Mar 12

News = technology (and vice versa)

A headline sparked off by the annual Pew report on the state of news media caught my eye. “Tech companies control the future of news“, said a Forbes blogger John Dube.

This is the kind of headline which is designed to frighten people. Just think, the headline implies: nerds, geeks and new media tycoons messing with news which was once lovingly prepared by noble journalists who have lost control of their business. The news industry, the Pew report says, “finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.”

But technology always has shaped news media and journalism and always did. The two are so closely intertwined that it couldn’t be otherwise. If journalists were not so distracted by the distress of watching the business model for printed news crumble before their eyes, they’d remember that technology and the people who make money from innovations often shape, make and lead developments in journalism.

The newspapers which dominated news for at least a century – face it, a pretty good run – took their present form around the middle of the nineteenth century. These developments didn’t depend on somebody having a blueprint for serious daily journalism. They were evolutions driven by the arrival of better newsprint, fast rotary presses and, last of all, “linotype” typesetting machines. Then journalists set about exploiting these new possibilities as best they could. Many editors of local papers were technologists – or, as they said in those days, master printers.

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