By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The times are changing, especially in the news business. In the not very distant past, newspapers didn’t have to worry about getting the news out until the next morning. Events that happened one morning wouldn’t be fully revealed until the following morning. Speed was limited by how long it took to make phone calls, page layout and printing presses.
Then the Internet arrived and ramped up the speed of the news cycle. News delivery is now limited by how fast you can type up a news item and post it on the Internet. Sometimes I feel like we traded in our steam engine for a jet fighter.
I felt this new need for speed Wednesday morning as soon as I stepped into the newsroom. Photographer Eric DiNovo said there had been a serious crash on U.S. Route 460 that had actually spilled onto East Cumberland Road. City Editor Charles Owens needed something we could post on the Internet immediately, so I myself and reporter Kate Coil called Mercer County 911 and got enough details for a brief item for the Telegraph’s website. Then I got to my car, drove to the scene and called Charles with some more details.
Sometimes it all gets overwhelming. Newspapers need to compete with electronic media; in fact, newspapers have joined electronic media. More and more people are getting their news electronically, so newspapers have to join the trend. I know there are pundits who say newspapers are dying, but I have to disagree. Newspapers are evolving. There are scientists who say that dinosaurs didn’t go completely extinct. Some of them traded their scales for feathers and learned to fly. Like those dinosaurs, newspapers are learning to fly.
We’re all having to change our way of thinking. For instance, instead of waiting to type up a story after covering a meeting or a crash, I need to get on the cell phone and call the newsroom so we can get something on the Internet as soon as possible. And I have to constantly remind myself to do that. None of my journalism classes at Marshall University covered the idea of print media having to be so instantaneous. The best example of getting news out faster than normal was the extra edition. The Telegraph published one Sept. 11, 2001 soon after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was before the newspaper’s website became so important.
Now we would be posting pictures and stories on the Internet as fast as we could get them. This need for speed ramps up the pressure, but we have to adjust.
Of course, another bit of pressure comes from having to learn about all the devices we need. In the past, my tools consisted of a camera, pens and a notepad. Now I also use a digital recorder because my hands just can’t keep up any more. I keep a digital camera in my satchel and I keep my cell phone at hand. I’m still learning to manage the cell phone, a device slightly less complicated than the space shuttle. Sometimes I long for the old days when a telephone was just a telephone. A phone wasn’t also a camera, game station, calendar, notebook, telephone book, etc. How does it all work? I’m not sure what makes all this stuff click. I just assume it has something to do with gnomes and left it at that.
For a guy who didn’t sit in front of a computer until he went to college for the first time, all of this new gadgetry is a challenge. In my family, our tech help consists of my nephews A.J. and Alex. Both are now in their teens, and they probably have more technical knowledge than the Apollo astronauts. They roam the Internet, set up video games and send texts without even thinking. In contrast, I’m constantly reaching for manuals that are longer than the U.S. Constitution.
All of the speed and the gadgets are a challenge, but we have to adjust along with the rest of the news business if we are going to survive. I’m happy to report that our website gets a lot of visits, so that section is healthy. I’m sure the day will come when how many print copies you produce is not a measure of your success. It will come down to how many visits or ‘hits’ you get on your website. Will there be a day when we won’t have print editions at all? We likely are a long way from that event. Personally, I think it would be a sad day when we hear the rumble of the printing presses for the last time.
There are times when I wonder what it would be like to work back in the 1920s or 1930s. What would it be like to pound out a story on a typewriter — I understand the last typewriter factory closed not too long ago — and rely on old-fashioned telephones? I can imagine going to a crime scene and desperately trying to find a pay phone so I could call the latest facts to the newsroom.
Of course, I’ve been in situations where I still desperately needed a regular phone because I’m stuck in an area with no cell service. In this age of speed and technology, some things still haven’t changed, thank goodness.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org