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The white collar lament - Martha Randolph Carr

Ever since the first time a caveman realized a rock could be used as a tool, the guy who could use his brain more than his hands was thought to be protected by new technology. His career aspirations would only be enhanced by whatever new gadget someone was about to introduce.

That idea stood for a million years.

The ones who used their hands or their backs in order to build the shiny new object were thought to be marking time till technology would trump them, and they'd have to learn an entire set of skills all over again.

As we age, that's an increasingly uncomfortable thought, particularly for those of us who weren't texting our BFF's during recess. Our brain is already crowded with kid's sports schedules, PIN numbers and deadlines. Throw in the desire to keep job security, hanging onto healthcare benefits and providing for the family, and it's a sizeable dose of anxiety.

But it's been preached to us from every quarter for two hundred years that getting a college degree would prevent most of those hiccups. There may be layoffs during a steep recession, but they won't last, and in the end, those with degrees will have richer lives and cushier retirements.

Welcome to 2009 and a reality check right on the heels of the death of the old adage that real estate is always a good investment, or brokers make money even in bad markets.

The end of that last one is probably making a few people smile as they hold their most recent 401k statement. Apparently there is a limit to how much the financial system can be exploited.

It turns out, though, that there is an old saying that still has a lot of staying power. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? This time it applies to old school journalists many of whom found themselves out on the street last summer.

Their situation does has something to do with the possible economic depression that's all around, but it also has a lot more to do with how a very old profession is morphing right now into something new.

Many people are now getting their news from the internet, which would be fine if they were turning to reliable sources, such as the web site for their local paper. However, that new craze, the personal blog, has a lot of newcomers who've never taken a class or worked under an experienced editor reporting what they see as the news with their own take on it. Pundits gave them the idea, and it's become commonplace to see someone reported as a suspect with a lot of innuendo that makes them look guilty before a trial.

A lot of the changes to the way we gather, report and then disseminate the news will turn out to be very good ones. New perspectives and the ability to write in depth about more local topics could help all of us to know our own communities and each other on a deeper, richer level.

But here's what's getting lost in the mix, at least for the moment. While many voices are always a big plus to journalism, untrained ones run the risk of getting the story wrong and inadvertently hurting someone else. Checking the facts, sticking to professional sources and just knowing the difference between hearsay and something verifiable takes time to learn and use proficiently.

Also, while it's helpful and definitely quicker to go to those sites that cater to our specific interests, we lose the opportunity a general news source gives us to learn something about a range of other topics.

That's very beneficial for creating tolerance in a diverse world and can open some people up to new ideas for their lives they would have never come across if they'd stuck to a more defined path.

However, as Americans, we may veer too far to either side when given a brand new toy, but eventually we find the limits and once again seek balance. That will happen for journalists, bloggers and readers as well, as we seek newer definitions of reporting news versus spreading rumors that are adapted to an internet age. The real question in the meantime is what the price may be before we realize it's time to start asking questions again and stop relying on what we read in someone's posting.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.