The happy medium

The television's been in the news a bit of late, what with The Charter and culling newsreaders and all, which is a touch ironic.

The television's been in the news a bit of late, what with The Charter and culling newsreaders and all, which is a touch ironic.

It has been noted that television in this country -- how to put this delicately? -- sucks. Oh yes, please do bring on yet another interview show and call it current affairs. I can hardly wait.

Television is very good at showing fictional characters week after week (and sometimes decade after decade) in all their thick-accented glory. But when it comes to information and news, it clearly suffers in comparison to the web, which young people are turning to in their millions. Given that they are also reading newspapers even less, how can this be?

Forbes Magazine reports that people aged 13 to 24 are spending more time online than watching TV, a bit of an indictment given that television has always targeted just that demographic. It's the segment with money to spend and time to spend it in, allowing for the sales challenge that they're supposed to be media-conscious and marketing-savvy.

They are said to spend 17 hours a week online, on average, as opposed to 14 hours a week watching television. That figure doesn't include email processing time, which presumably will add a further 80 or 90 hours a week if one takes spam into account.

Youth, I'm told, is wasted on the young, and when I look at the young people of today all I can think is, "Pull your trousers up". But this is no temporary glitch; it's a bona fide trend -- the viewing patterns, if that's what they can be called, of the next generation of adults are being set, and they seem to be voting with their mouse. True, most surf the net looking for information about their favourite celebrities and movie and music news, according to the survey, but their tastes will change. I'm not predicting the end of TV, though looking at how news is spoon-fed, for example, makes you sit up. Forget for a moment the carefully packaged selection of morsels we're used to seeing. On the web, any subject can now be read about or streamed from just about any angle from anywhere in the world. Want to know what Russians are being told about the war against terrorism, or what the Israelis are being told or the Brits or the Canadians or the Australians, for that matter? You can find out in seconds.

Forget geography -- who cares what the Australians know? -- and think vertically. (And forget the idea that the big internet and media companies might like to make the web more like TV -- one-way delivery as opposed to interactive.) The web lets you find out about a product or company or event from within the corporate public relations team but also from without. You can hear from competitors, from old-style media, new media or "guerilla" sites, bloggers, from disgruntled former employees (www.faceintel.com) or from people who simply have too much time on their hands.

The challenge for our future breadwinners is simple enough: can they differentiate between news, opinion, fact, fiction, slander and marketing? Critical analysis of media sources isn't something that's routinely taught at high school nearly enough.

At the very least it should mean a rethink of the way advertisers try to get their message across; they should start taking the web seriously as a medium. There's some sign of life there -- Nzoom recently carried an ad for the Terminator 3 movie. Given that, perhaps TVNZ should reconsider the fate of Nzoom, which from October will cease to be a portal in its own right, as it reassesses its news format (one reader or two?).

Brislen is IDGNet’s reporter. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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