The Mediasaurus lives!

Media criticism.
Feb. 5 2002 6:27 PM

Who You Calling Mediasaurus?

The New York Times dodges Michael Crichton's death sentence.

(Continued from Page 1)

Who lost Infotopia? Crichton's e-mail finds firmer ground when it blames the deficiencies of broadband (Not fast enough! he says), the limitations of the Web page metaphor, and the general awfulness of Web design. He also decries the high ratio of noise to signal that one finds on the Web.

I watch my teenager try and get information from the net; the school is pushing it, but as an information source even for relatively simple stuff (who's who in Congress) it frankly sucks. And I think it is turning out that hypertext is a nightmare of its own. You keep jumping from institutional sources to what are essentially press releases, or blatant propaganda. And a tremendous amount of information is out of date, sometimes years out of date.

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Still, Crichton fails to appreciate how adaptative Mediasaurus Rex has been, evolving along the lines of IBM rather of sinking into the muck like GM. Who would have predicted in 1993 that America's great dailies (minus the Wall Street Journal) and the news networks would dodge both extinction and irrelevance by erecting Web sites overnight and giving their content away? That they would use their Web sites to keep us informed 24-hours-a-day in a way that we take for granted today but that would have astonished us nine years ago? In just the last few years the media have handled complex, fast-moving stories such as Monicagate, the 2000 presidential election, the Terror War, and now Enron with speed and skill. Not with Infotopian perfection, mind you. But who would trade today's media environment for 1993's?

As the wise man once said, if you're going to make predictions, make a lot of them. Folks will forget your misses and remember your hits. In that spirit, Crichton writes, "Sooner or later a lot of people are going to say, 'You know what? An editor is worth the money. Because time is money, and my time is wasted combing through this junk. I'll pay someone to do it.' And it'll happen."

To my ears, though, that still sounds like the New York Times.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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