Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Way It Is

There is, after all, not much of a chance that 21st-century journalism will be adapted to conform with the old rules. Technology and the market are offering a tantalizing array of channels, each designed to fill a particular niche - sports, weather, cooking, religion - and an infinite variety of news, prepared and seasoned to reflect our taste, just the way we like it. As someone used to say in a bygone era, "That's the way it is."

Ted Koppel, who was managing editor of ABC's "Nightline" from 1980 to 2005, is a contributing analyst for "BBC World News America."

So what Koppel? You say it like it's a bad thing.

I know the 'problem' as it exists for 'traditional' journalists. The problem I have is that you make it sound as if journalists have been around for as long, say, as priests, or even athletes or, heaven and/or glory help us, politicians.

Though I might wish otherwise, I think that what we have come to know in the last half of the 20th century in the U.S. as 'real' journalism--particularly print journalism--will be marginalized for quite some time, perhaps the first half of the 21st century. This is not to say that journalism has no value, or that it is irrelevant, or that it will be eventually erased.

What will be erased is the sense of altruistic entitlement that conventional journalists--not unlike the politicians that they 'cover'--feel they have inherited from their experience in the previous century. The boys from the old school think that writing about the world, covering a beat if you will, is best left to trained professionals who learned how to write 'back in the day'.

I come bearing news, sire. The world don't owe you no dime. It seems to me that what has really changed is one word in your conclusion. Frankly, I much prefer the 'infinite' variety we have now to the oh-so-very-finite and Neopolitan (three basic flavors) world of the 1960's and 1970's. I've had both, and I like the way things are now better, thank you very much.

Of course we trusted Uncle Walter (and you too, Uncle Ted), but that was because we had no choice. As children we looked up to you, literally, from the living-room floor. But we 'boomers' (your kids) are all grown up now. Or at least we think we are, though it's clear that we're still babies in the digital age.

Infants though we are, at least we have learned that we can absorb information from far more sources and at a far faster rate than we ever thought before. And even that rate of change is accelerating. Ok, so that's not really news. There were folks who doubted the ability of humans to drive automobiles faster than 60 miles per hour. There are still folks who doubt that men have walked on the Moon.

Oh well. In fact, we are capable--we must be capable, really, for we have no choice (again/always)--of dealing with this flood of information from more than three 'trusted' sources. We must--we are--learning to evaluate more information critically even as it comes at us faster. Watch twelve year-olds play "Black Ops".

Critical decisions come faster under many circumstances these days, and I think, are in many ways more reliable than the supposedly well-thought-out decisions that do not take into account the rate of modern information flow. Read 'Blink'.

Saying 'That's the way it is' is more than quoting Uncle W, it's what we call a cop-out, Ted. You are unfairly using his words, for that's not how it is, at least not any more.

And I really like it the way it is.

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