Thursday, August 28, 2008

Newpapers and Why We Still Need Them

Obviously I'm a big promoter of online publications. In the area of creative writing the Internet has provided vast opportunities for readers and writers alike and loosened the grip a handful of print magazines had on whose work gets read and whose doesn't. I'm not a fight-to-the-death for books person either. When I find an electronic gadget as easy on the eyes and portable as a book, I won't balk as, for me, the sensual pleasures of a reading print ended with the elimination of fine illustrations and the move to cheap, indistinct bindings. There remains one area, however, where I harbor ambivalence if not downright concern about the demise of print. That is in the news industry. So here are some random thoughts on this topic tangentially related to online publishing––hey, I need my rant fix now and then just like any other blogger.

I have to laugh when I read bloggers going off on the bias of main stream media and implying that the blogosphere is much more informative and objective. I suppose objectivity is in the eyes of the beholder cuz just about every political or "news" blog I read is filled with enough bias and vitriol to launch a revolution if the audience weren't a bunch of desk jockeys who don't get out much.

I suppose what bloggers mean when they talk about balance is that one could search around and get several points of view. Problem is, those who are the most into reading blogs usually aren't interested in other points of view, and those, like me who would seek out differing opinions, don't want to spend the better part of a day trying to find them.

And yes, newspapers are biased. Think of them as the original blogs, started by individuals or companies with an ax to grind. Until recently that bias generally affected the way news was reported but not what news was reported. So one could actually read a liberal-leaning newspaper and get the same news they would in the conservative-leaning counterpart.

Internet news isn't news
Those who worship the blogosphere often can't seem to tell the difference between reporting new information and just talking about what some other outlet has already reported. The majority of actual news still comes from the Internet outlets of print and TV media like The New York Times, CNN, CNBC, etc. There are a few real news zines like Salon, but by and large, news gathering means surfing the net for topics of interest, then commenting on your blog. Sure, a blogger might spotlight stories from newspapers in foreign countries that otherwise wouldn't be covered in our own MSM, but those bloggers are not there in that country seeing the events unfold and interviewing world leaders as does someone like Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Those who don't see a difference are are like writers who think they can write a seafaring novel without ever having seen the ocean––just read what others say and you'll come close enough for credibility.

There's no money on the Internet
As someone involved with Internet publishing almost from its earliest days I can confirm that there is little or no money to be made online. Print publishers complain about waning ad revenues, but, guess what, ad revenues on the net are even less. Those who don't use software to block ads rarely click on them, since they usually lead to only one end––SPAM. And when it comes to charging for subscriptions––fuggetaboutit. The NYT charges a hefty subscription fee as does the Wall Street Journal. They can get away with it due to die-hard dedicated readers who, I believe, came to the Net late and now are simply awed by the notion of reading their favorite newspapers at their desks each morning. The people who grew up with the Internet expect everything for free.

So why does that matter? Isn't free news more democratic? Sure, only how are you going to get some guy or gal to enter a war zone or put his life in jeopardy like a Daniel Pearl for nothing more than exposure to a large audience. These people need to be paid. They also need some security for their families should they not make it back.

I know what all you bloggers are thinking. What the MSM puts out lately is no more than a re-hash of what some Administration flunky wants them to report. To a certain extent I agree with this, and it began with the First Gulf War when the government banned reporters from actual war zones to prevent another Vietnam, a tactic accepted at the time not just by the press but by the American people only too happy to accept stories of Iraqui soldiers unplugging incubators. It's also due to media ownership by large conglomerates looking only at the bottom line and with no real love of the industry. The thing is, these are new phenomena. Newspapers did better in the past and they could do again. Whereas blogging has inherent flaws that make gathering and reporting information in a way that is useful to the average citizen nigh on impossible.

So there we have our vicious cycle. Our chicken-and-egg. As much as I believe in online publishing I don't want to envision a world where the only news I get is from some Internet surfer trying to win me over or piss me off.

1 comment:

auseekersfe said...

Yes, we still newspapers. I can remember about 1997 or so, being told that digital publishing would eliminate the need for paper! Yep, true. But there are more serious concerns to maintaining the printed word as well. Good job and thank you for your help along the way...J.R. Santa Fe, NM (


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