The end of journalism

A deadline-a-minute technology produces qualitatively different news

I joined six colleagues in a symposium earlier this month at Harvard's Kennedy School, marking the impending retirement of Marvin Kalb, founding director of the Shorenstein Center of Press, Politics and Public Policy.

The subject had been changed at the last minute from the "State of Journalism" to the "Future of Journalism." Having joined with the others in bemoaning the obsession with ratings and scandal and the growth of media empires, I confronted the question about where it would all end.

I suggested that, as Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the End of History, it might now be time to proclaim the End of Journalism, swallowed up in the belly of the whale called the Information Revolution.

The computer-driven globalization of information is having profound effects on what we fondly called the News Business. Anyone with a PC can launch an unedited piece of gossip that may seep into the bloodstream of news. For those with specialized needs and wishes, narrowcasting begins to supplant broadcasting.

As Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School, put it in "Democracy.Com?" - an aptly-named volume: "More information and shorter news cycles mean less time for reflection before response."

With a deadline a minute, who has time for fact checking?

The Information Revolution is already presenting its own problems. The Pentagon, where the Internet was born, and the FBI had to close their Web sites to deal with attacks by hackers - the Luddites of this post-Industrial Revolution.

In Beijing, the China State Council responded to charges of nuclear espionage by demonstrating for the press how easy it is to log on to an Internet address and download sophisticated data about advanced American warheads.

We used to joke that freedom of the press belongs to anyone who can afford one.

In the Information Age, freedom of the press belongs to anyone computer literate. And freedom of censorship belongs to any clever teenage hacker.

Where will that leave the old doddards who thought news had to be collected, checked, edited and organized? Lost in cyberspace, I guess.

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