My first realization of how media technology is changing came in 1999. Word reached The Christian Index office in Atlanta (where I was managing editor) that pastoral care pioneer Wayne Oates had died in Louisville.
It would be a story that our staff would edit and place in the next print edition of the historic Baptist newspaper.
Later that morning, I headed down Interstate 75 to do a series of stories on how the loss of family farms was impacting people of faith. Exiting at Cordele, Ga., my trip took me to some very rural communities in South Georgia.
My first stop was a visit with Ray Coleman, then a pastor near Pitts, Ga., the heart of watermelon country. Knowing that he was a graduate of Southern Seminary where Dr. Oates had taught, I passed on the sad news.
Ray responded: “I know, I saw it online this morning.”
It took me back. News had reached the watermelon patches as quickly as the newspaper headquarters.
The realization was amplified during the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant nearly one year ago. My colleague Tony Cartledge and I left the newsroom at nearly 11:00 PM one night to go to dinner. We wrote and released a story about novelist John Grisham’s address immediately following the session.
In earlier days, we would taken our notes and film back home and included the story in the next edition that would hit mailboxes more than a week later. But time was of the essence now.
Of course, instant news is not necessarily reliable news. A lot of stuff gets passed around without passing through the filter of a trained editor.
However, emerging media technology requires professional journalists to be on our toes. We have to get good stories out more quickly. And our print efforts must be original, insightful and relevant.
No longer is there one approach to gathering and sharing information.
Following Sunday’s runway accident in Denver, one survivor (of the plane that veered off track and burst into flames) went right down the emergency slide and into the airport where he posted his eye-witness account on Twitter via his cell phone.
An AP story carried in many newspapers yesterday was partially based on this man’s posts. Reporting the news ain’t what it used to be.