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Media in Transition
by Pat Hickey

ou could buy one from the newsboy, the newsstand or have it delivered to your home. And for those who still enjoy their printed word sitting at the kitchen table or somewhere else, that prerogative still exists.

But today, computers via the Internet have opened up a new world of personalized digital opportunities for a different kind of home delivery of your favorite publication. Computers have revolutionized the production, the delivery and even the content of written news. With the advent of networked systems, traditional publications have found they can go on-line on the information superhighway with new digital versions of their product—opening up a vast array of journalistic possibilities. (Readers of Nevada Journal, for example, can check this publication out on www.npri.org).

Thirty years ago Marshall McLuhan saw dimly what was the future of mass media when he predicted that Xerox-type machines would make a publisher out of everyone. But even McLuhan’s visionary projections pale in comparison to the prospects the new technologies of cyberspace are providing millions of today’s computer users.

The problem, noted by not only McLuhan but Christ, is how to pour "new wine into old wineskins." The contemporary challenge for media managers is how to impose the form of the old on the content of the new. Vintage wine is a treasure worth storing. So, too, is a good publication, in whatever wineskin it’s put.

Paul Saffo, research fellow at the Institute of the Future, writes of the positive synergy between traditional printed information and the new digitized ways of delivering news:

Paper won’t disappear, but paperless media will soak up more of our time. We will eventually become paperless the same way we once became horseless. Horses are still around, but they are ridden by hobbyists, not commuters. Now it is cheaper to store information electronically. Paper has become an interface—an increasingly transient, disposable medium for viewing electronically compiled information.

Only time will tell if digital publishing will one day rank along with the invention of writing and Gutenberg’s printing press as a milestone revolution in mass communications.

Also, it’s no small step for print publications to veer off onto the information superhighway. The on-ramps themselves are daunting and costly. Electronic publishing requires significant reorganizing and a psychological shift on the part of publishers. Jerome Rubin, chairman of the Times Mirror Company’s publishing group, correctly points out:

Growth in publishing—and in some cases, survival—will lie in our ability to work in multiple dimensions. Gutenberg provided a means of creating identical multiple copies. Electronic technologies, on the other hand, provide a means of creating infinite variations of the same material.

Owners and publishers need to be prepared to take calculated risks based upon a careful study of media trends. At the same time, they must guard against falling lazily behind, or leaping foolishly ahead in any misguided multimedia direction.

Still, all the readily available information can truly be overwhelming. Media managers can easily become mesmerized by technological illusions that may soon disappear in the face of consumer fickleness. At the same time, playing it safe to the point of being sorry could well be the death knell of a print industry already embedded in transition.

In the case of Nevada Journal, this publication is attempting to operate well in both the print and digital worlds. On NPRI’s website you’ll find electronic copies of our past issues as well as computer links to other excellent policy organizations and national publications.

To print or not to print, is ultimately not the question. Providing reliable analysis of Nevada policy issues that you the reader can use is the best way to serve our reading public, however the future dictates we package it. NJ

Pat Hickey is a former Nevada assemblyman and former editor of Nevada Journal.


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