I was driving west on Interstate 64 two weeks ago, past McDonald's signs and strip club billboards, into the nighttime abyss under the stars. All I wanted that night was to spend my life traveling across America with a pen and paper in hand, writing about all that I found.
The trip actually had an academic purpose, even though my imagination took me all the way to California. David Larter, Michael Rogers and I drove through the night, 16 hours to Kansas City, to attend a college media convention.
As The Collegian's online managing editor, I was particularly interested in attending workshops about online media in college publications.
The convention was swarming with students dying to get into the increasingly competitive journalism field. They took notes dutifully, adjusting their Emo glasses and asking advisers how they could make their college newspapers succeed.
At one workshop about using Facebook to engage readers, I noticed a student shifting in the front row. He was wearing a brown corduroy jacket, ripped jeans and no shoes.
I never saw his face, but his hair was very red. He finally leaned forward and said: "Aren't we going to talk about all the negative aspects of Facebook? The Internet is a waste of time. It separates people from one another. One day we will never even have to talk to people face to face."
I had to disagree, but I understood his concern. Indeed, the Internet blocks a certain amount of interpersonal communication and provides an unfettered forum for people to talk a lot without actually saying anything, resulting sometimes in substandard journalism and discussion.
But no one at the convention discussed the amount of information available online. Although there was a time when we could all be relieved that our weekend escapades did not appear in The Collegian, now we have to worry about seeing them on Juicy Campus.
Public figures could once get away with saying embarrassing things that at worst would be broadcast for about two days, but now people can post these embarrassing video clips from their home computers. Howard Dean's notorious scream comes to mind. Still, the Internet allows us to find accurate information quickly and easily, provided that we are sagacious consumers of information. We can talk to friends who are studying abroad far away and read news from other parts of the world. The public can participate in the news process by commenting on stories and e-mailing reporters.
For me, the Internet feeds my addiction to news. Even as I write this, I wonder whether Barack Obama will select Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state and whether we will bail out the U.S. automobile industry. I wake up by 10 a.m. each Sunday because I want to see the roundtable discussion on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
Sometimes being part of the first Collegian online team feels like a dream. Other times -- such as when I'm fixing the site until 4 a.m. and still haven't begun studying for an economics exam -- it feels like a nightmare. What drives me is not only my obsession, but my conviction that there is nothing more important than getting accurate information to the public quickly. Because of this, I will ultimately embrace the expediency of online news.
When I cover stories, I become an observer of life rather than a participant. I lose a part of myself, but I am driven by the rush I feel when I see my stories in print.
But I also realized during our trip across the "real America" - as Michael called it - that I never wanted to be so caught up in reading and reporting the news that I missed the beauty of real life, be it looking out the car window at America or being awake at a rest stop at 4 a.m., watching truck drivers stop for coffee and then getting back on the boundless highway.
Contact Kimberly Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org