Monday, May 26, 2008

rambling questions that should be answered

Like most people, I've taken advantage of the recent holiday with a few days delicately spent away from working (except today, and today was spent pulling wire copy). Unlike most people, much of my sitting around has resulted in thinking, mostly deep thoughts about the future of my industry.

The whole "print media is dying!" discussion is one of my favorite subjects to explore, for two reasons:
-- Print media puts food on my table, and has for nearly five years now.
-- The future of the organized media after print is so vague, very few people know where we'll be even five years from now.

I can only speak with authority on this issue from the sports perspective, of course, but all the signs of the gradual decline of newspapers are in place. Seriously: how many people reading this blog right now subscribe to a newspaper? Not "subscribe" as in "receive daily emails from" or "visit their Web site" daily -- how many people reading this right now actually subscribe to a printed edition of a newspaper?
Very few, is my guess. And those that do are almost invariably middle-aged or older -- people who don't peruse the Web on a daily basis (like I do), and need to read the local paper for whatever news they receive (last night's National League scores, the election results and so forth).

Of course, the Web is taking over, and why shouldn't it? The immediacy and the access it provides make it a vastly superior option to the printed word (even if it's hard to imagine someone carrying a laptop into the john), plus Web access through handheld devices like cell phones and Blackberries make reaching the Web easier even than finding a computer. In less than 10 minutes, one can consume the London Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post ... or, if you're into just gleaning the most relevant headlines, sites like Google News.
With resources like that at your fingertips, why would anyone bother with unwieldy devices like newspapers, which invariably are hard to open and leave ink all over your fingertips?
(Web-related note: I caught a TNT broadcast of Silence of the Lambs the other day -- because TNT knows drama -- and saw one scene where Clarice Starling was in the library searching old newspaper articles via micro-film. And that movie's less than 20 years old! Unbelievable.)

Here's what makes this interesting: with nearly every outlet in control of its own Web domain -- and really, who doesn't have their own Web site at this point? I even have my own domain name and I've never even won an APA award -- everyone's in charge of his own publicity. Which makes me wonder where we're headed as a medium.
From a sports perspective, let's put it this way: at this point, you can learn everything you'd ever need to know about Alabama football from They've got the schedule, the preliminary roster; you can read scouting reports about the next opponent, watch the coach's press conferences each week, even read a transcript of what he said after the fact (just in case you think Ian Rapaport and Gentry Estes are mis-quoting him).
Well ... how long before major universities simply decide, "You know, we can handle our own publicity from now on -- you media guys aren't invited anymore"? They already publish the stat boxes and their own game reports online -- how much longer before they decide to give themselves exclusive access in that area? Many smaller, less-publicized programs already do this -- Alabama A&M, for example, has an excellent SID who sends out coaches' quotes, stat boxes and game recaps for every week -- you could give sufficient coverage to their program without ever setting foot on campus.

I'm just curious if this is where we're headed -- to a place where every university can be in charge of every piece of disseminated information, and the public is more than happy to let that be the case (since the evil MEDIA just caused trouble in the first place). If this is what happens, then the blogosphere is more important than we currently realize. Bloggers, for better or worse, won't allow P.R. people to dictate to them, will always call 'em like they see 'em and will absolutely tell the truth when the truth needs to be told, whether it's unpleasant or not. Take Capstone Report, a 'Bama blog that wound up becoming a central source of information during the 2006 coaching search. Caps took a pretty solid beating from Alabama fans for his stance on firing Shula (people forget that his original handle was Fire Shula Now), but stuck to his guns -- Shula was fired, of course, and then the Report became a meeting place for new info on the coaching search. It's that sort of fourth-estate style reporting that keeps people in power honest, and it's why we have a mass media in the first place.

We'll see, I suppose.


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