About this place

“If a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur. … Then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent.”
–Marshall McLuhan

The Internet is for shoe shopping, my daughter thinks. She doesn’t understand why I’m spending time on a blog.

Despite being part of the “always-on” generation, she associates the word “blog” with self-absorbed people keeping private journals.

I disagree. Blogging tools, and some online social tools, built to enable writing and communicating, are speeding up a revolution in publishing and communication. While newspaper business models have always been evolving, the advent of ubiquitous broadband Internet access in the United States during the last couple of years has created a moment of vast change and reinvention. Through this blog, I hope to examine those changes and their impact on society and traditional newspaper values.

Online software has created a social climate similar to the spread of printing presses in Europe and then the United States from 1440 to the early 1800s. Some researchers and writers like Marshall McLuhan have given that technical development credit for the spread of ideas and new ways of thinking with broad implications for society.

Now on the Internet, individuals have inexpensive electronic tools that give them confidence in expressing their own ideas, reporting their own stories and keeping a skeptical eye on governments, institutions and corporations. Those tools have disrupted existing businesses like music companies and newspapers, and industries have responded by launching experiments with business models and by trying new ways of gathering information.

The word “blog” has come to mean easy software, not a specific type of content. One of the major pieces that fueled an online explosion was Blogger, created in 2003 and available free. Blogger’s speed and agility allow just about anyone to create a web page for sharing writing, images, links, comments and video. WordPress, with elegant design and coding, first appeared the same year.

Clay Shirky, a technology consultant and adjunct professor at New York University, predicted blogging diversity in February 2003, the same year that Google bought Blogger. “At some point (probably one we’ve already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity,” he said in “Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality.”

Blogs and social software now mirror the content found in print. Information online resembles the same information in trade publications, literary magazines, textbooks, community newspapers and international political journals. It’s not mere self-absorbed musing anymore.

What lies ahead? New voices and businesses are challenging existing institutions across the globe. Established businesses and nonprofit institutions have increased their experimentation in response during 2006 and 2007.

Many, many journalism blogs include ideas about how to save newspapers, or reinvent journalism, or how to make money from the Internet. This site hopes to look where others are not looking, through the filter of a traditional journalist learning new skills for a new world while preserving older, worthy values, no matter the medium.

Will the traditional institutions be able to preserve long-standing values and compete with new businesses? Will they continue to struggle for the same revenue pools or invent new ways that diverse societies across the world can support journalism? Will the world redefine journalism?

Can one sell news articles like one sells songs or shoes? What if we didn’t sell news at all? Where would the money come from to create it?

I’ve asked co-workers, blogging neighbors and some friends these questions, and not all of their thoughts will fit in class papers. So in addition to fulfilling UNC j-school class requirements, this place allows the sharing of ideas about new developments and experiments in journalism.

We live in interesting times.

(Edited Dec. 2, 2007)

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