When my father was drafted during World War II and dumped in Belgium just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, my mother and his first two kids (I wasn’t a glimmer in his eye yet) waited days for even a hint of news about the war… and waited months for letters from Pop himself. The news came in painfully slow trickles. First rumors, then snatches of broadcast bulletins on the radio, then a newspaper story that may or not have been accurate…and in none of this was even a prayer for specific news from or about Pop. That kind of no-news existence is just hard to imagine now. Online, I can watch stories develop just by refreshing my Google homepage — really hot news is updated constantly, within minutes of dramatic fresh input. Heck, I can see minutes-old footage of events on YouTube, and read real-time blogs from every corner of the English-speaking world. The delivery, consumption, and digesting of news has done changed in radical ways.
We all knew the Web was gonna morph our reality into something new… but even a year or so ago, most prognosticators believed we had some inkling of what the brave new world might look like. Forget about it, now. All bets are off, all predictions inoperable. No one knows what’s in store. Least of all the news organizations we call mainstream media. The fate of newspapers is interesting to me… both because I grew up loving my daily dose of whatever local rag served the town I was living in… and because the culture of the news junkie was well-defined. (And I have been a news junkie since I was old enough to read.) We knew what was going on in the world, and we read enough varied takes on events to form an independent opinion. It’s one thing to embrace the world and enjoy adventures… but it’s another thing to seek to also know the world while you plow through the decades. Like the guys selling horse-drawn buggies 100 years ago, refusing to realize the exploding market share the automobile was gobbling up… mainstream newspapers have been slow to give the Internet credibility for news dispersal. I think local papers will survive in some form (probably mostly online, though)… because communities need a central clearing house for local news. But it’s gonna be a painful transition. Because newspapers are owned by techno-phobes who regard online existence as some unknowable alien universe… and they just cannot, for the life of them, figure out how to make it profitable. Please.