Friday, November 28, 2008


Newspapers vs. the immediacy of the Internet

by Larry Geller

Maybe newspapers really are obsolete. Yesterday’s Advertiser had a sad article on the Senate appointments. Instead of relying on their own reporters for news at the State Capitol, a few blocks from their offices, they ran copy from the Maui News. It was incomplete. I was looking to find who was the chair of the health committee but didn’t see it in the article, which was understandably a bit Maui-centric.

As we watch one of our own two daily papers decline (and of course, newspapers across the country and in a few European countries as well are shrinking or folding entirely), news via the Internet has been picking up in speed and efficiency. The horrific terrorist massacres in Mumbai were covered first by tweets, not by the commercial press, as this Wired article, Mumbai Attack Aftermath Detailed, Tweet by Tweet, points out.

First-hand accounts of the deadly Mumbai attacks are pouring in on Twitter, Flickr, and other social media.

Twitter has fresh news every few seconds, on Mumbai, Bombay, #Mumbai, and @BreakingNewz.

"Hospital update. Shots still being fired. Also Metro cinema next door," tweets mumbaiattack. "Blood needed at JJ hospital," adds aeropolowoman, supplying the numbers for the blood bank.

A Google map of the attacks has already been set up. So has a shockingly-current Wikipedia page, which features a picture of one of the gun-toting attackers.

The problem with this immediacy is that you have to know how to get it. For most people, the TV or radio is still their first connection with events, followed by the details and analysis in the next day’s paper. They are not sitting at their computers or monitoring tweets on their cellphones.

Newspapers are not yet obsolete in America. They may not go the way of the horse and buggy—more likely some will survive and some will not.

It may depend, in part, on who is driving the buggy.

These past few days have been a time to read for me, rather than to write. Mumbai is both distressing and depressing, and confusing at this time of year. We are supposed to be thankful, according to the calendar, but world events don’t cooperate. Contradictions continue.

As I write this, I am supposed to instead be standing in line to make Black Friday purchases, although the economy has nosedived and prudence would indicate that putting some money under the mattress would be a wiser move than giving it to Wal-Mart. What Wal-Mart doesn’t get from us willingly will be given to Citibank and the automakers whether we like it or not. And Obama appoints those who caused this mess to get us out of it.

I’m not laughing as I read.



I wasn't laughing as I read. The thing is, I love newspapers. I big open newspaper page is a very high bandwidth information delivery system that has yet to be approached online. I hope someone discovers the key to their survival because I'm not ready for tweet dependent news delivery. In a lot of ways, instant news is like instant coffee. It's junker.

I'm an IT guy but I'm going backward in terms of communication technology and have taken to writing to people via pen and paper. Tweets are immediate, but impersonal and anonymous. My "penpal" in Louisiana almost became physically ill when Obama was announced as the winner in the recent presidential election. Louisiana voted for McCain in almost the same proportion that Hawaii voted Obama. But she recently wrote me that she was through "licking her wounds" and that "anyone who has an ounce of patriotism should be able to offer a prayer that Obama will be guided by God for the benefit of the country as a whole & the world in general." That's a whole lot more gracious than my words would have been had the election gone the other way.

There's an important personal point of view and intimacy that the net for all it's flickr-ing and youtubation lacks. But I'm not completely retreating into another era. I did email my penpal in Mumbai when the attacks were going off -- he emailed back that he was "fine, by the grace of God."

Anyway, here are a couple of things on the net that might be interesting: Alisa Miller (head of Public Radio International) on why we know less about the world. The News Behind the News, a 5 minute video on TED:

Is Google Making You Stupid? by Nicholas Carr. If he's right, you probably won't finish reading this Atlantic article:

See you in the funny papers.


Doug, thanks very much for your comment and links.

And funny you should mention the funny papers. The comics page has long been one of the reasons I subscribe to a print newspaper, although I suppose it's possible to have them delivered online.

I did see the TED talk and the Google Making You Stupid article. Thank you for the links so everyone can check them out.

A newspaper funnels the vast world of events through editors, and to the extent they are working for me, I like the end product. I can skim a paper of selected information much faster than moving through the unedited pile of headlines on the web. I can only hope that papers find a way to survive as print. If I can find time to finish it, I'm half-way through a rant (yet another) on this.

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