TCS Daily

The Future of News

By Nick Schulz - January 25, 2002 12:00 AM

This week I was prepared to write about the communist Chinese government and all the nefarious things they've been up to of late (it's a lot). But so many interesting developments in technology surfaced that China bashing is on the back burner. Otherwise, you might not have heard about this:

Greatest Tech Advance Since the Wheel! - A new pub-detecting watch is set to revolutionize bar crawls. Scientists have put a "pub-detecting global positioning system inside a wristwatch." The device can "provide the wearer with the location of the nearest four pubs and his/her distance from each one." This gives a new meaning to happy hour.

Web = Future of News -
This article
argues that newspapers don't have quite the influence they once did and that their influence will continue to wane. Why? According to Neil Morton of Shift magazine, the next generation of news consumers is using the web and doesn't read newspapers.

Morton is like me. "I was raised on newspapers and am now weaning myself on the web, so I'm loyal to both." And he points out that "a new generation is growing up on the net and for many of them, the print papers aren't even an option; even if they do read the papers, they tend to end up on the online version through a referral."

There is a lot of truth to this. I've had different stints in various forms of media, including print and TV, and now, obviously, the web. While I think some of the "web = end of newspapers and magazines" is a bit overblown, the fact remains that I now do far more reading on the web that I swore I would ever do. Part of that has to do with my job, but my hunch is that's the case for lots of other folks, too.

Moreover, studies continue to demonstrate that when people get faster connections into their homes or businesses - even though this should make their searches for material and information online faster and more efficient - they actually spend much more time online. The combination of speed and hyper-linking and mixed media is making using the Internet a more enjoyable experience relative to other diversions (i.e. watching TV, sleeping, reading dead-tree publications, etc.).

However newspapers are farther along than he might think in realizing this. Morton argues that "newspapers have always been in the business of reporting news, breaking news, analyzing news, but now that job is done adequately, and with much more immediacy, on the Internet. For example, people flocked to the web in droves on 9/11 to learn everything they could about the disaster and to connect with others. Most of the print papers were light-years behind in their coverage of the biggest event of our generation -- though some did put out special second editions that day, and of course their online versions were all over it."

And that's the point. A good friend on mine who is an online editor at The New York Times on the web tells me that the big wigs at the NYT who understand the web realize that the web can help the NYT be a force in breaking news coverage of events. When news breaks and people can't turn on the TV, they will likely go to places like Drudge or or other network sites. But, since news wires such as AP and Reuters cover most breaking news immediately and as well as anyone, the NYT might be able to compete even with network TV sites. Plus, the NYT, and other online entities, are experimenting with new forms of advertising that will likely make the web a profitable marketplace for ad revenue, contrary to the current round of thumb-sucked opinions that sees the web as a dead end, ad revenue-wise.

The web - and important developments occurring within the web such as blogging -- is simply a logical extension of newspapers.

One way that the web, and blogging in particular, is helping make papers better is by expanding quickly the pool of respectable news filters (i.e. editors) to help make a determination on what is newsworthy and why, and to serve as a check against bias and inaccuracy. It's a marketplace at work and it is making news coverage sharper, better, and more thorough.

Plus, the web combines the potential for unlimited archives (one way in which traditional newspapers will be able to keep their edge) with hyperlinks that makes it an efficient platform for news dispersal and research. Print papers will still be with us for a long time - they are convenient and easy to use. But newspapers and magazines will come to be thought of as much as online entities spaces as they are available dew-soaked on your lawn in the morning or in your favorite newsstand. The distinction is breaking down. This is a good thing for news consumers and producers everywhere.

Enron and Shoddy Business Reporting - While reporters and pols are punching and counter punching, spinning and counter spinning in hopes of nailing or avoiding getting nailed for the Enron fiasco, a key culprit is avoiding blame - the business press. After all, how did it miss this story for so long? Back in March, Fortune magazine ran the first skeptical story about Enron, pointing out that no one, including some of its biggest enthusiasts, had a clue what was going on with the company's books. But, then, Fortune also named Enron the most innovative company six years running.

Everyone knows that analysts on Wall Street can't really be trusted to give sound, objective "buy" or "sell" ratings for stocks. There are too many conflicts of interest flying around. That's why it's all the more incumbent on a hungry and skeptical press to sift through the cant and BS that comes from both companies and analysts and find out what's really going on. The failure of the press in this regard is one of the biggest - and most under-appreciated - scandals of the whole affair.

A Giant Falls - The Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick died this week. All friends of liberty should pause to celebrate his life and work.

Nozick became a major force in American philosophy in the 1970s with the publication of his seminal work "Anarchy, State, and Utopia." Along with John Rawls, Nozick was responsible for making philosophy a respectable enterprise and serious area of scholarship again, rescuing it from the navel-gazing and mewling of continental philosophers -- especially the French -- who in the 20th century had exhausted their post-structuralist shtick and were wasting time and paper publishing largely useless books and journal articles.

He helped revive -- and then furthered -- a distinguished liberal tradition arguing persuasively for the primacy of individual and property rights and passionately for the inherent worth and dignity of all individuals. He left his mark in a way that most academics can only imagine.

He was by all accounts a gentleman, a scholar, and an independent thinker. Given the current climate at Harvard with the silliness over rock star profs such as Cornel West, Nozick's intellect and the depth of his influence stand in stark relief. He will be missed.

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