Opinion: Journalism is changing for the better

Published 6:56 pm Sunday, July 13, 2008

One of the best parts of being a journalist is learning about things before (almost) anyone else.

I’ll give you a perfect example: Several weeks ago, Demopolis Police Sgt. Tim Williams was promoted to interim chief. It took a span of three meetings — two of which were held at 8 a.m.

For those final two meetings, I was the only one in Rooster Hall who was not a member of the city government. Minutes after that meeting ended, we broke the news before anyone else on our Web site.

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Then I was invited into a private meeting for the police force, where Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson announced Williamson’s promotion. Again, I was the only person there who was not a city employee.

And there’s the paradox for many journalists. Robert Duvall, in the excellent movie “The Paper” said it this way: “We move in their world, but it is their world — not ours.”

The world of journalists is changing, though. In the old days, we would have held that news for publication in the next day’s newspaper.

No more. Now we’re dealing with an information age where readers are demanding their news faster. Now, the Internet is a platform for getting the news out quickly — more quickly than television or radio. The next print edition has different content, whether that’s more in-depth or with additional photos or a podcast or vidcast.

The demand on journalists — especially us old-school print journalists — is growing. Our jobs now require us to think in ways we haven’t before. For many, it’s a change they just can’t make.

For many others, it’s a change they embrace, because these changes keep print journalism — specifically, daily newspapers — relevant.

A quick example: When I broke into the news business (back when Nixon was president — yes, I’m kidding), we pasted up the newspaper by hand, used a PMT machine to create dots on a photo that would hold the ink from the press and put lines around the borders of photos with specially made tape.

All of those things are now obsolete. Computers changed the journalism world — and like most things involving a computer, things were made better and worse.

But here’s the best thing the information age has done for journalism: It’s brought reporters and editors back to reality. Pre-Internet, journalists were filters — perhaps clogged filters. The information came through us.

Today, information is far more free-flowing, as evidenced by bloggers, message boards, news aggregator and social networking sites. In this age, journalists have to be simultaneously more aggressive and more cautious.

It’s a tough tightrope to walk — but hey, I always wanted to join the circus.

Bobby Mathews is managing editor of The Demopolis Times. Reach him at (334) 289-4017 or bobby.mathews@demopolistimes.com.