Mark Tapscott: Internet is turning journalism back to its future UPDATED! 

Marshall McLuhan said something in a seminar during my graduate school days years ago at the University of Dallas that made a lasting impression on me.

Marshall McLuhan said something in a seminar during my graduate school days years ago at the University of Dallas that made a lasting impression on me.

"Media is like cancer, which is just a speeding up of cell reproduction," he said to explain why the pace of news must increase as more people have greater access to expanded knowledge and information.

McLuhan is best remembered as "the medium is the message" guru, which has always struck me as odd, since he was a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto.

A new manifestation of that "speeding up" McLuhan described is happening now in newsrooms across the country, as the pace of news reporting occasioned by the Internet is making a shambles of the newsroom culture of the previous century.

The old culture was based on monopoly dailies in major cities, and a privileged trio of government-sanctioned broadcast news outlets. In all of these outlets, newsroom decision-makers and followers represented an elite class of professionals who decided what was news and how to report it.

I was reminded of McLuhan's comment while reading a news story earlier this week in The New York Times, "In a world of online journalism, burnout starts younger." The frenetic pace of news gathering, reporting and commenting caused by the Internet sparks an obsession with getting more traffic, leaving young journalists "frantic and fatigued."

As I read the Times piece, I couldn't help but wonder if these people think this has never happened before. Or, as R. Lee Ermey would say, "quitcher whining, you bunch a jack wagons!"

Anyway, the Times quoted Politico founding executive editor, Jim VandeHei who noted a crucial difference between the old and new newsroom cultures:

"At a paper, your only real stress point is in the evening when you're actually sitting there on deadline, trying to file," VandeHei told the Times. "Now at any point in the day starting at 5 in the morning, there can be that same level of intensity and pressure to get something out."

Think about this: In the last quarter of the 20th century, the culture of competitive reporting existed in only in a few big cities like Chicago where the Tribune and Sun-Times occasionally conducted readership campaigns reminiscent of the old-fashioned newspaper wars of the late 19th century.

Newsrooms were generally populated by editors and reporters whose experience of deadline pressure was that of meeting the printing press schedule, not battling rivals to "get it first, get it right." The hours before and after were typically anything but frenetic. It was the deliberate, unhurried mindset one would expect to find in any monopoly.

Then came the Internet and the Blogosphere early in the present century in response to the exploding dissatisfaction among readers and viewers with the endless stream of clearly biased news. An incredible expansion in the Internet audience for news reporting and analysis reinvigorated the idea of competition in the news business.

This birth of this new culture of competition became clear in 2004 when conservative bloggers proved shortly after it was broadcast that the memos behind Dan Rather's Bush National Guard story on CBS News' "60 Minutes" were fakes.

Today, only six years later, the pressure on front-line reporters and editors is indeed constant, gnawing, and irresistible. This is a good thing for news consumers because, as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas recently tweeted, "there's never been more news available to Americans."

So, to the young burnouts, I say welcome back to the future. Ever hear of the "newspaper wars" fought by Mr. Pulitizer and Mr. Hearst?

UPDATE: Others are noticing NYT moaning, too

Henry Blodgett is a no-nonsense sort, as evidenced by this reaction to the same Time story, noting that the old grey lady's editors are still horrified by how hard other people have to work.  And don't miss this Blodgett gem, either, particularly the observations regarding compensation. Transitions from one culture to the next take time and always present challenges, but they can be overcome.

Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's Copy Desk blog on washingtonexaminer.com.

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