A View from a Different Angle: Journalism, Law, Children & the Internet


Thought


I just read an interview with an award winning photojournalist and journalism school professor who was laid off by the Chicago Sun-Times in the newspaper’s scramble to respond to the threat of Internet competition. The interview can be read at the Daily Dot. The situation and many of the statements made in the interview struck a chord with me that I will attempt to play out in a different direction below.

I am an attorney. Changes are occurring in the practice law like they are in the field of journalism and elsewhere as a result of the ubiquitous Internet. The layoff of all of the photographers at the Sun-Times exposes a deeper root growing out of the burgeoning success of the Internet that I want to explore. It has application to the practice of law, and it has application to our children and future generations.

The story with the Sun-Times is that they have lain off all of the photographers because they believe that reporters with iPhones can take the place of the journalists and photographers. Rob Hart, who is the interviewee, acknowledged, “I got laid off because they want something cheaper.” The advances in technology allow anyone to become a photojournalist (journalist and photographer). There is no longer a need for a corps of reporters and a corps of photographers. The two can be combined into one, and that is what the Sun-Times believes will help them compete with the rising tide of the Internet media.

There are law libraries online, and many cases and statutes can be found for no cost if a person knows where to look. Legal Zoom and the ilk allow the common man or woman to prepare a Will or a Trust, incorporate a business and generate other legal documentation.

We have at our fingertips more knowledge than generations on generations had over decades and centuries on any subject under the sun in vast detail and almost limitless variations. We have more access to information now than in all generations combined that have gone before us. All of this information is accessible even to our children – more information than was possible to accumulate in a lifetime, in multiple lifetimes combined, in the generations past.

On the subject of photojournalism, Rob Hart observes:

A camera is just a tool. A carpenter using a hammer and me using a hammer are going to get different results. I can use a hammer but I don’t know how to make a table. For me it’s not about the camera, it’s about the skill and the storytelling ability. I’ve had 20 years of training. I’ve developed an instinct to know when to move in and to capture the moment that you think is going to happen. Reporters use a different part of the brain. They show up and ask, ‘What happened?’ Photojournalists show up before something happens.

He adds, “How many people come up to me and say, “Oh, your camera’s nice. I bet it takes great photos.” Yeah, it does. Because I’m using it. No one would say to a dentist, “Oh your drill must do great root canals.'”

I think of the famous photos captured in Life magazine. Photos of the great photographers are iconic. They capture more in one photo than rolls, and rolls, and rolls of film in thousands of family albums. Why? Because a photographer with particular talent, years of experience, through trial and error and careful, thoughtful study has honed the skill of capturing life in photos through singular devotion to the draft. A person trained at writing carrying an iPhone is not going to produce the same results.

Rob Hart exposes the difference: “the great thing about the Internet that I don’t think news organizations understand. It’s an amazing tool but it’s gotta be a two-way street and it’s gotta be real. It’s gotta have feeling. When I open up the newspapers here, it’s frustrating because it doesn’t feel like anything that makes me want to cry.” Comparing his work to gazillions of the best iPhone pics you can find reveals an immense gap. (See Rob Hart Photo)

Legal Zoom allows any person for very little cost to prepare for themselves a Will, a Trust, incorporate a business and prepare any number of legal documents. The person using Legal Zoom does not know what he/she does not know, however. Behind every phrase and provision in a legal document is a library full of legal decisions lived out by real people who made mistakes that resulted in the development of legal principals that drive the use of those phrases and provisions – like the tip of the iceberg. Not knowing the body of law that lays the foundation for the phrases and provisions in a legal document is likely to lead to misunderstanding, misuse and mistakes in the use of those documents.

I recently received a panicked call from a friend who had incorporated a business using Legal Zoom. He was in a real pickle, not because he had used Legal Zoom, but because he did not understand what he did and how it applied. I could not help him. It was a fatal mistake for his business.

We lose something that cannot be replaced when the photographers are replaced by writers with iPhones. Newspapers will still provide news, but there are so many sources of news these days. I do not see how newspapers will survive. Going cheap may allow newspapers to compete with the Internet for the time being, but they will become less competitive when photographers go from their newspapers to the Internet and produce a better, more desirable product.

People using Legal Zoom to do their own legal documents will cut into the transactional attorneys’ bottom line to some extent in the short term, but it will more than be compensated on the back end when the trial attorneys must clean up the messes and mistakes caused by people not knowing what they are doing with the information at their fingertips.

I am most concerned about this generation and ones to come. Children today have more knowledge at their fingertips than they can productively digest in a lifetime. Knowledge without wisdom is a dangerous thing. Cramming so much knowledge into immature minds with little experiential framework to contain it and not enough to time to develop wisdom to go along with it, cannot be a good thing. We stress more and more knowledge with less and less focus on character to channel it in a productive direction.

Knowledge and technological advances in the 20th Century increased exponentially over previous centuries. More people were also killed by other people in the 20th century than then all centuries before it combined. What will the 21st Century bring?

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