is time-consuming and difficult and, for a newly unemployed journalist, very badly paid.
So I launched Dezeen as an opinion-free channel of pure information. I found it immensely refreshing not to have to pass constant judgment; so apparently did others as it became immediately popular. And, along with many, many other blogs, Dezeen became a forum for a new form of user-generated opinion in the guise of a lively comments section, which, while lacking the nuance of the professional criterati, attracted viewpoints that were strident, passionate and diverse.
And as opinion became democratised, so it started to get shorter. Long-form journalism was usurped by snappy blog posts and curt comments and later, with the rise of twitter, 140-character witticisms. Facebook further reduced opinion to a monosyllabic “like” and Pinterest has more lately removed the verbalisation of preference entirely: pinning something is a visceral action rather than an intellectual one.
But of course “democratisation” is another word for “I can do your job more cheaply than you” and with the entry cost of setting up an online platform being close to zero, there are now hordes of blogs competing for the same stories. Information has become ubiquitous: if you Google a phrase from an architect’s press release you will find the exact same wording on dozens of sites.
Interestingly Google, so long viewed as the nemesis of good writing since it seemed to promote quantity over quality, has started to act as its saviour. Since its Penguin update last year it now marks down sites that publish generic content while elevating those that create their own. Now, instead of a race to the bottom there is a race back to the top.
About time too, as intelligent writing can help make sense of the culture it speaks about, as well as documenting it. Writers are the bureaucrats of culture and that is not a pejorative statement: a strong bureaucracy is vital to keep fluid and potentially corruptible systems on the right track. Sites like Dezeen are no longer radical upstarts but part of the establishment, alongside the quality print magazines that have survived the dotcom tsunami and the many newer platforms, both web- and paper-based, that are once again exploring long-form writing.
And there is plenty to write about: fuelled partly by an insatiable online media and partly by globalisation, new technologies and today’s groaning glut of designers, architecture and design have gone into hyper-drive.
We need new ways of making sense of what is happening; we need a new generation of writers with the intelligence and audacity to help define this design rapture. At Dezeen we want to play a part in this and so this week we’re launching our new Opinion section. It will be modest to start with: we’ll publish a piece every week or so I’ll be alternating with our first columnist, Sam Jacob, who was recently described as “one of the sharpest, funniest and finest critics of contemporary design culture” by Edwin Heathcote, architecture critic for the Financial Times. Read Sam's first piece here.
As we find our feet we hope to add to our stable of writers and will be looking for both established and emerging talents to contribute.
In the same way that Dezeen promotes the work of architects and designers by publishing it on our site, and helps emerging musicians with our recently launched Dezeen Music Project, we now want to do the same for writers. If you have an idea for a piece, or have an article you’d like to submit, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. And yes, we will pay - a modest amount admittedly - for all the pieces we publish.
We hope you enjoy our new Opinion section and we look forward to your (hopefully intelligent and considered) comments.
Marcus Fairs is editor-in-chief of Dezeen