More ramblings about the Internet and journalism

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I wrote last week lamenting the sorry state of journalism, and of print journalism in particular. In that post, I suggested that the Internet and widespread cable/satellite television were the chief factors that are killing newspapers (in America, at least).

Just since writing that earlier post, evidence continues where I live that daily newspapers really are going the way of the dinosaur. Our local paper is part of the Gannett corporation, along with about 100 other daily papers and television outlets. Not only is our paper cutting back radically because they are losing ad revenue, but nearly every paper in the Gannett group is taking big hits. They’re the nation’s largest newspaper publishers and even their flagship publication, USA Today, is hurting.

The only answer Gannett and other newspapers have found so far is to cut staff and cut the size of their daily news hole, hang on tight, and hope for the best. (The “news hole” is that amount of space a newspaper allows for each day’s news, based on the amount of paid advertising they have for that given day.)

The fact that you’re online reading this probably means you understand the fundamental problems plaguing print journalism and even broadcast media because of the Internet. Newspapers and even television cannot keep pace with all that’s available and the speed with which it’s available on the Internet. In addition, pretty much anyone can post news, pictures, and opinions on the Internet and find an audience of some sort. Just try THAT at your local newspaper or TV station.

If the Internet is hard on newspapers, you might say the various social networking tools online are making matters much, much harder on the poor print guys. Tools like Facebook and Twitter in particular — especially Twitter! — are ramping up the pressure on all traditional notions of journalism. Twitter is the Internet on fat burners, like the Internet bulked up on steroids.

And why is Twitter so effective? Because it lets anyone who wants to fire off 140 word “factiods” or snippets of thought — or thoughtlessness — almost instantly. Twitter makes sharing short messages and even photos almost immediate. If you saw any of the CNN coverage of last week’s airliner ditching in the Hudson River you may know what I mean. Every afternoon, one of CNN’s most tech savvy anchors, Rick Sanchez, does a show that’s mostly short interviews with newsmakers sprinkled with liberal viewer comments onscreen via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and blog comments.

Good luck, world, on the journalism that results from all this. Perhaps this is just part of the total “dumbing down” of our civilization. But it’s certainly an exciting time to be alive if you’re a writer. Many, many challenging opportunities are out there and many more are coming. We writers must be alert to seize every writing opportunity we can.

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