Suarez highlights the potential problems with future Internet context

by Max Rust

The idea that the Internet is a place where ideas can be discussed and anyone can be a publisher or author is slowly dying as the Web becomes more commercialized.
That was the somewhat bleak view presented Saturday by broadcast journalist Ray Suarez at two University appearances.
In addition to predicting the Internet future, Suarez, who reports for “News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” offered his thoughts on media issues, such as saturated coverage and the difference between radio and television, to about a dozen students in the afternoon and then to 650 people at the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
“The perfection of the Internet as a medium will bring with it some terrors and some possibilities,” Suarez said. “On one hand, if you write to be read, there will be more places to write for and more readers to go there to find it. On the downside, there is no dependable revenue stream for places to publish on the Web so far.”
But this revenue stream is slowly widening, he said, bringing with it more pictures and commercials, instead of the written words.
“At one time, the Internet was going to be a very heavily text medium,” Suarez said. “It was thought of as a library. Now, the Internet is a television, shopping mall and porn theater all in one building. Imagine the Mall of America with lots of porn theaters. It’s that Net that’s going to carry us into the coming decades. It’s becoming ‘TV junior’ as the bandwidth questions get figured out.”
“Words are going to lose to pictures. Words are going to lose to sound. Sound is going to lose to pictures. What this means for the news maker is hard to tell,” he said.
Suarez also talked about the “digital-divide” theory that people are being split into two groups: those who have modern information technology and those who do not. Such circumstances lead news makers to cover subjects relevant to the ‘haves,’ leaving the ‘have-nots’ out of the picture.
“The news business in America is based on middle-class people following trends of people richer than themselves,” he said.
Suarez further faulted news media on the tendency of journalists to hurriedly cover tragic events and bring them to the viewer as they unfold. He cited specific cases such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the Columbine High School shooting as examples of oversaturated coverage.
Yoonie Helbig, a University sociology student and fan of Suarez’s old radio show “Talk of the Nation,” said discussion of this type of coverage has wound up in her classes, where professors have talked about school shootings as an “epidemic,” a notion she contends.
“The media may be ‘giving people what they want’ in terms of violence. We should not then assume that the public is so ignorant that they blindly imitate what they see,” Helbig said. “Millions of people watch violent TV and play violent video games and do not behave violently.”