Google makes old ways seem so frugal

Themba Molefe

Themba Molefe

Journalists the world over depend on those elusive gold nuggets known as contacts.

These contacts are VIPs, you see, because they are the people reporters talk to in their daily grind to get the news.

A contact, therefore, is to a journalist what oil is to a car because without it a vehicle malfunctions. Without contacts, newspaper sales remain low and many people will lose their jobs.

In days gone by, newspapers depended on typewriters and antiquated phones, not the modern touch-type sets. The cellphone? Hell, no.

Reporters trusted a little black notebook simply called a contacts book, without which no journalist would survive.

The black book contained numbers in neat alphabetical order and would be updated all the time. It normally contained names of priests and tsotsis; politicians and prostitutes; and anybody who mattered or not.

The public phone - it was then known as the tickey box - was a journalist's friend. There were no cellphones and computers. Reporters in the field were required to dictate copy to expert typists when out on stories.

Things have changed today and we old scribes have to cope with modern technology called IT and shape up for the cyberspace age.

Not so for the young journalists who enter the craft a better- equipped lot.

Why am I bombarding you with this? Only the other day I advised young colleague, Tebogo Monama, to look for a number in a telephone directory. She looked at me with her expressive big eyes and said: "What? I've never used that book before. Why don't you just Google it?"

One dictionary definition of Google is: "The holy mother of all search engines. It is the most efficient and reliable search engine . can generate a few million results within a fraction of a second. Can be used for homework, dating, and for looking at high quality porn to satisfy your sex-deprived lives."

Indeed many new journalists entering today's newsrooms have grown up in an age of television and Internet. Cellphones are just as familiar to them as home telephones.

Does growing up in this new information age better equip young journalists to work in today's newsrooms? Or do they face greater challenges in learning basic reporting because they rely too much on new media?

Well, it is not for me to enter the fray here, but to reminisce. It was fun in those days of yore.

Yesterday, I completed a feature on 2007 - the year that was, without moving from my desk. Guess what? I Googled everything that Sowetan published since January 1. It was all there in front of me.

In the past it would have taken me a whole day of research and running to and from the library; and perhaps calling sources outside the newspaper, even begging people to fax information.

Contacts? I tell you, they are all on the tip of your fingers today. Otherwise, I Google.