Columns and Articles

When I left Journalism for the Digital Revolution

Two months shy of its 150th birthday, the Rocky Mountain News breathes its last.

Soon after, Seattle’s oldest newspaper stops the presses to be reborn digitally.

The state of Minnesota uses precious tax money to retrain newspaper staff for an online audience.

Before the World Wide Web, I was one of those journalists in training. As fate would have it, the year I graduated in 1993, an invention called the web browser would soon change everything.

While starting my career as a journalist, my brother emails me something that blows my mind. It’s called Netscape Navigator and allows people to share graphical “web pages” with anyone anywhere instantly.

Always the entrepreneur, from my first lemonade stand to selling programs at football games, I immediately saw a new world of virgin soil, not yet spoiled by the corporate hands of Wall Street or the homogeny of mainstream media.

I stake my claim on a “plot of land” as soon as I can think of a domain name, which is the online address starting with www.

My father isn’t thrilled with the prospect of his son leaving the brick-and-mortar foundation of journalism to set sail on chaotic and untested waters — this new “Wild West.”

I could take only my writing skills and education with me. I set out to navigate the wild seas.

I found a part-time job at a university, where the task is to create “web pages” for departments using HTML, the language of the Web.

Completing my preparation, I move to San Francisco, the new digital hub. I launch an Internet services company that helps clients transform old business models to function in the world of new media.

I’m one of the first to surf a new site called Google, buy a book on Amazon (when it was still just a bookstore) and have a garage sale on Ebay.

San Francisco is a striking city by the bay, but wasteful to the pocketbook, and I miss the drama of the Midwestern seasons. I relocate to a town near Lake Michigan, about an hour from Chicago. After all, this new type of online business can function anywhere.

My frugality pays off as I survive the dot-com bust, and watch as the pipe dreams of the dot-com boom are realized, like wireless high-speed Internet and YouTube.

Rupert Murdoch, an elder of the old media, declares the Internet is the end of “media barons,” comparing Internet pioneers to the discoverers of the New World like Columbus.

As the digital media sweeps the land, I hear news from old friends in journalism undergoing sudden career changes. Even seasoned editors and writers are getting laid off due to shrinking circulations.

Most people know the obvious advantages of online media: disseminating news faster, adding video to a story, reader interaction, instant updates.

But the change in media is bigger than technology. It’s also a generational shift. The realm of new media is the quiet revolution of Generation X.

It’s a true People’s Revolution, granting the power of information to the general masses.

In the old days, a small group of editors and publishers decided what everyone read. To be a provider of content meant jumping on the corporate assembly line of mass production. News was melted down and poured in a mold of uniformity.

The Web broke the mold, allowing each user to customize their own reality, their own news sources, subscribe to their favorite blogs, Youtube channels, Twitter feeds, Facebook groups.

The Internet decentralized mass media, freeing it from the control of a few and turning it over to the masses.

Suddenly a blogger with vision and a laptop in Central Park can hold as much sway as the editorial board perched high above him in the New York Times’ building.

To the youth, newspapers are relics of the past. My son’s school news is online. The teacher emails parents and colleagues from her desk. Students meet with authors via web-cam. School events are rebroadcast online at SchoolTube.

The dawn of hand-held devices like the Blackberry and iPhone mean people can now take the Internet anywhere.

The Web, once mislabeled a fad, is now the very fabric of modern life.

Newspapers, once the bedrock of American society, struggle to stay relevant.

The answer for brick-and-mortar papers is obvious: Become less brick-and-mortar.

Newspapers must make their websites as interesting as the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post, or even where a community of users help each other track the most interesting stories of the day.

Some newspapers are already creating blogs for their writers to connect with readers and expound on their reporting — today’s news junkies expect nothing less.

Websites are not bound by spatial or cost limitations of print media, so reporters aren’t limited to just skimming the surface of a story.

The online world allows newspapers to conduct live polls, email breaking-news and weather alerts.

Newspapers can link their stories to other relevant articles, allowing the reader to delve more into a topic’s background.

Print magazines and books still retain value in a digital world because they can decorate a coffee table for days. But newspapers are about today’s news, timeliness. And by the time the editors agree on what stories to run, the presses roll and the trucks hit the streets; today’s newspaper is often yesterday’s news.

The guardians of mass-media conformity must now conform to the new set of rules online, as current trends indicate the Baby Boom generation will be the last large block of print news subscribers.

Online news sites are starting to gain more ad revenue, and while newspapers will remain alive for the foreseeable future, some of the best journalists are already migrating to digital ventures.

The morning coffee and paper are now the morning coffee and laptop, people get ready.

Joe Moody’s a Web entrepreneur who is currently spending an unhealthy amount of his time writing a novel-length satire of Orwellian proportions.