I should be at ONA this week. I’m getting little snippets of the conversations going on there on Twitter and Facebook.
But I’m here in Chicago dissecting a teacher strike, planning for election coverage and social media strategies for public radio in general.
It’s lonely work sometimes.
There is something measured and good about getting away to talk to others about your line of work. It’s good to hear people relay their own experiences so you can gather ideas or add and subtract your own.
The conversation that I keep stumbling onto has a lot to do with something the media has always had. Would like to have again. But never will.
The ability to be indispensable.
At one time a train like the one I’m riding right now would have been full of trench coat wearing men reading newspapers and talking about the White Sox post season hopes. Today it’s full of fleece-wearing men and women reading iPads, Kindles and Samsungs.
A few peruse the local newspaper app but many are on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. I see businessmen following latest analysis videos on Bloomberg, and the guy in front of me is reading the gossip columns on the RedEye app on his iPad.
Nothing they are reading is indispensable. I realize that’s a rather subjective statement, but if one online service was down, they would likely go another. My Facebook app would not refresh this morning, for instance, so I switched over to Twitter.
I peruse a lot of news on my iPad. I don’t have any must haves. Some days I go to Romenesko, some days I do not. I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in three years. I didn’t have cable television for two years, but I just got it again, because it’s bundled with my phone and Internet.
The closest thing to indispensable is my Wi-Fi connection at home.
But even that is questionable, because my iPad with LTE is actually faster, so when the power goes out, I still have that.
Lately my wife and I have been watching HBO reruns on the iPad in our bedroom, just because Hulu + and Netflix are more familiar to us anyway. It’s strange to have a bazzilion channels to choose from on television. I can’t find anything that is indispensable.
But nothing is indispensable in the way that newspapers, television and radio were in the past.
The only time TV was allowed in the evenings around dinner time was when the news was on. I used to read the newspaper every morning because my parents read the newspaper every morning.
I was able to speak with authority about current events in school. I could converse easily about many topics, most of which I got from the indispensable news.
Today I have the world at my finger tips. I can search for anything. There is very little I don’t have access to. And yet In life I find myself in the awkward position of having to say that I don’t know about something a lot more than I used to.
I spend my mornings, from 5 a.m. on, trying to familiarize myself with what I think might be important. Local news, as in my southwest Chicago suburb. Regional news, as in Chicago, the Great Lakes, the Mid West, national and world events.
Still, I’m routinely caught unaware.
You know how we as humans will sometimes say yes when asked if we’ve heard or or seen something, even if we have not? Many times we do this so we can progress the conversation rather than have it end awkwardly.
It’s easy to go look something up now, and I feel like there are days where trying to keep abreast of the situation is exhausting. So I’m getting myself into the habit of just saying no, I’m unaware of that, which forces my friends and family to give context and perhaps send me a link.
We no longer have the same indispensable sources of information. We have billions of sources living out there in the ether of cyberspace.
I can barely talk about my favorite football teams with my sons, because we do not all read the same analytical column from the Monday newspaper, if there is even such a thing as a Monday newspaper any more.
They read a half-dozen ESPN apps and college football analysts I’ve never head of, not to mention the myriad arm-chair ESPN analysts on Twitter.
Today when I think of news, I think of being indispensable again. I think about where I would turn in a natural disaster. What information source would give my family the best information to insure our survival?
If there is no power, there are no printing presses and no television or radio broadcasts. There is not Wi-Fi and no Internet.
Maybe I shouldn’t watch NBC’s new show “Revolution,” but I think a lot about how information is disseminated today. And I’m worried, because we’ve lost our indespensible news sources. They’re still here, but they’re fighting for air and relevancy online and on your phone.
Yesterday I got rid of a dozen apps on my iPhone so I could make room for the iOS 6 upgrade. As I was hitting the little x for delete button, I was thinking these apps were once indispensable. I had to have them for one reason or another.
But here I am deleting them with no feelings of remorse.
What is indispensable to you? Where do you inform yourself? What couldn’t you live without?
The survival of news as information will depend on finding that promised land of indispensability.