The month of March marked the fifth year anniversary of Adirondack Almanack. In the past five years the site has grown to include over a dozen regular contributors. We’ve hosted hundreds of discussions (a few of them heated, others enlightening, some even funny), but through it all I think it’s safe to say the Almanack has offered its readers a unique look at life in the Adirondack region from inside the Blue Line.
I thought that on this occasion I’d take a look back at how regional online media has changed in the last five years. You might recall a similar look at the local blogosphere that I did in 2006, and again in 2008. Looking back on the events since Adirondack Almanack was launched in 2005, I think the last few years might be considered the beginning of a new micro-era in local media, one that follows the movement of local media online between 1997 and 2003.
First a little history, setting aside the earlier digital communities like Usenet, GEnie, BiX, CompuServe, e-mail listservers, and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), widespread availability of news and commentary online is now a 15-year-old phenomenon. You can see some great historical moments at the detailed Timeline of New Media History at the Poynter Institute, and a look at early newspaper online failings at Gawker’s Valleywag blog by Nicholas Carlson.
Although Poynter’s timeline cites a Columbus Dispatch deal with CompuServe in 1980 as the first online newspaper, suffice it to say that newspapers and other media outlets began going online in large numbers beginning in the mid to late 1990s. According to Chip Brown in the American Journalism Review, there were just 20 newspapers online worldwide in 1994, and some 5,000 by 2000 (almost 3,000 in the US).
That trend holds true in the Adirondack region as well. According to the Internet Archive (which is probably close to accurate), the Glens Falls Post Star was first out of the box locally when they launched their online site in 1997.
North Country Public Radio went online the following year (1998), just in time for the arrival of Brian Mann, who moved to the area to help start the station’s news bureau.
The Plattsburgh Press Republican didn’t arrive online until 1999.
Apparently the laggard of the local daily news bunch was the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Archived pages of that paper only stretch back to 2003, although it’s possible they had a simple site up before that. [Do let me know if any of these dates are wrong].
Right behind the newspapers were an early corps of online citizen journalists, diarists, and commentators. According to a short history of blogging written by Rebecca Blood, at the beginning of 1999 there were just over 20 known “weblogs” (remember that word?). By the end of 2000, there were thousands of newly dubbed “bloggers” keeping various permutations of online diaries, lists of links, and commentary.
The rise of blogging platforms like Blogger (1999, Pyra Labs; sold to Google in 2003, the same year TypePad was released), and WordPress (released in 2005), helped popularize the idea that anyone with basic internet and computer skills could publish their own content easily. In today’s new media environment everyone can be a producer of online content (print, audio, and video).
By the time Adirondack Almanack was launched in 2005 there were about 10 million active bloggers (in others words, those still publishing three months after launching their blogs). There was just two local blogs then, Dale Hobson’s Brain Clouds, begun in 2002, and Mark Hobson’s (no relation) Landscapist, begun in 2003. Adirondack Musing began on the same day as the Almanack in March of 2005. Although some purists might differ as to whether or not it qualifies as a blog, Mark Wilson began regular postings of editorial cartoons at EmpireWire.com in 2001.
Today, local media have legions of mostly unread bloggers with NCPR’s The In Box blog, begun last year, being the notable exception.
Blogs have grown in popularity in the last few years in particular with studies showing that about twenty-five percent of Americans now turn to blogs at least weekly.
In 1995 Newsweek ran an article by Clifford Stoll (hat tip to Dick Eastman), on why the internet will fail. It’s a hilarious look at the what the naysayers were offering in the early years of widespread internet access. Here are a few excerpts:
Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works…
How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure…
That was good, but here’s my favorite:
We’re promised instant catalog shopping—just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet—which there isn’t—the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.
Wonder what Stoll is up to these days? Turns out not much. His 1995 book Silicon Snake Oil is now available for 75 cents plus shipping from Amazon.com.
Here’s a prediction of my own; something I’ve been thinking about lately. Network news and cable TV in general will be dead before newspapers. The reason? The high cost of cable TV service compared to the readily available access to online video from sites like Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix. An increasing number of people are looking for TV programming “outside the box” and that trend is expected to grow dramatically in the coming year.
Another prediction: desktop computers will shift from their current look to the iPad model. Horizontal touch screens will shift our gaze from the monitor to the actual desktop, so sell your traditional computer monitor maker stock now. This shift will also hasten the end of newsprint as consumers shift to these more portable (and more ergonomic) readers.
Nine out of ten Americans now access the internet. Fifteen years from now, the way we encounter media will have been dramatically transformed.
What are your predictions?