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To figure out where American journalism will be 50 years from now, prognosticators need to remember the way we were 50 years ago. A stroll today through MTV-generation stores like Tower Records and Sam Goody's also helps.

In 1945, Americans followed the battlefronts on radio, regularly read afternoon newspapers, bought hardcover books and supported big glossy weekly magazines. Henry Luce's Life, with its great photographs, was truly "our TV."

Today, we have real TV-30, 40 or more channels in some areas-plus the Internet with its news groups and home pages.

But imagine this: Radio, newspapers, books and magazines still flourish. Each "old" medium has survived, by adapting to new technology, changing lifestyles and fresh competitors.

Radio is bigger than ever, thanks to FM and to narrowcasting formats; newspapers responded by broadening their definition of the news, adding special sections and service pieces, for example (and publishing only in the morning).

The paperback revolution and new genres (the celebrity autobiography, young-adults books) revived publishing.

Yes, Life and Look are gone, but in their place hundreds of special-interest magazines vie for attention.

The lesson for the next 50 years is that new media are adding to the mix, not supplanting older formats. Just as radio didn't "replace" newspapers and TV didn't "replace" radio, neither will electronic information formats replace the printed word. The 'Net will find its modest niche among existing information systems.

When the cyber-enthusiasts tell you otherwise, check their shuffle as you would a three-card monte dealers'. And check out Tower Records on lower Broadway in New York; the store managers just put in racks of magazines stretching a city block among the CDs and cassettes. At the big Sam Goody's record store at 42nd and First, shelves of books occupy prime display space at the front entrance.

The customer traffic at these stores averages twentysomething, which means that these consumers will be around-reading, watching TV, listening to drivetime radio-for quite a while. 2045? It'll look and sound familiar.

Mr. Diamond is a critic and professor of journalism at New York University. His latest book, "White House to Your House: Media & Politics in Virtual America," will be published in October by MIT Press.

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