During one of my morning runs this week, I was listening to the Slate Culture Gabfest on my iPod shuffle, where Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner were having a lively conversation about Twitter, when it struck me: This is a digital media moment to remember.
I’m a big fan of podcasts. I enjoy Slate’s Political Gabfest as well as the Culture Gabfest, This American Life, the occasional Fresh Air and Frank Deford’s sports commentaries. One of my favorites is Sea Change Radio, which covers environmental and social issues from a liberal perspective. Bill Baue and Francesca Rheannon do a great job, and I’d say that even if I were not interviewed on the latest edition of the show, about green jobs. I’ve also learned a lot from EconTalk, a weekly in-depth podcast about economics, usually reflecting free market ideas, hosted by Russ Roberts. (Russ is also the author of The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance, a surprisingly entertaining novel about a libertarian teacher of high school economics who is smitten with a liberal English instructor.)
Why am I telling you all this? Because, although I’m as unhappy as anyone about the terrible things happening to the newspaper and magazine businesses these days, what’s often overlooked in all the laments for the decline of print journalism is the other side of the story: the explosion of ideas and (less so) information in the digital media. Just this week, Portfolio magazine closed and the Baltimore Sun laid off nearly a third of its staff. But barely a day goes by when I don’t discover a new and worthwhile blog. Twitter and Facebook point me to news stories and commentary that I would otherwise have missed. A growing number of college courses by great teachers are being put online. And of course thanks to Google, we all have access to more information at our fingertips than we have ever had before. I can barely remember life before Google.
For me, this is personal, of course. I spent more than 30 years as a writer of print journalism—newspaper and magazine stories and books. Now more of my time is spent producing digital media–not just stories and columns but podcasts and Tweets as well. Much as I love magazine journalism (and I’m about to get to work on a story for FORTUNE), I must say that I have come to enjoy the immediacy of blogging, the feedback that I get from writing for Greenbiz.com and The Energy Collective, the chance to contribute to a fine publication like Slate. Like most people, I’m also spending more time consuming digital content and less time with print.
The economist Josephy Shumpeter called this “creative destruction,” and it is both creative and destructive–as well as fascinating and a little scary to watch as it unfolds. For the second time in a week or so, I’m going end with by quoting Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”