If only Yahoo has news, will only yahoos read it?

The news about the news is blue—newspapers are folding like origami and even venerable tomes such as The Boston Globe could be defunct by the time the tulips bloom on Boston Common. If you believe so-proclaimed “netizens,” the decline of the daily paper isn’t such a bad thing. “Citizen journalists” will democratize the news, the speed of the Internet will mean we can access stories as they unfold rather than the next morning, browsers will allow us to filter out what we don’t want to read, RSS feeds will alert us of breaking developments on issues we’ve been following, and the storage capacity of servers will allow in-depth coverage rather than what fits in the allotted column inches.

It all sounds good, except that’s not the way it works in real life. Pick up USA Today (aka/ Useless Today) and take a good look, because what most Americans will end up with will be an electronic version of that pathetic piece of bird cage liner. Yes, the Web does allow individuals to do all the things claimed and yes, it is a tremendous resource for those who have become passionate about a topic. If you want to follow the tragedy in Darfur, there’s far more information available on the savedarfur.com website than you’ll find in any metro paper. That is, if you’ve ever heard of Darfur.

Thereby hangs a tale. There is a vast difference between what is possible and what is likely. Let us put aside the presumptuousness that anybody can do what trained journalists do. A bigger problem is that Web info is too often like the tourist spot that’s three miles from your house; because you can go there anytime you never do. Initial awareness is the prerequisite to learning anything and the Web does a poor job of this. The audiences it serves best are fanatics and fluff surfers. (Actually, by volume the audiences it serves best are those looking for sports or pornography.)

I picked a slow news day, Wednesday March 11, 2009. The front page of Yahoo News had four “featured” stories. They were: “Family May Stay in Cave,” “Ex-Supermodel Shines in Green & Gold Gown,” “Basketball Team Trails Before Opening Tip,” and “US Tourist Spots that Attract the Most Visitors.” There were seven actual news stories listed on the home page and eight others for those bothering to click “More News.”

By startling contrast, the front page of the Boston Globe had stories on the stock market, how the recession has impacted CO2 emissions, the future of the FDIC, possible rapprochement with Iran, a Lowell curfew system, and a single human interest story—one about a Maine pub. Turn the pages of the first section and there are thirty-three other stories and nine op-eds. Among the things you’d learn from the Globe, but not Yahoo include: President Obama’s stand on education reform, Somali’s decision to impose Sharia law, an unfolding crisis in Northern Ireland, unrest in Kenya and Sri Lanka, the naval dispute between the US and China, and a breakthrough on ovarian cancer screening.

Oddly enough, none of Yahoo’s “featured stories” were deemed worthy of coverage in the Globe. There is real danger involved in turning the business of news awareness over to those whose idea of hard news is Britney’s latest stint in rehab or who got eliminated on “Dancing with Stars.” Too many Americans already wallow in pools of global ignorance.

This is not an anti-Web rant; I’m posting this on a blog for heaven’s sake! But it is a plea for sanity. The Web is too often promoted as a one-size-fits-all panacea rather than looking at its severe limitations. Until it does a better job at promoting basic awareness, I’ll smudge my fingers with newsprint to the bitter end.--LV

1 comment:

susan boldman said...

I completely agree.
Who will pay for investigative journalists to do the kind of work we need?