We all know the beauty of online journalism – the immediacy of radio and yet hit the print key and you get the permanency of press. Plus virtually unlimited space. Plus the ability now to bundle up the written word with audio and video. Plus…

Slate editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg is almost gloating. He has told the Guardian that all the evidence suggests to him that this year has seen America’s “political conversation” finally and decisively shift away from traditional media to the web:

Anyone who really wants to participate in that conversation has to have a presence on the web now – not necessarily a blog, but they have to have a website or write for an online publication. Within half an hour of posting a piece on Slate, I get a direct, often hostile and personal, response from readers.

That’s part of what I think has been so frustrating for the columnists on the New York Times, like Thomas Friedman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, who are online but are behind a “pay-wall” – you have to be a subscriber to the paper or subscribe separately to the website before you can get them. That effectively cuts them out of the political conversation.

Weisberg talks about his recent experience of writing a profile-interview of rising Democratic star Barack Obama for American Vogue:

I used to write for Vanity Fair and the New York Times magazine, but I hadn’t written for a glossy magazine in several years. The whole process felt unbelievably anachronistic to me. It was like going back to the horse-and-buggy.

The worst thing was the lead-time. I’m used to finishing a piece at Slate and publishing it straight away. I had some things in the Vogue piece that Obama hadn’t said before about the possibility of running for president, and I was sort of in agony between the time I finished it and when it was published because I thought he’d say them again to somebody else. He didn’t quite, which was very nice of him. Online you can’t be scooped. If you are scooped, it’s no one’s fault but your own.

But it’s not just about the risk of being scooped. The worst of it was that when the piece came out it wasn’t immediately available on the web. Obama is an excellent example of the political conversation being online now. There would have been quite a lot of buzz about that piece if it had appeared almost anywhere on the web. Today you are a tree falling in the forest if you’re writing about a guy running for president and it doesn’t appear online.

And you’re a raving ratbag if you talk back to the TV.

Peter Fray

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