I was with a couple of friends, both longtime journalists, and we were discussing the impact of the internet on political awareness and activism last Friday. In the end, we agreed that the internet is a tool, which enhances any inbuilt predilections of political awareness or activism.
However, the speed in which the internet does this is much faster than any legacy medium, barring voice communications or SMS/MMS. Even so, both SMS and MMS have limitations on the size of messages they can carry, and voice communications does not scale to thousands of people.
The events in Perak over the weekend were one such example. Both the news websites I'm involved in, clearly the top 2 when it comes to organized online news, saw record traffic to their respective websites.
In both cases, it was double their normal traffic patterns. This illuminates the hunger of the man in the street for up to the minute news, augmented by pictures which tell a thousand words. In a blink, the events in Perak were disseminated, minute by minute detail, to the whole nation and the world.
The printed press, just couldn't keep up with the pace at which the news was being created. And when they finally did print the next morning, many would have called it stale news. And the derision towards the printed news, continues.
My old friend, Asohan, laments Sunday of the loss of an institution. I'm less pessimistic, and have faith that the institution he speaks of will morph into relevance again, provided its leaders have the smarts to recognize its strengths and play to those strengths.
I see the delivery of information, organized news if you will, being a dance between the Daily Me and the Daily Us.
The Daily Me covers the individual tastes and interests each of us have, the different priorities we put on events and issues. This is best served by the internet, with its RSS feeds, countless blogs, news portals with the ability to filter content and provide a personalized view of what is happening.
At the same time, man is a tribal animal, and requires his membership in his tribe. He needs to know if his priorities and interests are in line with other man, and how that differs. Editors in the printed press are faced with limited pages, and by choosing the news they publish, serve as the thermometer of the Daily Us. In essence, the filtering done by news editors serves to remind man that he's part of a tribe, and that this is what other members of his tribe collectively find important.
And this dichotomy was created by the medium of the internet, and its ability to disseminate information by the speed of light. With this in place, currency of news has been lost to the online media, for they are the only ones who can carry the written word live as it happens, and to correct any mistakes immediately. They're the ones who can show you what's happening in Kuala Kangsar, and in doing so, plant the seed of political awareness or activism in your mind. By the time you read about the same event the next day in your rag sheet, its either old news or the fervor has died.
Wither then the printed news ? On the contrary, printed news has to take advantage of the time it has, and present more detailed analysis, different viewpoints, views of experts and stakeholders as well as future directions. They have the benefit of access to the online news, and the advantage of time to provide more in depth coverage of any event.
This provides balance and relevancy, and allows the printed news to claim a new territory to offset the currency lost to online news. Readers get both their Daily Me and their Daily Us the next morning. The one question all people have after they know of an event is, how will this affect me, how will my life change, how will the future pan out ? Printed news is in an unenviable position to provide this perspective.
Asohan ends his piece with, "The loss of the newspaper is nothing to celebrate. It would be the passing of an institution that has served too important a role in society.".
I don't see it as a loss of an institution. Humanity didn't mourn the demise of papyrus or stone tablets. Its the loss of a medium, that of the dead trees. And that has been replaced by a new medium, that of sand and glass, silicon and fiber.
The institution remains, with its time tested traditions and practices. Only its channel changes, to one which has a wider reach.
Change, or be changed.