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Tommy Druen: How the internet has changed journalism

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Over the course of the past week, my wife and I have been watching Pam and Tommy, a biographical miniseries on Hulu. It is a far cry from anything that would be considered highbrow, but it has been pretty interesting. I would caution anyone that when they give the "mature themes and situations" disclaimer at the first, they seriously mean it. Although I would argue that it was a lot of immaturity that caused the problems.

For those unfamiliar with the subject, it focuses on the stolen video tape of Tommy and Pamela Anderson Lee which showed the couple in some rather compromising situations. That is the subject of the film, but it's not what I consider the main theme. That incident occurred in 1995, in what was the infancy of the general public's introduction to the internet. When the tape is sold via the internet, the series demonstrates how that was revolutionary.

It's difficult to watch that develop without remembering how the internet was so foreign to most of us in the mid-nineties.

Many luxuries that we simply take for granted today were not around at the time. 1995 was the same year that a website called Amazon started selling books, and only books. It was the same year that a man auctioned off a broken laser pointer on a website and was inspired to soon create eBay. It was also the same year that debuted, which was the first website I visited. You have to hand it to the NBA, they knew how to market a product!

The series is more than simply biography and nostalgia though. A young reporter for the Los Angeles Times fights tooth and nail to cover the story. Repeatedly she is told no. Her editor is not only dismissing the internet as anything newsworthy, but he makes it clear that a publication of stature would not cover a story regarding a video of celebrities and their adult frolicking. He tells her that if she wants to write about those situations, maybe she would be better off working for the National Enquirer. This was the heyday of when inquiring minds wanted to know while they stood in line for what seemed like forever at the grocery store because, not only was there no self-checkout, most places didn't even have express lanes!

Journalism was different. CNN was fresh off of its Gulf War boom, but it was still learning how to cope with that. Fox News and MSNBC did not exist yet. Internet journalism was of course non-existent. Newspapers still ruled the market, but they were regional. For the most part, the only national news outlets were the 30 minute blocks you got from the major television networks in the early evening. Sensationalism did not get greenlit, because it wasn't a necessity.

Then the world changed. In 1998, after rejected by Newsweek, The Drudge Report, a little known news aggregation website, was the first to run a story about President Bill Clinton having an affair with his intern. We would soon learn more about both President Clinton and that intern, not to mention cigars, than could have previously been fathomed.

Looking back on it with 2022 eyes, we would wonder how it could have even been considered to not run the story. It had everything! Politics, sex, abuse of power, infidelity, celebrity, grooming, perjury... and all involving the most powerful and famous person in the United States, in the office often described as the leader of the free world. Yet, publishing the story was almost as controversial as the story itself.

It would be intellectually naive to believe such a situation had never happened with previous occupants of the White House. As Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun. I would argue that what made this situation different then was it was on the cusp of a revolution in journalism. With the explosion of the availability of cable, satellite and the internet, the new outlets had to set themselves apart. The late 90s saw the founding of Fox News, MSNBC,, George magazine, and a whole host of others. To be competitive with the traditional media sources, they had to find ways to get attention. And, as every ad exec knows, sex sells.

The past twenty-five years have not been pretty. What was once considered too risque for the checkout line is now a lead story on the morning shows. We know about Donald Trump's involvement with porn stars, we know about Charlie Sheen and his goddesses, we probably know more of Taylor Swift's ex-boyfriends than we do her songs. The question arises, is this really good for us as a society?

To me, the answer is not that simple. When I was 11 years old, I watched the national news most every night. It was a great learning experience. But I can't say I would feel comfortable letting my 11 year old do that without supervision. On the other hand, I think exposure of some stories that would have been hidden years ago has been good. The #MeToo era and its cultural reforms would have never come about had it not been for the coverage of some delicate subjects. And, while some will, it is difficult to argue those changes have not been positive.

C.S. Lewis, far and away one of my favorite authors, once said, "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?"

We're different now that we were 25 years ago. There are some facets of society that were better then, but overall I think we're better off now. And I pray we will be better off tomorrow.

Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at

This story was posted on 2022-03-02 17:16:01
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