I have been having an email conversation with a friend that owns a small string of rural Kansas newspapers. As a part of that conversation, I have come to realize even more fully that the news sources of the masses are currently in the phase that economists call “transitional.” That just means that the economists do not yet understand what is going on. They may never understand what is going on. ;o) They are, after all, economists.
Even economists must have noticed, however, that the way people get their news is changing. The fastest growing news sources are not CNN or Fox. The fastest growing are Slate, and the Onion, and blogs of all kinds. Newspapers are probably not here to stay in their current form. The real problem, however, will be transitioning the ethics of the brick and mortar newspaper business into the virtual media. It is not as bad as we think it is, even now, but it has a ways to go.
People like O’Reilly and Limbaugh are catering only to the people that are willing to listen to them at the expense of all else. People, in short, that would rather let somebody else form their opinions for them. Given the crushing reality of life in America just now, that number will dwindle. Even the amazingly dim will be unable to believe in George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Senator “I’m not gay” Reid much longer.
At the same time, Slate is becoming more dependable, more willing to cover the whole story from all angles. Better, there are blogs everywhere that are fairly evenhanded, even if they have a some bias. They also admit to their bias right up front. It is very easy in such an environment to read both sides in two different places (or all sides in several different places) and be entertained, as well. I don’t pay any attention to Fox or their more liberal ilk any more. I sift the facts out of online news sources, read the conflicting opinions in the variously-biased blogs, and then make up my own mind.
We will all make that translation from the old media to the new media, or at least the organizations that we have built will make that translation. And the new media people will figure out a way to make a buck the new way. Things will go on. With all of the changes in format, people are still much as they were a hundred years ago. They have the same wants and needs as their ancestors did. They are just changing their fulfillment methodology to match the delivery systems of the times.
We have all been changing along with them, although the older we are, the more slowly we change. At least most of us are changing, because many of us are fairly bright and insist upon paying attention. My publisher friend shows that with his keen analysis of the newspaper business in rural Kansas. I show that by being a sixty-year-old guy that builds Web sites and blogs. We’re going, all right. We’re just more conscious of the passing of our own non-virtual institutions than the younger people are just now, so we have to pause to pay our respects.
You may be assured that today’s young people will be just as conscious of the passing of their institutions when the time comes. The mourning reflex is a side of us that is fairly small when we are young, but grows larger as we get older. That is the natural way of things. If young people had to spend a lot of time mourning their parent’s icons as they passed, the human race would be mired in the same mud forever. I may not be Francis Fukuyama, but I have figured that much out.
As it is, we at least find ourselves mired in a new batch of mud during every generation. ;o)