Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More on media

by Michael Dymmoch

Yesterday's news about the Sun-Times had me seriously bummed—some of my favorite writers work for the paper. If it goes under, where will I find Roeper and Ebert, Carol Marin, and Mark Brown? And Cathleen Falsani, Neil Steinberg, Laura Washington or Mary Mitchell?

Then I read Sean Chercover's blog and Clay Shirky's thoughtful essay about newspapers and the revolution Gutenberg started. Print writers are scrambling to find a place in a world fundamentally changed by the Internet. Printed books will probably be around a while in spite of Kindle®. But newspapers as we've known them...

Part of the problem I had writing this blog today mirrors what I see as the conundrum of our age—there is too much to occupy our time. Unlike our life and attention spans, information is unlimited. A Google search turns up thousands, sometimes millions of references. Even Wikipedia often yields dozens of pages of information and pages of further references. So many books are published annually that libraries have to discard the old to fit in the new.

Non-fiction books quickly become outdated, so it's just as well for taxpayers and the environment that the information is available electronically. But on the internet how do you sort out the accurate from the innuendo? The alarming-but-true from the paranoid? More choices are available—more radio stations, more TV channels, more books, more cable, but people seem more poorly prepared than ever to judge what is true, accurate, or appropriate. One of the advantages of newspapers is that most have some standards for accuracy and journalistic integrity. And they prominently display the names of their contributors and editorial boards.

And what about all the great fiction that libraries dump because it's not circulating? I gave up trying to keep Another Country in my local library after the second time someone put it on the Discards-For-A-Quarter shelf. The argument was that some library in the Inter-Library Loan System still had a copy, so it was still available. But how is anyone to discover it—as I did—while browsing? Kindle and Project Gutenberg are genius ideas, but old out-of-print books will still have to be recommended to new readers by someone. And living writers will still need to be compensated for their work.

I don't subscribe to cable—can't begin to keep up with the great programs available via rabbit ears—so most of my news comes from the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, WTTW and the BBC. If Clay Shirky's correct, I'll have to adapt to a world without the daily papers. Which is why I just wrote a check for Channel 11 and made an online contribution to WYCC.