The Electric Newspaper

OD'd on ink, the P-I climbs painfully into the coffin with all its history, and the laments are best left to those at the bar. The newspaper tales will be re-spun Friday night at the Ballard Elks for what is being called a memorial service. Then it is complete. The gravediggers will reverse their work, and fill in the hole the paper dug for itself. The end came by installments, after a long illness, as they say in the business, though they will no longer say that in the pulp P-I. It is an electric newspaper now, a faint echo of its printed past, collating the news from others who collate the news from somebody else, who might have actually unearthed it. The word journalism should never come up.

But it must be a grand thing, this electric paper. You could see that in the New York Times this morning. The P-I's final press run was noted not as another death on the obituary page but as a rebirth in the technology section. The news, such as it will be - written up by readers, politicians and a reporter or two turning Al Franken's one-man mobile uplink into reality - will be delivered by wire, clicked to life as it streams in from " the largest American newspaper to take that leap."

The eP-I has given this the romantic name of "entirely digital news product," suggesting it will be typed wholly by toe. Verification, reaction, confirmation? Well, there will be blogging and commenting, though subservient to interactive libeling and name-calling. Anonymous untruths will be strewn widely without fear of spell-or-fact check. They will endure under the lasting guarantee of the Internet, bells forever unringable.

But this is how it is, progress, and you can live with it or not. I can; old mud sharks must keep moving to survive. But I am with John Steinbeck in one respect. One day in 1960s Seattle, collecting details for Travels With Charley, he watched part of the Pike Place Market being ripped down to be replaced with a new building. He didn't want to sound like an old man, he said, and he didn't bemoan the advance of time. But, he had to wonder "why progress looks so much like destruction." And you learn too late that it is.

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