Crumpling newsprint and digital journalism

Some say blogging is the new journalism of the 21st century.

If they’re including my blog, then we’re in trouble. My most riveting posts include fart jokes and idiotic insights.

But then again, those topics are more interesting — and certainly more germane — than the reporting newspapers offer.

Digital Journalism

Newspapers everywhere are crumpling (pun not intended, but I’ll roll with it). With the advent of the Internet and the hastened pace of everyday life, print journalism’s no longer feasible. People now are turning to other, more reliable sources for news — including the Onion and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Newsprint’s great for lining bird cages, but bird owners alone can’t support the industry. And besides, when it comes to collecting random bits of crap, the Internet still beats newspapers hands-down.

Some folks are lamenting the bygone days of newspapers. Good grief — that’s like lamenting horses and buggies. I’d rather drive a car than ride a horse. Cars might devour gas and expel exhaust, but at least they don’t crap on the road. Better to leave a carbon footprint than to step in something nasty.

So, no, I’m not mourning newspapers. Technology marches on. And if innovation were a parade, newspapers would be way in the back, struggling to catch up. (Thanks to technology, they’d be breathing exhaust and not sidestepping horse apples.)

The Internet has made news delivery more precise and more timely. I can scan the day’s headlines with a click of the mouse. There are no supplements to fall on the floor, and no newsprint to smudge on my hands.

The Internet doesn’t miss my porch and land in the bushes, and it doesn’t get chewed by the neighbor’s dog. The only downside is I can’t use the Internet to line the bird cage … unless, of course, I print some chapters from The Colane Conundrum.

Many newspapers, in a last-minute effort to join the party (I hope they bring beer), have developed Web sites of their own. The results are interesting … as in, it’s interesting how far off base they are.

By their historical nature, newspapers strive to please everyone. A physical paper is composed of several distinctive sections, including local news, national news, sports, real estate, opinion (which you’ll find in most news stories, anyway), classifieds, life and, certainly the most socially relevant section — and the first one I turn to — the comics page.

Some newspapers think the tried-and-true format of the physical paper translates to the Web. Well, they’ve tried it, and it’s proved untrue.

The one-size-fits-all, something-to-please-everyone approach doesn’t work. The Internet caters to specific audiences who want specific content. And audiences specifically don’t want the information hodgepodge that newspapers offer.

It’s like newspapers take their print content and sling it into cyberspace. The result is an unreadable, impenetrable jumble. Newspapers provide numerous flavors to please multiple palates, but they heap everything onto one plate. The result, frankly, is unpalatable.

Their home pages often are a cluttered, dizzying mess of links, videos, slideshows, photo galleries, news updates, event listings, sports scores, weather forecasts and Flash ads. It’s information overload, and it taxes both your patience and your Internet connection.

You also can’t interact with a newspaper like you can with a Web site. Readers love the Web because they can post an immediate response to a story. Reporters and editors hate the Web because — you might have guessed it — readers can post an immediate response to a story.

In the past, readers had to submit letters to the editor. Editors had the luxury of discriminating against poor writers, lunatics and, most importantly, readers who disagreed with them.

But now there’s no moderator. Within moments of a story’s posting, readers can log in to bash the reporter, insult other readers and articulate their own bizarre views. Occasionally, they even respond to the story. The anonymity of comment forums provides for open, intellectual discussion.

Well, open discussion, anyway. And unfortunately, most of those discussions consist of racist rants, political fist-swinging and lunatic diatribes.

All joking aside, though, I do believe comment forums are a step in the right direction. Free speech is messy, but it’s better than censorship. (Though if you disagree with me, I won’t approve your comment.)

Reader feedback helps to keep journalists on their toes. One factual, grammatical or logical misstep, and the reporter learns of it immediately. He or she then can take that information and do what any sensible journalist would do: ignore it.

Me, I prefer blogging. I’m not sure if it’s the new journalism of the 21st century, but it’s definitely catching on. Where many bloggers once commented on the news, many are now reporting it. They’re seizing the true essence of free speech to introduce ideas and ignite discussion. (Unfortunately, the racist rants and lunatic diatribes drown them out.)

The fate of newspapers lies in the future’s hands. I hope the future washes regularly, because the print-to-digital transition won’t be clean. Journalism’s undergoing a major overhaul, and all the old business models are giving way to new methods of gathering and reporting information.

And I’ll be here, in the heart of the blogosphere, adding my comments between the fart jokes and idiotic insights.

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