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On the digital front lines...

I loved hearing Monica Guzman in today's hour on the future of news, especially local news. She's a young reporter at SeattlePI.com, and was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's first online reporter. She's now one of the 20 remaining staffers who will define what the online-only reincarnation of that newspaper will be. A lot is riding on what they come up with — and a lot of eyes are watching.  If the other 19 have Monica's smarts and energy, it sounds like they've got a fighting chance.

Another reason I loved hearing her voice along with Steven Johnson's and David Carr's was that it reminded me what it felt like to be on the digital front lines in the midst of a new-media revolution. The headiness of it, along with the daunting realities, the long odds. At the same time Steven was launching FEED, his pioneering and hugely influential webzine, in 1995, I was one of several young editors at The Atlantic Monthly dreaming up a digital strategy for a 140-year-old magazine. And I'll never forget my first look at FEED, in June '95, via a 28.8k modem in The Atlantic's old office in Boston's Back Bay. It was a revelation. That was the moment I knew that you could do a real magazine, do real journalism, on the web. And when we launched TheAtlantic.com that November, with the ambition of creating an original web-only publication alongside the print magazine, we stole a few good ideas from Steven and his colleagues. Those ideas are still there, embedded deep in the DNA of countless sites today.  (Steven and I went on to be friendly competitors, and sometime contributors to each other's sites, for the next six years.)

That was then. It's a new, much scarier ballgame now. And yet, while it may be too early to tell which news site out there is this moment's FEED, if it's even been born, hearing Monica today — and hearing Voice of San Diego's Andrew Donohue on our show in February — I can't help feeling just a little hope.  Maybe it's unfounded, maybe it's naive, but for all the painful, frightening aspects of the current upheaval in the newspaper business, there's something really heartening about Monica's spirit of experimentation, her try-try-again optimism. Let's hope her employer shares it. If the news business, like the country as a whole, is going to innovate its way out of this crisis, we all need to find our Monicas.

If you haven't already read Steven's thought-provoking essay "Old Growth Media and the Future of News," I highly recommend it.

p.s. There's a pretty intense response to our hour with Johnson, Carr, and Guzman over in the show's comments section, including one listener who wrote: "Monica Guzman sounded so chipper and optimistic! Such a brave new world! If I was one of her ex-fellow workers I would be outraged by her comments." There's certainly no denying the pain of lost jobs. But I'm still pulling for Monica and her colleagues to succeed.

This program aired on March 19, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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