Move on two decades and we find journalists doing the bulk of their work over the internet - through research, finding contacts, sourcing background, remote editing and doing interviews. Technology has transformed the craft from one-to-many publishing to many-to-many. But for all the ease that digital newsgathering has provided, there is still something to be said for getting out from behind the screen and into the analog world.
Take the ongoing story over the impact that the mining boom is having on the Australian economy. In recent weeks and months, it's been hard to thumb through one of the major dailies without stumbling into another op-ed about the "two-speed economy" and what can be done about it. Stories are woven around ABS data, RBA policy statements, economists' research notes and politicians' press releases.
But from this blogger's perspective, the most enlightening piece of journalism on this particular issue has been a recent edition of the ABC's Background Briefing by reporter Wendy Carlisle, the same dogged journalist who shed a spotlight on the Monckton circus last year. Wendy's piece, 'The Dark Side of the Mining Boom', tells the story of the dislocating impact of a once-in-a-century boom through the experiences of the small Queensland town of Moranbah.
This is journalism we need more of - taking a political and economic argument and telling the story through its real-life impact on people. In her piece, Carlisle shows how Moranbah has been transformed into a virtual camp in recent years, as fly in-fly out workers (virtually all male) come for the big wages on offer in the local coal mine. Businesses outside mining have collapsed, property prices are out of the reach of most people and the town's social fabric has been destroyed.
It's an illuminating and moving piece of journalism. And it is the kind that is increasingly rare in a media world in which harried reporters are asked to do more and more with less and less. So much of what journalists do nowawadays is really a form of traffic control, sitting behind their computer screens navigating a jam of digital feeds that they manipulate into cut-and-paste narratives.
The tendency now is to filter stories through the same few predictable sources - for and against - so that every issue becomes a predictably partisan one. The prefabricated conflict and the easy heat it generates spares journalists from the effort of moving the frame and looking at the world in a different way.
This is why you end up seeing so many programs that involve the same old people - the professional commentariat - opining about the story of the day. It's cheap. Digitisation of everything has made information plentiful. But what's often missing is insight. And that requires more show and less tell. It requires broadening one's sources, dropping the fake equivalence and he said-she said recycling of opinion. It means actually getting out of the office and seeking what is happening on the ground.
Journalism, in other words.