Mad scientist vs. Chicken Little

Aug 23 2013

brainstorm

Reese News Lab student Samantha Harrington considers the lists of ideas that staffers brainstormed the week of August 19. Photo: Sara Peach

“Praise God for the Internet where we don’t need Newspapers any more.”

My heart drops at comments like this one, which I spotted on Facebook this morning. It was even worse in context, as the writer seemed to be implying “any type of news media” when he said “Newspapers.”

But after the last few days, this idea doesn’t scare me like it used to.

Interning at my hometown paper this summer (the High Point Enterprise), I saw firsthand just how alive a community newspaper can be. The reporters and editors work tirelessly to bring reliable, fair news to a city that doesn’t have any other source for such in-depth coverage.

I wholeheartedly believe that news sources with this attitude will always be needed. But I know this belief is not universal.

In my digital economics class, we watched “EPIC 2015,” a grim 2005 video that describes the road to the extinction of newspapers and even news media in general.

Though even the video’s creators dubbed it an exaggeration, it does point out our need to examine the rise of citizen journalism. Anyone with Internet access can now be a “journalist.” So how should traditional news media respond?

The concept of entirely user- and computed-generated news that the video presents frightens me. Without journalists, there is no way of knowing if the “news” you’re getting is fairly presented, up-to-date or accurate.

There are two ways to handle the uncertain future, Professor Penny Abernathy told our class: the Chicken Little approach and the mad scientist approach.

I have a bit of Chicken Little in me. I know I can’t tell myself that newspapers will always look like newspapers. We can’t ignore the fact that readers increasingly prefer to get news online. The number of people willing to pay for a hard copy is declining and this has some serious implications for the business side (though, I will add based on my experience this summer, this process is not as quick as many naysayers think).

But the beauty of news is that it’s about what’s happening, what’s changing. So it’s only natural for news itself to change. The way my parents get news is different from how I get news, which will be different from how my children get news.

That’s why I joined Reese News Lab this year. The mad scientist in me knows that we need to be proactive about preventing the decline of news media. But I’m worried about how, not if, we can do that.

This week, we spent hours bouncing ideas off of each other. Our goal, at the beginning of next week, will be to choose three ideas that could be developed into a prototype of something media-related (app, website, service, etc.) that is desired, viable and feasible.

As I learned from our brainstorming sessions this week, there are endless possible solutions. Our job is to sort out the best ones.

So, I say to this morning’s Facebook naysayer, challenge accepted.

 


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