Saturday, April 11, 2009

Can There Be News Without Paper?

Can there be news without paper? That is, news without newspapers? That's the question folks are trying to answer, in effect is journalism dead, now that newspapers are dropping like flies?

And of course, journalism emerged out of the print media environment, at a time when news was synonymous with newspapers.

Numerous innovations led to this development, such as the application of steam power to printing in the 1820s, leading to the first cheaply produced, majorly mass produced daily newspapers, such as the penny press in the US. And this led publishers to look for news to fill the daily paper, first turning to crime blotters and introducing reporting on crime, and then moving to the artificial creation of news items in the form of pseudo-events, to use Daniel Boorstin's neologism, media events that only exist because of the presence of the media, such as the interview, the publicity stunt, and the press release.

Intensifying the situation was the invention of the telegraph in 1844, which placed a new premium on speedy dissemination of information, and with it rapid turnover, and of course, the scoop. In addition to the wire services, this placed special premium on the reporter; it also changed the style of writing, with emphasis on the inverted pyramid and who, what, where, when, why, and how--put all the most important information at the beginniing of the article, in case the transmission gets cut off, or the editor wants to shorten the article to make it fit--and the style of layout, resulting in the mosaic look of the frontpage, with most articles continued on other pages, slapped together in the midst of incoming reports, a decidely nonlinear structure in which it is impossible to read a newspaper from beginning to end in order.

Whew! And then there was the wedding of printing to photography, so that photojournalism becomes part of the mix after the Civil War. And this is only to name the most significant of many innovations in printing technology.

And so it came to pass in the late 19th century that the newspaper barons donated money to universities to found departments and schools of journalism, so that with journalism professors came also the professionalization of journalism. Workers and managers within the print media organizations were no longer just reporters, and editors, but now became journalists, a special status, and more and more a sacred calling, or at least so they themselves saw it.

Of course, in the 1920s, broadcasting emerged as a competitor to newspapers, but broadcast journalists in radio, and later television, still modeled themselves after print journalists, often started out in the newspaper industry, used experienced newspaper reporters and editors to write and edit broadcast news, drew heavily on printed reports, etc.

And today, the bloggers, or as I prefer to term them, the blogists, either immitate print journalists, or define themselves in opposition to the journalistic establishment, which makes them just as much defined by them.

So, is journalism dead? No, of course not.

Is journalism dying? Yes. It had a good run, for over a century. Now it's coming to an end. Simply put, no journals (meaning daily newspapers), no journalism. We will no doubt continue to use the word, but the activity it refers to will be something else entirely. Let's call it blogism for the sake of clarity. Changing the meaning of words without good reason was referred to by Neil Postman as the demeaning of meaning, and the fact that words can reference different phenomena at different times and in different situations had much to do with Alfred Korzybski's formation of general semantics as a non-Aristotelian system.

Can there be news without paper? There will still be information and intelligence, yes, and rumors and reports. But news as a separate and distinct category, one clearly delimited and differentiated from opinion, entertainment, and fiction? I don't think so, no. That will disappear.

And the incompatiblity of good old journalism within the new media environment is highlighted in the following humorous video from The Landline, aka Landline TV:

Beyond the absurdity of oldstyle newsmen in our new blogosphere, journalism also emerged in a culture in which science, with its emphasis on objectivity, was displacing religion as the dominant narrative, ideology, mythology, and wordview. The assumption that reporters are capable of providing an objective account of events is fundamental, I would argue, to the legitimacy of journalism as a profession. And for some time now, the ideal of objectivity has been called into question, and more or less dismissed in favor of postmodern cultural and moral relativism. The end of the subject, the death of the author, the rise of the posthuman, all sound the death knell of journalism as collatoral damage.

So, all you need to do is to be like Daniel in the lions den, and read the writing on the wall: Extra, Extra, Read All About It: "Journalism is Dead," Says God.

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