The Internet Revolution, Part I

December 11, 2008

Earlier this week Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times, filed for bankruptcy. The news immediately took me back to 2001, when I worked on communications for the merger of Tribune Company with Times-Mirror, then the L.A. Times' parent company.

It was the most important project I'd ever worked on, and I took it very seriously. I remember rushing down Michigan Avenue on foot, clutching a disc with files to deliver to Tribune Company after a virus shut down internet access at the public relations agency where I worked.

Back then, I worked with the Tribune web team on a merger integration site designed to introduce all the various media properties to each other (both companies owned several newspapers, TV and radio stations), plus educate employees on the merger process and strategy. Tribune Company was gung-ho about sharing content across internet, broadcast and print channels, which caused a great deal of debate about whether a single company controlling the content of so many different media entities would deny consumers the ability to access truly unbiased news.

This seems so antiquated now. Everyone was operating on the assumption that people would still want to get their news in a variety of ways, and no one seemed to have any idea that the internet would sound the death knell for so many reporters' jobs. I certainly didn't - our low-tech merger integration site seems laughable compared to even the most outdated intranet of today.

Fast forward to now: Tribune Company is in bankruptcy proceedings and newspapers nationwide are hemorrhaging jobs, money and readers. The internet revolution has changed everything, and there's more to come.

I confess that I've contributed to the downfall of the newspaper. I've been reading my news online for years. The environmentalist in me hates to see the piles of paper (even if it's in the recycling bin), and the perfectionist in me hates the feeling of failure when I can't make it through the whole darn paper. By reading my news online, I can scan the headlines, choose what I want to read and go on with my guilt-free day.

What will the shift to online news content mean for the communications industry and for society? I see positives and negatives. In the positive column, the latest figures show that the majority of all Americans have a home computer, which means they have easy access to news online. If you want the information, you can have it for free.

In the negative column, it's never been easier to reinforce your own opinion by selecting where you get your information. And with the rise of blogs, it's never been easier to get your news from a biased source. As one of my favorite bloggers and journalists Andrew Sullivan writes, "The terrifying problem is that a one-man blog cannot begin to do the necessary labour-intensive, skilled reporting that a good newspaper sponsors and pioneers. A world in which reporting becomes even more minimal and opinion gets even more vacuous and unending is not a healthy one for a democracy."

Next up: Musings on what the dominance of the internet means for business writing

Further reading:

For news industry, troubles only accelerate (Christian Science Monitor)

Read all about it: newspapers are done for (Times Online)

Liz Kelly

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