Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Death Of The Opinion Columnist

Teeing off on George "He isn't even phoning it in" Will's recent column on global warming, which reiterated 17 year ago talking points, John Quiggin tells how the Internet has made obsolete the journalistic practice of recycling old columns:

Moreover, the switch from newsprint to digital publication has changed things in a couple of important ways. On the one hand, self-plagiarism is now much easier to detect. Anyone with Google can check you it. On the other hand, the justification for repetition is much more limited. When yesterdays brilliant insights lined today’s bird cage, you could be forgiven for repeating them a few months later, for readers who might have missed them the first time. But now that every column is preserved for ever, there’s much less need. And when your column consists largely of a string of tattered talking points that anyone who wants to can already find on the Internet, it has very little justification for existing.

Of course the very fact that we write on computers--that the "rough draft" as an actual physical document scratched up with red pen marks and then re-typed entirely using a manual/electric typewriter--doesn't really exist anymore, changes things too. I am old enough to remember the agony involved in discovering a typo in the last two lines of something that required the whole page be recopied.

In short, the process of composition has been accelerated by the existence of the PC and the word-check program, which really ought to free up the journalistic mind to think more, and think more deeply, about the content of their writing.

Or they can use these technological efficiencies to hack out the same old crap and hit the bar 2 hours earlier.

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