Friday, March 13, 2009

We should all be agnostic

When it comes to delivery devices, that is. We produce news and information, we tell stories that move people, we offer advice and put things in perspective, we investigate wrongdoing and keep an eye on the powerful. What we should not do is care particularly how the public receives all that good stuff.

Ink on paper has been a serviceable delivery device for a long time. Great. The Internet, accessed through computer screens, has proven itself to be useful. Wonderful. Mobile devices in one form or another seem destined to be the dominant distribution tool going forward. No problem. Some R2D2-like hologram system, or high-resolution digital paper that's flexible, portable and cheap? Outstanding. Let's use them all, and leverage them to get our work in front of as many people -- and in as many ways -- as possible.

The thing about the future is that it isn't knowable. Not really. So tethering our operations to the hardware or technology we think is going to be the next big thing is as bad as sticking doggedly to ink on paper. Eventually, technology will change, consumer tastes will evolve and we're going to be on the sharp end of the stick. Again.

So let's not obsess over finding the one big thing. Experiment and come up with strategies about how to leverage and learn from each new technological marvel. But don't fall in love with any of them. Because at the end of the day, we still want to do the same thing we've always done: Produce news and information, tell stories that move people, offer advice and put things in perspective, investigate wrongdoing and keep an eye on the powerful.

The thing we can't do is keep cutting our newsrooms to the bone while we go through this wobbly business-model phase. Cut everywhere else, if you must, but keep the reporting staff vital and strong and ready to do all those things in the future. Or else we really will be sunk, no matter which forms of delivery move into the mainstream.

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