It is over twenty years since I sold my first opinion piece to a Newspaper (the Scotsman). The paper was still in the hot metal phase, although that change was looming.
No matter the method of getting the newspaper on the street, in the end the relationship with the reader was the same as it had been for centuries. One-way traffic. Producer to consumer. The feedback, via the letters page was laborious and often many letters were filed in the bin.
The wealthy and mighty owned the means of production of news. They do so, in the main, because it makes them mightier and wealthier. Men like William Randolph Hearst were not in newspapers because of any benevolent, altruist desire to better inform their fellow man. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the observation “ Never fall out with a man who buys his ink in barrels.” Like all successful politicians he was the first to unpick the new code of the age. With Roosevelt it was the fire side chat using radio. JFK was the first Presidential candidate packaged for the televisual age.
I considered none of these issues in the 1980s and to see my name in print was a thrill. Since then I have contributed as a paid freelance in various publications in Britain and Ireland. These words will be posted on my website-that is where you are reading them. This website started as an online archive of a career in freelance journalism over twenty years.
Now the site itself is a publication. My tekkie guy-crucially of the younger generation-saw the website for what it was when I asked him to design and run it for me. I was looking at it as product of paper newspapers, of hot metal and a one-way traffic from journalists to reader. He looked at this new technology in a way that you can only do when you are of that technology. Webmasters and software engineers are the new priests of our cyber feudalism. Knowledge, as it was ever, is power.
A reasonably complete history of human society could be written solely from the perspective of centres of authority trying to restrict the flow of information to the people. In this story technology has often, though not always, played a subversive, progressive role. When all books were copied manuscripts a literate elite could closely guard these rare resources.
Sociologist Alvin Toffler predicted in the 1970s that the “Third Wave” of human development would produce a “Demassified media” I re-read his seminal “Future shock” recently and was struck by the prescience of this vision. At the date of the publication of his book there were a few hundred computers linked to the internet-now there are billions.
Toffler claimed that a new “infosphere” would be created that would threaten the old order of the mass media just as Gutenberg’s printing press de-stabilised the ancien regime in feudal Europe. The medium as ever has been an integral part of the message. Without easy access to small handheld video cameras the world would not have heard, crucially it would not have seen the aftermath of the Hadditha massacre.
Without everyone and their significant other carrying a digital camera disguised as a mobile phone would the world know of the horrors of Abu Ghraib? Perhaps the Falklands war will be the last one where the media was so closely controlled. No it is not possible to practice that form of “I counted them all out and count them all in!” type of journalism. The consumer, the people, wants it better than that. They want to participate, to interact. The digital revolution means that the media is now a two-way superhighway.
Now I awake with Huffington, Drudge, Slugger O’Toole and Celticminded.com. Online newspapers and traditional media outlets are being, to an extent, left behind. A key cadre in this revolution is the Blogger. In reality people were always waiting to get in on the media act and now they can.
Gutenberg’s printing press created-largely via Reformation-the spread of mass literacy and the seeds of participatory democracies. That political arrangement remains the last best hope of a human future. This is now the new printing press and if there is a new Martin Luther somewhere she or he is almost certainly a blogger. This is guerrilla journalism that threatens the old order of cynical editors, lobby correspondents and media moguls.
I’m happy to join the uploaded revolution.
Now, what do you think?