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The demise of newspapers and what that means for us all

A few years ago several people e-mailed me a link to an amusing little science fiction video titled "EPIC 2014."

Some gleefully proclaimed that it showed journalists are a dying breed who soon will be replaced by computers, which will scrub the Internet for all manner of information and deliver it in customized packets to people on their personal computers, all without the need for professional news gatherers.

The eight-minute video begins with the World Wide Web being created in 1989.

It tells about the start up of Amazon.com and then Google and then Blogger.

It then predicts a number of logical sounding mergers and acquisitions that lead to something called Googlezon and then the Google Grid. It talks about how everyone’s data and interests are online, showing the identification card of some guy named Winston Smith.

In 2011, according to this tale, The New York Times sues Googlezon for copyright law violations but loses in the Supreme Court.

The narrator describes how everyone contributes to EPIC — Evolving Personalized Information Construct — via blogs, phone cams, video, even full investigations. A generation of freelance editors is born, who, for a small fee, customize information for subscribers.

Accordingly, the Times goes offline and becomes a print newsletter for elites and senior citizens. Journalism as we know it is dead.

The narrator explains, "At its best, edited for the savviest readers, EPIC is a summary of the world — deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before."

How wonderful and enticing.

I was reminded of this tale of prognostication as I attended a seminar on electronic journalism.

Where were the efforts at investigative journalism?

I defy any army of a million bloggers with BlackBerrys and cell phone cameras to come anywhere close to the authority, accuracy, thoroughness, tenacity and time devoted by just the newsroom staff of the Review-Journal, much less the reporters and editors of the thousands of newspapers around the globe. It simply will never happen.

Which brings me to a line in that EPIC 2014 movie that somehow gets overlooked when people babble on about its gee-whiz, Orwellian vision.

"But at its worst," the narrator explains, "and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational. But EPIC is what we wanted. It is what we chose. And its commercial success pre-empted any discussions of media and democracy or journalistic ethics."

This might well be the future, but it doesn’t have to be.

See the video.

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