What Matters Isn't the Technology

By: Steve Outing

When you take a look at the overall picture of content produced by news organizations on the World Wide Web, what you find is a good deal of repurposed news from the print world. There's plenty of originally produced, online-only content, too, but most of it tends to cover the world of technology and the Internet.

We're starting to see this situation change, however, as serious journalism on topics other than technology, written exclusively for the Web, is appearing on more news organization sites. It's a sign of the continued maturation of the Web as it evolves into a mass medium.

David Powell typifies this trend. He is a 20-year print newsroom veteran at the Indianapolis Star & News in Indiana who became an online producer for the Star & News Web site, and in May began writing a weekly column specifically for the Web. Powell calls the column What Really Matters, and in it he takes a story that's in the news and tries to explain the deeper meaning of the issues behind it. "What I like to do is take a news story that we've run and get behind it more, to make people feel" about the underlying issues, he says.

A recent column commented on a horrible local case where a girl told police that her mother was selling her for sex, then using the money to buy crack cocaine -- looking beyond the sordid headlines. Another looked at the businesswoman who recreated Amelia Earheart's flight around the world. One recent column was an essay about the Liggett tobacco's company's admission that its cigarettes contained poisonous substances, and the cigarette-related death of Powell's own father.

Accompanying each column, running down the left side of the Web page, are people and issues in the news that Powell thinks are not important -- although society and the media give them much attention. (Dennis Rodman, the NBA Finals, Martha Stewart, racing lawnmowers, to name a few of Powell's pet peeves.)

The columns typically do not deal with technology. "I don't think most regular people are that fundamentally intrigued by technology," Powell says, so he concentrates on issues that are important.

The problem with modern media

Powell has long felt that the modern world moves too fast, and that the news media reports on some stories without really putting them in context and explaining how they affect people's lives. News over time has become less meaningful, he says. The fast pace of life that doesn't give time for reflection on larger issues is exacerbated by the Internet. "Too often, the Web doesn't give (readers) much to think about," he says.

Most of the columnists that do appear on the Web are merely repurposed from print products, and there's a shortage of serious writing online. The Star & News brought Powell online "because I was an experienced journalist," he says. "I'm not technically inept, but I'm not enamoured by technology. And I'm not a Web geek."

Any news Web site needs a mix of talent, including "curmudgeons" like Powell who don't go crazy over the bells and whistles of new technology.

Powell, who sees himself as an outsider to the Web world, says that his writing hasn't changed because it's now on the Web. "I don't approach writing my column any differently" than if it were designed for the printed newspaper. He's thankful that his employers gives him "time to write and think," which is necessary for any Web publication that expects to produce journalism that reaches beyond the superficial and cover topics outside the realm of life in cyberspace.

Contact: David Powell, dpowell@starnews.com

New media issues forum

The Canadian Institute for New Media, Research and Development has launched an online "magazine," called InteractiveVoice, designed to provide a voice for discussion of issues in new media. Jeffrey Hunt, who heads the Institute, is serving as editor of the online publication.

Contact: Jeffrey Hunt, hunt@cotr.bc.ca

Movin' On

Leah Gentry joins the Los Angeles Times as editorial director of new media. She moves from Excite, where she was managing editor. Gentry previously held Internet editor positions with the Chicago Tribune and Orange County Register.

URL oops

In last Friday's column, the URL to the Web site for the book The Digital Estate, by Chuck Martin, contained an error. The site can be found at http://www.mcgraw-hill.com/digitalestate/.


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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