Monday, December 15, 2008

One by one

By Capt. Fogg

Printing things on sheets of paper and using an army of planes, trains, automobiles, and sometimes bicycles to carry tons of printed material all over the country in order to keep the public informed is an increasingly anachronistic process. More ironic is the need to pay other people to collect, remove and recycle all that paper.

Even the most anachronistic technologies can take a long time to die. Decades after the advent of the telephone, it was still necessary to cajole a fearful and suspicious public into realizing that they needed one and of course the habits we make using outmoded processes are hard to break. People older than I am often cite the Sunday morning ritual of coffee and three pounds of newsprint as a high point of the weekend, but people younger rely more and more on the Internet, with it's vastly greater diversity of information, constantly updated and always available.

Television never was the threat to printed paper that the Internet has become. Around the clock news coverage has devolved into the constant mastication of a small handful of stories and is increasingly limited to local and sensational news and sometimes outrageously biased propaganda. The Internet has few limits.

The venerable and respected Christian Science Monitor has now ceased to use the wood pulp technology and has gone to the Web. Virtually all the print media has a Web presence. Advertising revenues are falling substantially and it's hard to think that we're not seeing the accelerating demise of the newspaper as we have known it. The Chicago Tribune has filed for bankruptcy, Detroit papers may soon curtail home delivery, and publishers of local and regional papers are laying off staff.

Of course, we will lose something intangible along with our very tangible piles of paper. When has there ever been change without loss? I'm guessing that one thing we will lose is the credibility of mainstream sources relative to the blogs, the fringe web sites, the loony bloviators and the special interest propagandists. Just who will the reporters at tomorrow's presidential news conferences represent?

Some seem to be making a joyful noise at the prospect -- irresponsible polemicists for profit like Ann Coulter, for instance. Those who thrive on half-truth, fabrication, slander, slur ,and sleaze might well prosper in an Internet sea of smaller fish, where established entities aren't as easy to differentiate from crackpot sites and propaganda sites and blogs with plain old irresponsible reportage. Such places have little to lose when exposed and can change names and re-emerge. The New York Times cannot and it's far easier to hold reporters and editors who use real names accountable.

Still I won't mourn the inevitable extinction; the gains far out weigh the losses, but still -- if Ann Coulter likes it, it can't be all that good.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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