Monday, March 24, 2008

Facebook is just kids' fun, it's not the future of disseminating the news across this country

I don’t get Facebook.

Actually, I get Facebook all too well. It is a more elaborate way of wasting away time while sitting in front of a computer terminal – instead of engaging in work or study. I say more elaborate because I still remember when I worked at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago and editors there had to crack down on the amount of irrelevant message traffic us kid reporter-types were sending to each other through the inter-office message system.

CONSIDERING THAT MOST of us were using the system to send the equivalent of notes passed from student to student in high school, all we were doing was passing away time instead of working.

But with Facebook, young people can send messages, share pictures of themselves acting goofy, send video snippets, or whatever other type of “mind play” interests them.

What I don’t get is why some media organizations are now of the belief that Facebook (and other personal interactive sites like it) is somehow a part of the future for people like myself who have devoted their working lives to trying to disseminate information to the public.

This story from Orlando, Fla., also got big play in the Chicago Tribune. It is part of a trend of stories done by people who want to think of Facebook as being something more than just a batch of kids goofing off instead of working or studying.

It amazes me the number of media types who now feel the need to have their own presence on Facebook. It also annoyed me how many of those types who work for the Chicago Sun-Times have felt the need in recent weeks to let us know in the paper that they can now be found on Facebook.

WHAT A WASTE of space, particularly in a newspaper that is shrinking, that could have been used to write about something significant – or even interesting. Those columns were neither.

As if that wasn’t enough, now the Chicago Tribune feels the need to get in on the Facebook feature fad.

The newspaper on Sunday gave us several pieces of copy centered around the theme of whether it was an Internet faux pax for a boss to ask one of his employees to be his “friend” (as defined by Facebook, not by reality).

What struck me as particularly pointless about the Tribune series was that it was a lot of space for something that wasn’t even Chicago Tribune copy. It was actually written by an Orlando Sentinel reporter for his own newspaper, and the Tribune (whose parent company also owns the Florida-based newspaper) published it for free.

WHAT I FIND particularly interesting about this Facebook interest is that, at least as explained by some of the Sun-Times types who wrote about it, it is management that is encouraging its employees to get involved.

So we now have the bosses telling workers they should set up pages on the Facebook site so that they can spend their working hours doing things other than working on coming up with copy to fill the newspaper’s (and web site’s) pages.

Back in the day, my City News editors got so upset with our message traffic that (at one point) they actually took away the message function from reporters, which wasn’t really a hardship, since the main newsroom was so small that people could easily speak to each other while sitting at their desks.

And for those of us who worked outside the main newsroom at Wacker and Wabash, the telephone was a more useful means of communication than any semi-literate message on the computer screen.

WHY AM I down on Facebook?

I’ll be the first to admit that just over a month ago, I went ahead and created my own account there. For about two days, I spent some time setting up a page and putting some details (significant and trivial) about myself for anybody to read.

Anybody who bothers to check me out will learn roughly how old I am (anybody who checks my “profile” with Blogger will learn exactly how old I am), and will see that I am a free-lance writer who publishes this site and a sister site, The South Chicagoan.

I initially had delusions that people might stumble across me on Facebook, see the web site addresses, and decide to check this site out.

BUT WHEN ONE considers the types of personal information that Facebook fans are passing along, it quickly became obvious that very few (if any) people there are going to want to check out this site just because they saw the link there.

In fact, I could easily imagine some Facebook fans are the type of people who think the problem with “the media” these days is that it wastes so much time and energy trying to cover “the news.”

Reading through the pages of other people on Facebook also made me feel uncomfortable, particularly because I’m not even close to being in college anymore. Using my laptop to learn more information about college girls makes me feel like I’m doing something that is borderline perverted, rather than professional.

I couldn’t seriously envision asking any of them to be my “friend.” It would seem to me to be a lot like Internet stalking.

AS FAR AS the thought of focusing my attention on older people, I’m not sure what would really be gained.

Looking at the pages of some people whom I personally know made me feel sad. While it was interesting to learn what became of a one-time college roommate (whom I haven’t seen in 20 years), what I mostly saw felt like I was seeing a batch of aging people trying to pretend they’re still young and hip.

We might as well dig out those toupees to cover our baldness or short skirts that show off legs that would be better off covered up.

I can’t even dream up what the younger crowd for whom Facebook is meant thinks when they stumble across my site (although when I checked out my Facebook page for the first time in nearly a month, I found that I now have a “fan.”)

NOW I REALIZE that in today’s day and age, us types who work in communications-related fields are going to need a comprehension of how useful the Internet can be, particularly since it eliminates many of the publishing expenses that would be incurred if I were trying to publish the Chicago Argus as a traditional newspaper – or even a smaller-scale newsletter.

I also realize that the media types of the future are going to be self-promoters, to a degree.

But focusing too much attention on the Facebook crowd strikes me as being counterproductive. Every moment of time spent there is a minute less time I spend on actually creating an editorial product that could be of use to somebody.

It may even wind up annoying some people into remembering the concept of the Chicago Argus or The South Chicagoan as sites they should avoid – because of the way they tried to intrude on their Facebook fun.

MY TIME IS better spent trying to turn this site and its sister site that covers the Hispanic/Latino perspective on issues into worthwhile products that people would want to read, rather than letting people know what types of music I enjoy listening to or sharing a few candid photographs of myself (which is what Facebook allows people to do so well).

The bottom line?

Facebook is not the place where people will turn to learn more about news and public affairs. If anything, it is the place people turn to on their computers when they want to get away from news.

And everybody needs a place to turn to in order to escape reality. Facebook just isn’t my place (I’d rather watch baseball, but that’s a different story).


EDITOR’S NOTES: Personally, I think any “boss” who is on Facebook should be fired (,0,4717355.story) just for wasting time on a company computer. If, by chance, he’s using a personal computer, then he needs to learn to keep his home life and work life separate.

The Orlando Sentinel reporter who wrote the story used his newspaper-controlled weblog ( to give us some more details about this “crucial” issue.

1 comment:

Levois said...

I'm with you there. Facebook can be a waste of time. The only reason it exists is to let the world know that you exist as for any practical purposes to expand say a product, I'm not sure how Facebook can be valuable.