Shoot the messenger, while you still can

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The scene is a crowded city block in Anywhere, USA. On a corner stands the figure of a young boy and he is hollering with enthusiasm into the masses.

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Wal-Mart plans to build on Saturn’s moon!”

Several people scurry over to pay for copies of that burning hot story. Only, instead of shelling out a gleaming quarter and snatching a copy of the newspaper, they plug into USB ports on the robot boy and download the news directly into their brains.

Nods all around as each reader absorbs the news through implanted processors in their brains.

“Wal-Mart on Titan, eh? Well, it’s about bloody time.”

So newspapers are going the way of the manual typewriter. Someday, we’ll tell the young people about how the news was once delivered in paper form right to our doors. “There were sections for local news, sections for national news and sports,” we will tell them in gore-crow tones. “And we had Marmaduke. They just don’t make funnies like Marmaduke anymore, sonny.”

Then we’ll break off into coughing fits and clutch our lower backs. The young people will make finger circles around their foreheads and then blaze away on airborne skateboards. Blasted young people. I hope they get nailed by airborne Harleys.

The hip-hop generation moving its way into the world of careers and big decisions has no use for a product that delivers 12-hour-old news in a cumbersome package that turns your fingers black when you read it. And that’s not just brilliant speculation on my part. It’s the result of exhaustive polling of the population made up of people between 18 and 34 years old. Newspaper? What newspaper? Is that something like the rotary phones you campho-reeking geezers are always ranting about?

They get their news on the Web if they want it fast. If they want it fast and specific, they get it customized and sent to them through home computers, laptops, palm pilots, cell phones and other gizmos I haven’t heard of yet. They upload video and audio to their iPods and groove to the news while roller blading into the future.

But there’s nothing like a warm newspaper in your hands if you’re around when it comes off the press. There’s nothing like stumbling to the door for it in the morning and looking to see what’s inside. The newspaper is like Christmas every day.

There is a one-on-one intimacy about a newspaper that can’t be found through any other means of news delivery. Each reader moves through it at his own pace, with his own style. Some make it a quick affair. Others choose a long relationship, letting morning slide into the afternoon. The relationship between reader and paper is like a love affair that’s doomed to end.

But I’m down with it, brother. Because no matter where they get the news, someone still has to write it. Someone has to do the leg work and I’ve still got the legs. The software has not yet been invented that will send a crawler down to a crime scene, extract information from witnesses and then use complex algorithms to mold it into a news story. Not yet. But you’ve gotta wonder how long it will be before it’s in development.

And when that day comes and the traditional role of the journalist is gone, the real victims will be the chronic whiners who spend their days blaming everybody for the news on their doorsteps. No more editors and publishers to accuse of liberal or conservative slants. No more reporters to accuse of bias or wretchedness. No more paper boys to scream at for flinging papers into your hedges.

There will be nothing but processors, microchips and software packages to yell at – and you whiners will look ridiculous doing it. The machinery will lack the emotion to absorb your complaints or to feel anything at all. The news will be the news, that will be that. There will be no messenger left to shoot.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. You can complain about this column by e-mailing him at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com.

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