There is a meme you maybe won’t remember, from a different internet epic, that goes like this: Are bloggers journalists? It was a real question that became a joke because it’s the kind of thing someone would ask now only with a wink of nostalgia for the naiveté of an earlier time, when terms like hyperlocal and blogosphere were used in earnest.
The web itself was different then, and the way people thought about the changes it would bring were different, too. The focus was on the individual. The mantra was: Just think what you can do now. All you need is a dial-up connection! And our arrival in this shared tech utopia was, we were told, liberating beyond our wildest dreams. It would make us smarter, and faster, and freer in all the ways the old AT&T commercials had promised (“Have you ever sent someone a fax from the beach? You will!”). And it did, in so many ways. But even the curmudgeons of the old school, editors and print-media devotees who chafed at the speed of internet journalism, or thumbed their noses at those they perceived as not sufficiently ink-stained, were focused on the wrong disruptive forces in those early days.
These grumpy journalists feared misinformation, and disliked feeling replaceable, and knew they were losing a battle that mattered to them. Because it was clear to anyone then that, with the printing press no longer a prerequisite for publishing information, journalists would have to compete with individuals outside of the journalism industry—including some amateurs doing valuable fact-finding on their own time, but also plenty of people neither beholden to nor interested in the industry’s ethical standards.