'Net to crush newspapers?
JOE BURNS, Ph.D.
Who among you believes that the Internet will become the dominant media of our culture? Let's see a show of hands.
OK. Who among you believes that the Internet will become so prevalent that other forms of media, like newspapers, will perish?
This is a topic I enjoy getting into with students. The generation of students I'm teaching now came in on the cusp of the Web's explosion. In five years, I'm sure the number of hands that pop up for the second question will increase.
But do we really believe that the Internet, mainly the Web, will become so encompassing that it will overtake newspapers, television, radio, and magazines?
I remember reading an article, not too long ago, that suggested that soon television would become totally obsolete. It would be replaced by the computer, which would be the one "box" allowing media entry into the home.
In addition to connecting to the Internet, it would provide on-demand television programs, radio station feeds from all around the country, and access to newspapers and magazines whenever the user wanted it.
And police will soon begin using two-way wrist radios like Dick Tracy.
Sorry for the smart tone, but I just can't buy the idea of the Web eliminating print and broadcast media altogether.
That one article isn't the only one predicting that traditional media will perish.
AOL president Bob Pittman addressed some newspaper editors recently and told them that their future is online. The implication was that they either go cyber, or die.
Pittman said that print versions of newspapers still dominate, but went on to say that their days are numbered. He thinks that print's reign over Web-version newspapers has only 10 to 15 years until the situation is reversed.
Does he know that in the deal with Time Warner he bought a bunch of newspapers?
My guess is that Pittman feels somewhat the same as I do regarding the upcoming generation. The kids I am teaching now can remember when there was no World Wide Web. In fifteen years there will be a whole new generation of students who can't recall a time when they couldn't jump online. Will future generations abandon print media altogether?
All right, let's say that the print naysayers are correct. It is now fifteen years down the line and print media is just about dead. Newspapers have all gone online. The paperboy or girl is a thing of the past.
How great this will be!
Now we can choose our own sources of information. We can search out only the stories we want to read. We can have a computer perform searches overnight, and there in the morning will be only stories on topics we requested.
There it is, waiting patiently for you to move the mouse to kill the screen saver: your morning cyber-paper. You can sit down and read just what you want to read.
Is this good?
What if you'd like to go to another room? What if you'd like to do the Jumble or the crossword puzzle on your way to work? You'd need to print out the page or put the files on the laptop. Now we're back to carrying something around.
What about your decisions regarding what will be on that printed page?
My guess is that you'd only choose those areas and topics that interest you: national headlines, a certain team's scores, maybe a comic or two, or some stock information.
Would you download the minutes from last night's city council meeting?
My students looked at me like I had a second head when I asked them that question. They laughed and said of course not; that's boring.
I asked them about getting the minutes of the local water board's meeting. Maybe they were voting on a cost increase, and wanted input from residents regarding the amount. Would you download it then?
"If I knew about it," one student said.
That's my concern. How would you know about it?
If you were in charge of picking what you want in advance, and you find a topic boring, you might not allow it to get through to you. Your taxes, your water bill, and your electric bill went up, and you didn't have a clue that you could have acted against it.
What about differing views?
Let's say you're a Republican. Would you only want to get news from publications that write in the political bent you agree with? If so, is that good?
Wouldn't it be useful to at least have access to differing viewpoints, or a different take on a topic? Or is constant verification of your beliefs the only thing you want?
OK, it's time to go to work, if you still actually leave your home to work. You're riding the train and you want to do the crossword puzzle. Well, now you have to print it out, or download it onto a laptop for the trip. You're back to hauling things around again.
If my quick version of a computer-only future is even somewhat accurate, it seems like a whale of a lot of work. You have to set up programs and print things out, whereas before you could have simply paid that kid to throw your paper into your bushes every morning.
Will the Internet obliterate print media? I highly doubt it.
Will we get rid of our television sets and radios? Ditto. The Web will just be yet another place to get information and entertainment. That's about it. Oh, yes, it'll make a dent in the current media formats. It's doing that now. But will it kill them altogether? I just can't see it.
I actually like the concept of a newspaper. I like a group of people who will go to the water board and city council meetings. I like to know there is a watchdog that will quickly tell me about the things I might find boring, but still might affect my wallet and me.
I like seeing pictures of newly engaged couples, and viewpoints that anger me. I like hitting the headlines and only reading what interests me. I blow through my local paper in twenty minutes, but in that time I get to see information I wouldn't normally seek out by myself.
But can't I get all that on the Web? I guess so, but left to my own devices, I might not get as much of it, and I might very well be left out of the loop on many things.
I think I'd be cocooning myself, rather than staying open to all news. As Jack Cox of the Foundation for American Communications said"
"If people are only getting the news they want, they lose the [sense of] community and it hurts democracy."
So, we'll make a point of having the computer get us all the news that would be relevant to us. It will grab all the national and international headlines, all the local stuff, and all the city and state news, sports scores, and financial information.
Or we could just buy a paper.
Joe Burns, Ph.D, is a university professor and mastermind of HTML Goodies, an excellent for web information. This column appeared in his newsletter HTMLGOODIES EXPRESS, issue no. 77, dated 04/24/2000.
Copyright © 2000 Joe Burns/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.20