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Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's new is often familiar in the news business

By now you've probably heard that the days of the traditional newspapers are are going the way of the eight-track tape, and that bloggers are the new news media.

But wouldn't it be funny if the news media faded away and nobody noticed?

Perhaps there would simply be an endless cycle of bloggers writing about what other bloggers were writing and then writing about that.

Eventually, I would hope, someone would discover that no new news stories had actually been created for months. Then what would we do?

It's true that the Internet is changing how people interact with the news.

For example, do you want to know what's on the minds of people in Elkhorn these days? Gas prices. And their neighbors. And socialism.

That's what people were talking about Tuesday on Elknet's community message boards.

The Elknet message boards are probably the longest-running in the county, and are an unvarnished, spontaneous-and sometimes funny-look into what the contributors are thinking about the topics of the day.
Like most people who like their news and information fast and frequent, I'm increasingly drawn to online sources of information.

Message boards like Elknet's are a direct link to our neighbors and the blogging (originally derived from the term Web log) revolution that keeps news and opinion updated continuously.

Little scoops of news are broken every day on sites like these.

But that doesn't mean traditional news-gathering organizations are becoming obsolete. If anything, they are increasingly important as readers are looking for information they can trust.

Despite the hype, blogs are different from news. In the old days, we'd call them columns of personal opinion. These just happen to be posted to a Web site.

Run a blog posting like this one in print, and its called a column.

And just like traditional columns in their print counterparts, blog postings can be interesting, provocative and engaging to read. They can also be confusing, incoherent and impossible to finish.

What we'll always need are those age-old news gathering organizations whose role it is to talk to people, observe, do some research and report on life as it is actually is.

Eventually, I think, readers will demand a level of trust from their online news sources and hold blog sites to the same standard of accuracy that they hold print newspapers to.

In today's wild West of online news, authors carry little of the ethic of fact-checking and devotion to accuracy that is common in a typical print newsroom.

For example, the Los Angeles Times recently tried to track the origin of a list of "facts" on immigration that the newspaper supposedly published. It turns out to be a hoax.

Matt Welch of the paper wrote that at least 130 bloggers have posted what they claim is a Los Angeles Times list of "facts" about immigration. "Meanwhile," Welch wrote, "we've tried to assess the veracity of the various statistics from online sources as well as representatives of federal, state, county and city officials."


The revolution is here. Blog sites like huffingtonpost.com have done for liberals what Rush Limbaugh's talk radio program did for conservatives a decade ago. People are paying attention in big numbers.
But behind the opinions and spin, someone still needs to report the news.

When I think of the death of printed newspapers, I like to think of the people who held on to radio stations after the invention of television. Video didn't kill the radio star; if anything, it made them richer.

In the future, I think we'll still be around. We'll just take our place alongside the online news sites, bloggers and Elknets.


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