It's the Information Age, all right.
Dozens of radio stations; hundreds of TV channels. Millions of Internet sites. We exist in an information ocean; we suffer information overload. We are bludgeoned by information nearly every second of our waking lives. More information than we can process. More than we can make sense of.It all sort of blends into gibberish . . . billboards, movies, Oprah, videos, MTV, dancing babies, books, Seinfeld, magazines, MSNBC, pamphlets, junk mail, Yahoo, phone solicitations.
Never in history have humans had to sort through so much information beamed and mailed and spoken and wired to our ears and eyes and into our aching brains.
And in the midst of this information deluge, much of it flashy and electronic, there is the humble newspaper, as old-fashioned as Ben Franklin, still printed with ink on paper and tossed on the porch every afternoon by a real person.
At speaking engagements, I am frequently asked about the future of newspapers. Can newspapers survive the Information Age?
I believe newspapers can not only survive but thrive. And the reason is simple: While people are drowning in information, they are thirsty - even famished - for context.
And newspapers specialize in context. Newspapers deliver context, day in and day out, far better than any other medium. Context is crucial. Context is the difference between seeing a single societal thread or the whole tapestry of civilization. Context is what will help us cope with this topsy-turvy world that moves so fast it seems to be spinning out of control.
As we are inundated with information focused on the sensational, absurd and aberrant, lack of context leads to confusion, isolation and a feeling that the world is a pretty weird place. Context helps us understand that just because television is full of sex and violence, there are still a lot of good people out there, and most are pretty normal. Context helps us throw away those credit card solicitations because we've read stories about the dangers of debt and the enormous number of personal bankruptcies.
The design, typography, organization and story selection of a newspaper are all done each day with context in mind so readers can quickly see what's most important, what's most interesting, what will help me cope with life. Skilled and experienced editors, photographers, artists, designers and writers are all focused on context.
What events should be covered? How should the story be written? What size should the headline be? On which page should it be placed? Top of page or bottom of page? Every question deals with context.
In a very short time, a package of stories, photos and artwork is put together, designed to summarize and put into perspective a day's worth of news, the most important and most interesting items from around the world, across the country and here at home.
The best of sports, the best of politics, the best of business, the best of technology, the best of community news, the best of entertainment. It's all there, stories written concisely, attractively presented, so someone spending 20 minutes scanning through the paper can stay informed, understand what's happening in the world and, most importantly, put it all in perspective.
Reading a good newspaper every day is like savoring a balanced meal. It leaves one feeling satisfied and full, like one has a grasp of the issues and what they mean in one's personal life.
That's what a good newspaper does. That's what we try to do every day at the Deseret News. Not every news story or even every day's full package of news, provides complete context on every issue. But over time, issues are covered thoroughly and all sides are heard. Context and perspective are provided.
Today, the printed paper provides more context, through its sophisticated design and typography, than the electronic version we publish on the Internet (at www.desnews.com). The day will come, however (and it's not far off), when electronic newspapers will equal or surpass printed newspapers in this respect.
And electronic versions will also offer interactivity and many other features. The portability of thin, powerful, hand-held computers with large high-resolution screens will eliminate many of the advantages of newsprint.
Thus, newspapers must evolve to take advantage of the new electronic medium, while maintaining the strengths and characteristics that set them apart. Someone said that what the Internet needs is a good editor. That's the role newspapers will play. They will continue to provide reliable, accurate, intelligent information, offering context and perspective, even while dressed up in the new medium.