For better or worse, one rectangular box launched a revolution

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 11:40 p.m. MDT

And not only could you file stories quickly, the rapid evolvement of the World Wide Web transformed your personal computer from a typewriter with a phone line into your very own personal research assistant. By the 1990s I was looking up almost everything online. If I wanted to know who was ranked No. 1 in the college football poll in, say, October of 1965, the Internet would tell me. If I wasn’t sure about the spelling of a word, Google would correct me. I tossed away my dictionaries and thesauruses and encyclopedias. By the early 2000s virtually everything was online. I remember going to the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, where Park City’s Ted Ligety, an Olympic rookie, won a totally unexpected, by him and me, gold medal in his first race and I was on the other side of the Alps when he won it. I panicked. How would I get any details and quotes on deadline? Then I went online in the media center and found stories full of quotes and details already published in The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times and many more. I gave those papers attribution for what I poached, but they saved me. I was covering the Winter Olympics and didn’t get cold. Peter Zenger never imagined this. What a world.

But those were the good, old head-in-the-sand days. The newspaper panic began not more than a year after that. A gradual slide in circulation had begun in the ‘80s — not long after that first Teleram hit the newsroom — but no one paid much attention as every year more and more readers clued into the fact that just as I had done in Torino, you could find it all online — and online was free!

But that’s progress. I for one think newspapers will adapt and survive. Maybe newsprint won’t, and the rain forests can breathe easy, but news sources will, and no matter how many people give away their blogs online there will always be a market for skilled writers, editors, reporters, columnists, photographers and layout people. At least that’s what I think.

And sometimes I do wonder. Is the whole technology explosion worth it? Exactly who is managing whom these days? Is today better than yesterday? You can talk and text and email and look stuff up everywhere now, on anything. Everyone’s connected — and unconnected. I don’t watch TV anymore with my kids, or my wife, now that we all have smartphones. When we drive in the car, same thing. I don’t know whether to ask them to stop or join them. It’s the same at work. Half the time you start to have a conversation with someone you discover they’re wearing earphones plugged into their iPhone. In a way I suppose I’m like Jim Murray in that bus. I figure I’m about the same age now that he was in 1984 when he raced back to the office to file his story. He just didn’t trust those machines. Or maybe he was trying to hold on to the past.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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