Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A digital confession

I've started a web journalism class called "Beatblogging" that's about beat reporters who are using blogs and social networking tools to enhance their reporting. Our work in the class is to research reporters around the country who are using the Web in such ways. I'm fascinated by the topic honestly, but whenever I hear about reporters using these live blogs at events or doing their weekly blog posts and building an online community, I can't help but have one nagging thought: who wants to spend that much time on a computer?

I've always been a very active guy, enjoying traveling, athletics, running and wandering around town. One of the things I enjoy about reporting is the opportunity to explore and the rush of going out to cover a story. Somehow, the web work seems a bit anticlimactic.

However, I also know how difficult it can be to keep finding a good story, and to keep fully abreast of news stories when there are those in authority who prefer you out of the loop. So, if this technology can be used to enhance the other reporting skills I've got, all the better. I guess I just fear that the web technology will come to replace going out into the neighborhoods, walking beats, meeting random people. I got my first story in a local paper because I caught an ad on a telephone pole in Washington Heights.

I guess it also depends on your beat: if you're working with the homeless, chances are most of your clientele aren't on Twitter. However, if you're a tech, science, politics or arts reporter, you've got a better shot of getting some scoops through this stuff.

So, a mix of emotions continues as I delve deeper. At the very least, I now have set up some RSS feeds on topics I enjoy.

When I was doing my story on the fall of the Greenwich Village folk scene, Robin Hirsch, the owner of the Cornelia Street Cafe, said that he felt the Internet was hurting the independent art scene, because people were more likely to search for events they specifically WANTED to see rather than just showing up somewhere and seeing whatever show happened to be playing that night. Similarly, one of my reporting profs felt the danger of reading news on the Web is that you can easily cut to the stories you want, rather than reading through and maybe noticing something unexpected buried deep within, as you would with a newspaper.

However, I also remember that Geoff Wiley, the owner of Jalopy in Red Hook, said the Web presented incredible opportunities for discovering the history of folk music in ways that he had never had as a kid.

So, there's a tossup perhaps between a sacrifice on the breadth of news one may get, versus an increase in the depth of intimacy with certain topics.

What do you think? What have been the effects of social networking for you: has such software enriched your life or mostly been a fun waste of time? Is it important to you that this software exists, versus using e-mail or phones? And do you see a difference reading your news online versus in print?

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