WITHIN A DECADE, reporters seeking information at city hall or the local courthouse may no longer be able to pore over a written log or file drawer. Election-night returns will no longer come to the newspaper in sheaves of printouts. Names, records, statistics and salaries that are a routine part of the public record may be inaccessible or indecipherable.
A brutal crackdown on the First Amendment? No. The information will be there. Indeed, there is likely to be more of it than ever, but it will come in a form that now confounds the resources of many small and midsize dailies: computer databases.
The ability to process and analyze computerized data "will be in every reporter's job description" in the very near future, predicts Max Jennings, editor of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News and a former journalism professor at Arizona State University.