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Don’t bury publishing yet

Ray Ozzie is one of my heroes. He has a rare mix of good programming ability, creativity, and a keen sense of observation. Like it or hate it, Lotus Notes changed the world, and Notes was Ozzie’s baby. Time will tell what impact Groove will have on the computing landscape (I don’t understand what it is yet) but in 1992, who outside of Lotus understood what Notes did either?
But no one uses Notes anymore, you say? Think again. Consider Exchange: It’s just watered-down Notes with a prettier user interface. Strip out a bunch of the power and put it in a sexier dress. Oh yeah. And take away the reliability. That’s all. Microsoft wouldn’t have come up with Exchange without Notes.

Anyway, when Ray Ozzie makes a bold statement, I’m inclined to listen. But on Wednesday, Ray Ozzie declared traditional publishing dead. I disagree. Dying, sure. But paper has 10 years left in it, if not 20. Or a hundred.

You see, radio was supposed to kill off newspapers. It’s much cheaper and much timelier, you know. And it takes a lot less effort. The problem was it wasn’t portable–a radio weighed as much as you did. Well, guess what? Today, radio’s portable (and a cheap portable radio costs less than the Sunday paper) and it still has all of its advantages. But it didn’t kill off paper.

Television was supposed to kill off radio and paper because it had all the advantages of radio, along with moving pictures. It didn’t. Radio’s still here.

In journalism school eight years ago, I watched a video that predicted people’s major news source would be the Internet by the early aughts. I think a majority of my classmates who watched that in 1994 thought it was possible. We watched it again in 1995, in another class. Most people laughed at it.

New media does not kill old media. New media forces old media to adapt. Newspapers increased the depth of their reporting. There’s still news radio today, but the majority of radio stations are dedicated to music, talk, and sports (or talk about sports). Traditional media outlets didn’t know what to do with the Internet. Bloggers did. Blogging will not replace the other media. It will complement it. It will criticize it. It will force it to adapt. Kill it? Certainly not quickly.

I remember sitting in Journalism 200 class at age 19, listening to Don Ranly, a grizzled professor who’s taught virtually every student who’s been through the University of Missouri School of Journalism for the past 30 years. He bellowed a lot of things that semester, including some things targetted at me. But one thing he said that I’ll never forget was this: Freedom of the press is for those who own one!

A press costs millions of dollars. So while freedom of speech is for everyone, freedom of the press is for the elite. At best, in 1994, freedom of the press meant I could read anything I wanted. I certainly couldn’t print anything I wanted.

But my Internet connection costs about the same as my monthly phone bill. This computer cost me $194. Within the limits of my Internet connection, I can print anything I want, whenever I want. I can’t stream video, but I could if I went to colocation. I have true freedom of the press, and anyone who lives in a major metro area can have the same freedom I have.

I also note the majority of blogs don’t do much original reporting. They link and they comment, like I’m doing now. Sometimes the links are on other blogs. Often they are on a Web site originating with a major old media outlet. Or they’re a link to a link to a link that leads to old media. But don’t get me wrong. What the bloggers say sometimes can make or break a traditional media outlet.

Yes, we live in a revolutionary time. Ray Ozzie is dead right about that. We’ll bring about some death. TV and radio didn’t kill all newspapers. But they helped kill a lot of newspapers. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat and Kansas City Times aren’t around anymore. Realistically, a town has to be the size of Chicago if it’s going to support two newspapers. The once-mighty Computer Shopper, which used to be the size of the Sears catalog every month, is down to less than 200 pages, the victim of the Internet.

But we’ll bring about a lot more change than death. And let’s not be too arrogant here. For all we know, blogging might be the next really big thing. But it’s just as likely that it’s only a passing fad.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t bury publishing yet”

  1. New media won’t kill old media, but old media might commit suicide. Weblogs in themselves aren’t a threat, its the reasons why people even consider preferring weblogs over traditional media that is a threat.

    Weblogs don’t threat traditional reporting, they threat editorializing and the opinion-based writing in papers that is passed as reporting. The threat to a particular publication will be based on the percentage of that publication that is based on fact vs. opinion. If it is all opinion, it probably is gone.

  2. Dr. Ranly paraphrased so many people I couldn’t keep any of them straight. He was regarded by most as the best-read man on campus.

    And as far as Ray Ozzie’s assertion goes, it would appear that it was a joke. It was written, I understand, in response to someone who said Notes was dead.

    So forget everything I said about Ray Ozzie beying wrong. 🙂

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