Sunday, June 12, 2005

Privileged reporter misses the point of the Internet

James Fallows calls search engines "pathetically weak" and "surprisingly ineffective." He bases these epithets on his personal experience:

Recently, for example, I was trying to track the changes in California's spending on its schools... When I finally called an education expert on a Monday morning, she gave me the answer off the top of her head... But that was only after I'd wasted what seemed like hours over the weekend with normal search tools."

Well, to put it bluntly, duh. Of course it's easier to get an answer to a complex question from an expert than by performing your own search (not that experts are always right...) But Fallows is overlooking one key fact: most people don't have the access to experts that a reporter has. Sure, you can call your local librarian, but there's a good chance he or she is going to search an online database, if not the Internet, for the information.

Fallows misses the point of the Internet: it provides access to every conceivable type of information to everyone with a Net connection, not just New York Times reporters. But then, that seems to be what old school journalists are afraid of.