New Media = Back to Basics

Posted: December 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Journalism | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Another interesting debate in class today, where I got a bit heated and yelled at some fellow classmates who were trashing news executives for “failing” to find a way to pay for what they see as the one true journalism–i.e. objective, general-interest and long-form. I tried to remind them that this model was a 20th century anomaly; for most of its history, journalism has been short, snappy, niche and opinionated. Why are we all hung up on mourning a fluke?

I don’t rejoice when old media companies go down; I think longtime professionals have a level of expertise that is more, not less, valuable in the emerging niche media world and I want them to stay in the field and on the airwaves. To do so, I believe we in media have to take the long view and recognize that the place media is headed looks an awful lot like the places we’ve been in the past, so we can calm down and drop this obsession with 1970s style reporting.

To that end, in addition to yelling at my classmates, I’m researching and writing about older media models that might serve as more relevant precedents: one model is the Victorian radical press, which I’ve described in today’s Columbia Journalism Review. This winter, I’ll be combing the 1830’s French press for another option. Where and when else should I be looking?

Plus ca change…

Posted: September 26th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Culture, Journalism | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

In my history of media course, we had a guest lecture by a young scholar of 18th century European print culture the other day. Dr. Will Slaughter is a protege of pioneering cultural historian Robert Darnton. Darnton basically maintains that there has always been a news media, because any spreading of information counts as news. The transitions from people gossiping in living rooms (c. 1700), to gossiping in streets (c. 1750), to writing down their gossip (c.1800), to videotaping that gossip (c. 1950) are technological superficialities. He denies that there’s any historical moment where mass media is born (and thus, denies any theories that link mass media to the rise of mass/democratic politics in the mid-19th century).

Slaugther applies Darnton’s theory to the present: Read the rest of this entry »