Here’s another example of how journalism has changed, turned upside down.
It’s no longer about news.
It’s about what goes viral on the Internet, and that creates dynamics that are sometimes puzzling, sometimes troubling and sometimes just plain scary.
Chicago Tribune opinion columnist Steve Chapman suggested in his regular column on the Op-Ed Page that President Obama should back out of the 2012 presidential race.
His logic is that because the public is angry at everyone in Washington, anxious to kick the incumbents out, Obama would do everyone a favor by taking the blame and stepping aside.
Before the digital revolution, that column would have created some laughs in Chicago. Most people would write it off as a columnist at a traditional conservative newspaper taking a shot at the Democratic president. Glenn Beck does it every day.
Enter the Internet. The column went viral. In less than a week it had a half-million page views. A blip on the radar screen had become a bomb on the blogosphere.
Will it change the course of world events? I hope not. But it could.
That’s the new reality. It’s virtually impossible to predict what will catch the fancy of the digital world.
The puzzling part is trying to figure out what will fall flat, and what will take off.
The troubling part is that Chapman’s column is just his opinion. There are no new facts, no new ideas, just one guy’s half-loony hiccup.
The just plain scary part is that the Internet can turn a column like that into a new version of reality – that’s what going viral means.
It takes on a life of its own, like a pile of goop in a sci-fi horror flick, oozing into new shapes as it slithers through doors and windows – but not just in one house, in every house worldwide.