Monday, April 2, 2007

The future of newspapers

A recent blog from Arianna Huffington about News 2.0 presents an optimistic vision of papers like the Washington Post starting to successfully embrace the digital age. The Post, for example, has "gone from a largely local paper with a print circulation around 656,000, to an international paper attracting eight million unique online readers a month."

But I began growing nervous as the article continued in its rosy assessment for the future of hybrid digital-and-paper delivery system like NewspaperDirect. The debate over the merits of the printed page vs. the computer screen has been continued too long. This old debate is wrongheaded in its approach, obscuring how dynamically different hypertext is from hard copy, consumed in tedious discussion about which is more convenient or more aesthetically pleasing.

So I was relieved when Huffington at last turned to a more vital issue, how new media is beginning to affect journalism in its substance, rather than in its delivery methods. She praises, rightfully, sites like Talking Points Memo and TMPmuckracker for bringing together "journalistic doggedness and reader interactivity" in breaking the recent Justice Department scandal involving the fired U.S. attorneys.

It's beyond question that the mainstream media has, for the past decade, failed the public miserably in its duty to inform and watchdog. Witness the lead-in to the American invasion of Iraq, when the only responsible critique of the plan was offered by Knight Ridder and by the online "fringe." Most newspaper, as well as all the commercial broadcast networks, simply yielded themselves to the euphoria and hysteria of the moment.

New media developments may assist in increasing a mainstream newspaper's audience, but they won't save the newspaper industry from its own growing corruption and incompetence. I am myself a daily reader of the New York Times online, but I entertain no illusions that I'm getting more accurate information or improved coverage from the electronic version. It's still the Times, limited in what it can report and predetermined in its outlook by its old political and corporate affiliations.

Never mind the joys of listening to the rustle of the pages and the feel of ink smudging your fingertips. If you're not getting complete, balanced, independent reporting from your newspaper, you're wasting your time. The online press is beginning to flex its muscle and prove its potential for wedding professional journalism with citizen journalism.

Huffington herself points out that "breaking a big story isn't always about getting the inside tip from a Deep Throat -- many times it's simply the piecing together of seemingly random bits of information there for everybody to see. But when they are assembled together, suddenly a big story can emerge. The blogosphere excels at this."


sgo7278 said...

You seem to be saying (but haven't really said) is that the power of the blogosphere is the power of hypertext, to one story or one piece of evidence into a web of others. The web creates something larger than the sum of its parts.

Douglas Gray said...