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Frayed Thread in a Free Society

Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, tried to break the news gently to the crowd of mostly older men and a few women at the meeting.

In the not-distant future, says Jones, the news may be delivered via a video game. Forget the Internet. Forget blogs, tweets and tags. Forget Jim Cramer-style infotainment. Millions of people are already living in computerized parallel universes through games such as "The Sims" and "World of Warcraft" (WoW). We may have to toss the newspaper on those stoops -- in the virtual world of fake life.

More brandy, please.

For those who have been busy with real life, "The Sims" is apparently popular with women who can create a virtual doppelganger and live happily in the suburbs. For millions of guys, WoW is a role-playing game that combines fantasy with mythology. One can't help noting that males and females acting out fantasies are drawn to roles frowned upon in real life: suburban homemaking and warrior-hero play. Hmmmm.

While executives ponder the possibly strange future of news delivery, the more immediate challenge is how to keep institutions in place and profitable so that the news can be covered.

Whatever business models emerge, Jones says newspapers have to focus on their traditional core of fact-based, serious reporting. We might add to that formula the need for a serious populace informed about the fragile thread that connects a free press to a free future.

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