Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Here's the scoop -- bloggers read newspapers, too!

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Is the Internet killing the mainstream news industry? It's a question worth asking -- particularly as daily newspapers hemorrhage money while the mass appeal of once-underground bloggers increases exponentially (listen closely and you will hear them rubbing their hands and cackling with glee).

Last week, the Winnipeg Free Press ran an insightful piece from The Economist that explored this very issue.

It began by noting that for many news outlets, the current situation is grim, which, frankly, is nothing most of us don't already know. Every day we hear or read about revenue losses and closures and layoffs and ever-shrinking amounts of editorial content (correlated, no doubt, to all those layoffs; let's face it, it's awfully hard to produce stories without staff).

What caught my attention, however, was a reference to the generational aspect of news consumption -- specifically, to the notion that the under-30 crowd doesn't read newspapers and, therefore, wouldn't miss them if they disappeared entirely.

I had just encountered this exact same presumption in a Maclean's article ---- attributed to pessimistic industry analysts by a B.C. newspaper mogul. But despite the corroboration, I have a hard time buying it as the truth for one simple reason: I know for a fact that bloggers read newspapers.

Bloggers, if we're to believe the hype, are nothing if not young and hip. For years they've been heralded as the vanguard of media -- intrepid citizen journalists who offer fresh, alternative perspectives on current events, unshackled by conventional journalistic protocol and technologically savvy in ways that the staid old farts of traditional media can only dream about.

In some cases, this is a fair assessment. There are some great blogs out there that do inform and engage -- and because bloggers hate it when they don't get mentioned by name, allow me to offer up Policy Frog as one of the better local examples.

Still, the medium is not without its liabilities. Anonymity, for one, can create all kinds of credibility and accountability problems: Spouting opinions or treating unsubstantiated rumour as fact is easy to do when you don't have to sign your name to what you write. Quality control is another issue. Mainstream output usually is edited for grammar, spelling and veracity, making it more trustworthy than much of what appears online.

The mainstream media is a very hot topic in the blogosphere. More often than not, it's mocked -- and yet my experience as a seasoned online lurker suggests that a symbiotic relationship exists between those who blog and those who toil in old-school news outlets, even if the former are too cool to admit it.

Ironically, for all they love to hate on the dailies, bloggers are constantly mining them for subjects about which to post. Likewise, mainstream journalists are obviously finding inspiration from online sources -- how else to explain the increasingly frequent appearance of articles about Facebook groups?

Adversarial though the two may be, as things stand now Internet users rely on traditional media at least as much as traditional media relies on the Internet -- which means neither is disappearing anytime soon.

Instead, what we're witnessing are growing pains as news organizations struggle to adapt.

The Economist recognized this fact, concluding: "Better technology, coupled with new payment systems, will not solve the acute problems faced by newspapers today, but should eventually provide new models to enable news to flourish in the digital age."

Mainstream news is not dying, nor is it being killed. It's merely changing -- and if done right, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Marlo Campbell writes for Uptown Magazine.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2009 A11

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