Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

Getting off the Highway

Posted February 10, 2008

I was driving home from Charlotte yesterday and I pulled off at an unfamiliar exit to get gas.  Suddenly,I looked down at my cell phone- no bars, no service, I was disconnected.  The gas station reminded me of something you see in an independent film where the heroine  wanders into danger unexpextedly.  The sign above the door was slightly askew, gas was cheap, and the breeze kicked up pebbles in the uneven empty parking lot reminding me of a sandstorm in an old western.  I half expected to see tumble weeds blowing through any minute.  When I went inside the metaphor continued as many shelves were half-sticked and disorganized.  Cupcakes and cheese puffs, not power bars and vitamin water,  took center stage.  The cashier even commented how "pretty" I looked in my dress in an old-timely way that made me blush not cringe.  It was a little slice of the past preserved at the edge of a modern highway, a highway where people are traveling so fast it is easy to miss this little rest stop.

Remember when you actually had to be home to get a phone call, or actually pick up the phone to find out who was calling? Remember when you had to get up out of your seat to change the channels on the television (there were just four after all) and mail came from a wooden box in front of your house and not from a computer screen? If you remember these things than you're probably somewhat conflicted about the frenetic pace our world is moving at today.

I remember when we shared one computer in the newsroom that was hooked up to the then-mysterious "Information Super-Highway." I'm so cynical I thought tha concept would never catch on, like eight-track tapes and leg warmers, I thought it was a fad that might just fade into oblivion. How wrong I was. Apparently I was wrong about leg warmers too, apparently they're back much to my dismay.

The Internet has been both a blessing and a curse to the television news business. It allows us to deliver more news than ever, faster and more efficiently to our audience, but at the same time it pushes us to deliver more news faster without always having time to check our facts thoroughly. There is no such thing as a "scoop" anymore on the evening news. All stories are now broken on the Web and competitors follow our lead (and sometimes we follow theirs 's) so that by the time the various local news programs roll around at 5:00, they are almost carbon copies of one another with the exception of the faces delivering the information.

Before the Internet we had to find information by knocking on doors and talking to people. Now, we have lots of fancy tools to rely upon like online tax records, Google and Switchboard searches, and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Again, the efficiency of being able to gather information on your laptop is an incredible resource, but I fear the trend of relying solely on these tools in favor of pounding the pavement and gathering information the old-fashioned way.

Our children will never know a world without the Internet; they will wear its offerings and shortcomings like an old comfortable pair of jeans that's been in their closets forever. But those of us who remember life without it I think will always wonder if life wasn't a little sweeter without all of the distractions it presents. My mother often regales me with pre-television stories about kids who made up creative games and played outside until dark. In many ways computers have replaced television as a magnet that draws the newest generation of children inward, and often prevents outward communication with the world around them.

Per usual, I have no answer to my quandary. I just think every once in awhile we need to get off the Highway at a nice, quiet rest stop where we can re-connect with life before we were all connected.

About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.