From the Publisher/Arnold G. York
The world we live in constantly changes. Most of the people I know have profited from a changing world because change usually means opportunity. Almost everyone I know is better educated, healthier, richer and more secure than their parents ever were, or certainly more so than their grandparents. Yet, despite the fact that change is an ever present part of our life, most of us are chronically unhappy about what it’s brought, as if only we were just a bit smarter or if our leaders were just a bit more astute we could get to keep all the good things that come from change, but without the downside. And this is silly.
For example, let’s take just one major change in our recent lifetime, the Internet. I love the Internet. The Internet gives journalists, at their fingertips, access to much of the world’s information. There was a time when you had to be the New York Times, with its vast resources, to get in-depth background on someone or something. Not anymore. Today, all you need is a DSL line.
Let me give you some specifics. Many of you have been following the Kobe Bryant case in Colorado. The court has been struggling with the Colorado Rape Shield Law, how much to disclose about the woman and protecting her privacy, and weighing that against Bryant’s right to a fair trial. The judge has to make some tough calls. The problem is that most of that information is already out there. There is a Web site with pictures of the girl, her friends, commentary and portions of court transcripts, so the court’s attempt to control the public dissemination of information is, frankly, meaningless. My guess is that, in the future, you’re going to see a Web site in every high-profile criminal case, probably located offshore so it’s beyond the reach of the courts. Is that change good or bad? Does it make for a fairer trial or, as someone once said, a high-tech lynching? I’m not sure.
The Internet has also changed political fund raising. Jesse Unruh said that money was the mother’s milk of politics. It was true when he said it. It’s even truer today. We live in California, probably the most expensive media market in the country. In the old days, only the heavy hitters counted. Anyone ever involved in campaigns knew how difficult it was in the past to raise money in small amounts from large groups. It invariably cost you as much or more to get the money than you actually ended up banking. That was then, until then-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean came along and changed the game. Now you send out an e-mail to the appropriate list and the dollars flow.
The money, of course, flows best when the faithful are whipped up, so there is a definite advantage in keeping the faithful whipped up. The Democrats hate Bush and the Democratic dollars are flowing in a torrent. I suspect we’ve certainly seen the last of fair-minded campaigns with rational discussions of the issues. Maybe that was always a myth, but is this good for a democracy? It certainly seems more democratic, but is it good?
The downside of the Internet. This is guaranteed to scare you to death. Dick Callahan, our Malibu Times technical guru, recently cleaned a computer that was filled with spyware. He used an anti-spyware program to get unwanted stuff off the hard drive. In one computer alone, there were 1,683 pieces of spyware on the computer. There were cookies. There were advertising programs. There were key loggers (that records every stroke on your machine). So I asked Dick where do they come from? He told me they come from Web sites you visit, programs you download, things you consent to-or don’t even know you OK’d. They come from spam. Don’t worry about the details; we’re going to do some stories on this in the future. Still, what happens to our rights of privacy? Truthfully, in large measure, they have gone, disappearing into the technical age. It’s not just the government that has access. It’s Sears and Visa and Saks Fifth Avenue. In many cases, they know more about us, our tastes, our buying patterns than we know about ourselves. Recently, I had a call from one of my credit card companies questioning a proposed purchase of some power tools. The computer kicked it back, the company said, because the person gave the wrong expiration date for the credit card and they wanted to verify that it was me, or at least that was the cover story. I suspect they really kicked it back because down deep in their files it says I never bought a power tool in my life and probably never will.
Well, if you can’t beat it, you might as well join it. The Malibu Times goes up on a Web site (www.malibutimes.com) every Wednesday and pretty much every story and every advertisement goes up there also. It’s become a necessity. Five years ago, we were getting 5,000 unique visitors per month to our Web site. Two years ago, we were getting 25,000 unique visitors each month. Today, we get 40,000-50,000 visitors per month, and in two years my guess is it will be 100,000 visitors per month. The world changes and there isn’t much you can do about it. Some of it’s good and some of it’s not. As for me, I’ll feel a lot better about change once I figure out how I can charge every Web visitor a quarter a copy for the newspaper.