It’s a Battle of Style, Not Media

With the new Pew report out this week, a lot of people are wondering this: Is there “evidence in the survey that what the internet did to newspapers may soon happen to television”?

First, the Internet didn’t do anything to newspapers that the 1970s didn’t do more effectively.

Second, these aren’t the right questions to ask.

We shouldn’t be asking about the delivery mechanism people use to get their news, we should be asking about the source and substance of the content.

At its heart, the Internet is just a delivery mechanism — perhaps an incredibly democratic one, but not one that inherently changes information consumption. And this is not a battle of delivery mechanisms. It’s a battle of storytelling styles. Print has a certain style and certain news judgment. Broadcast has another distinct style and news judgment. The Internet can either merely inherit these styles or it may — if we choose — develop its own style — an interactive, multimedia and on-demand style unlike anything we’ve seen in previous media.

The problem with looking only at the medium through which people receive their news is that it doesn’t help us understand the content being delivered there. If I look at a newspaper story online rather than on paper am I any better or worse prepared to participate in democracy and a free market economy? If I watch a TV news segment online — or on my phone or iPod — do I retain or use the information any differently?

If we don’t start taking advantage of multimedia, interactive and on-demand benefits of online journalism, then it won’t matter whether the Internet “does” to television what it “did” to newspapers.

If we relocate these media without re-inventing them, what fun is that?

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