Journalists insist that they are sticking to the traditional values of accuracy and context. But new media pose challenges. The competition has grown quickly, and cable TV outlets and Web sites can distribute news with unparalleled speed. Journalists find that they have to work faster, and they may have little time to check facts or give context. Newsmakers and news readers can bypass the traditional journalists, "getting around the gatekeepers" to communicate directly. And for all the rapid expansion of "the media," a lot of Web sites are simply repackaging the old standbys — the Associated Press, Reuters, etc.

The Internet also gives the reader an overwhelming amount of information and misinformation. It can be difficult to discern fact from innuendo, and rumors can become "truth" by sheer repetition. And good luck putting it all in perspective.

The reader can just skip all that boring national, world and local news, anyway. With hundreds of specialty channels on cable and the Internet offering customizable news, the reader interested only in hockey and hang-gliding can spend hours each day getting more details on those interests. No more newspaper front pages to distract the eye from hockey, and no need to sit through a whole newscast just to catch the latest scores.

Indeed, newspapers and TV stations are surrendering their supremacy as primary news providers. AOL, Yahoo and other Internet giants can pull together many wire services and other sources to provide a quick look at the news in an easy package.

The journalists interviewed for this paper didn't seem worried for the most part. I found them to be less concerned with the threat of the Net and more concerned with the challenges that have always been part of their jobs — getting the facts, getting everything right, and putting the news in context.

At first, I found this surprising. I thought they'd all be as scared as I am. Yet nothing in this paper suggests that they're wrong to stray from these goals. And it must be noted that the death date of newspapers has been predicted and revised more often than Nostradamus' prediction of the end of the world, yet newspapers are still around and faring better than most would have expected in the year 2000.

However, new media can offer traditional media an opportunity to change their roles. Perhaps newspapers and TV stations would be better off letting the big Web portals handle the wire copy; instead, they can develop more independent voices. And if local governments start "covering" themselves, then newspapers could feel less obligated to be "papers of record," faithfully noting every detail. Instead, journalists can focus on the essential — and often forgotten — task of putting the news in context. Crusading "alternative" papers are attracting readers these days; perhaps it's time for "mainstream" papers to do some crusading of their own.

To read more, dive right into the introduction or skip ahead to my suggestions.