Weblogs will not cause the 'death' of traditional journalism

Interested in the slow death of traditional media giants at the hands of a new technology? The era of the “Democratization of Information,” with savvy citizens gaining access to the audiences once reserved for corporate media?
The importance of solid, reliable sources in an over-communicated world with too many newbie “journalists,” many of whom are no more than shouters and snipers? And how about the dangers of the Balkanization of a cohesive news media landscape when it comes to vital common knowledge?

Then turn your attention to 1992.

In July of that year, I published a lengthy “State of the Art” essay in the magazine Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Airwaves” (excerpted in September 1992 by the Seattle Times). In light of the blog-fueled debates about the future – and even the death – of traditional journalism, I decided to re-read my commentary and re-publish it at www.bytemeonline.com/dinosruled.html, unaltered.

Though 2004 is a dozen years later and some of the names of the players have changed (add Fox News, XM Satellite Radio and Google News, for example), much of the game played remains the same today.

When it comes to news and the human capacity to make sense of it, filters are important since more broad-based information gathering and dissemination mechanisms – up to and including the latest darling, Weblogs – don’t change the limits of the human attention span. And, of course, mass media continue to have increasingly less mass.

Back in 1992, this was considered farsighted heresy. Now, it’s happened. Then, the “new” disruptive technologies were home video camcorders, cheap satellite time and computer bulletin board systems (remember, this was pre-Web browser). Subsequently, there have been personal digital audio and video recorders, Web sites, peer-to-peer networks and Web logs.

But blogs are not a unique journalism revolution, as some who make their living speaking about or consulting on blogs would have you believe. Blogs are an evolution of this process that goes back at least 30 years. It is the Democratization of Information, continued, including the inevitable re-clustering of attention to a small percentage of bloggers – human “filters” throttling down a fire hose of too much information – in the blog universe.
And, as new media come in and establish themselves, old media don’t just disappear. Time after time, old media just got more focused on what they did best when newcomers arrived: Stage after movies. Radio and movies after television. Local newspapers after national newspapers.

Web logs will cause no “death” of traditional journalism as a whole, though many individual media companies may suffer from the cumulative effects of new technology just as many old-time stage, film and local newspaper firms did. Traditional journalism (if there ever really was such a thing, as it’s been changing constantly for decades due to cable, national newspaper distribution and the Internet) will evolve and co-opt what it can, just as it always has. There may be a dieback of individuals, but it won’t kill the species.

Now if we could just get a few more reliable sources among the shouters and snipers – no matter what the media form.

Copyright 2004 by Frank Catalano. This essay originally appeared on the Byte Me Online Web log at www.bytemeonline.com. Frank Catalano is a consultant, commentator and author. As principal of Catalano Consulting, he advises tech-related companies on marketing strategy, tactics and trends. Frank can be reached via www.catalanoconsulting.com.

WebTalkGuys Radio
This Saturday, August 28, WebTalk Radio show guests include Frank Catalano, with further discussion on this article. Also, Seattle-based Mercent.com founder and CEO Eric Best will talk about the state of online e-commerce and their software for online marketplace retailers, including their clients Amazon, Froogle and MySimon. WebTalk Radio is heard at 11 a.m. Saturday on KLAY-AM (1180) and 10 p.m. Tuesday on KVTI-FM (90.9) as well as on the Web at webtalkradio.com.

Web News This Week
1) Olympic Web traffic skyrockets
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the Olympic games swept the Web last week, enabling a variety of Websites, including Zap2it.com, NBC Universal and Athens2004.com, the official Olympics Website, to capture the fastest-growing sites in the U.S. during the week ending August 15.

Zap2it.com, jumping 236 percent to 1.3 million unique visitors, secured the fastest growing site at-home during the week ending August 15. Zap2it.com is an online TV listings schedule.

NBC Universal, the second fastest growing site during the week, spiked 110 percent to 2.2 million unique visitors. NBCOlympics.com drove nearly sixty percent of the brand’s traffic.

In contrast to 2002’s Winter Olympics, this year’s Summer Olympics attracted 27 percent more unique visitors to NBCOlympics.com, or 1.3 million surfers, as compared to 1.0 million visitors during the same comparable week two years ago.

Athens2004.com, which fell below Nielsen//NetRatings’ reporting levels the week prior, shot to 640,000 unique audience last week.

2) Windows XP SP2 upgrade caution
Windows XP users may want to wait awhile longer before the update their computers with last weeks release of Service Pack 2. Security researchers say they’re starting to find flaws in Microsoft’s latest major update for Windows XP. Last week, German company Heise Security announced that two flaws could be used to circumvent the new warnings that Windows XP Service Pack 2, or SP2, normally would display about running untrusted programs, potentially giving a leg up to a would-be intruder’s attempts to execute code on a victim’s PC.

3) Google’s G-mail gives alerts
I’ve got G-mail, the Web-based e-mail service that gives you 1gigabyte of free storage (mail.google.com/). Subscribers of Google’s G-mail site can now download Google’s new G-mail Notifier, am application introduced last week in beta, or test version. It lets users receive desktop alerts when they have new unread messages. The software, for Microsoft Windows 2000 and above only, shows an icon in the PC system tray and alerts users with the subject line, sender and an excerpt of new messages. Download Alerts at toolbar.google.com/gmail-helper/.

The company introduced G-mail in test form in April, and it has yet to be widely released. Find out more about G-mail at gmail.google.com.