Week 6 – Sep. 23 > Print Media in History:
John Thompson, in his article titled “The Trade in News,” debates some major players’ role in form, shape and disseminate news throughout history–religious authority, political authority, commercial activity, and foreigners (2007, p.113). He highlights some examples of the struggle of many western societies (i.e. the United States’ Independence War, and French Revolution) to establish a free press that has shaped some modern states and balanced between justice, free expression, and social order (p.116).
Thompson’s article has raised a central question, which I am debating in many other studies and articles that I am working on now, concerning the liberty of press and media (p. 116). In an era of media ownership consolidations, police states, and intertwined interests between religious authorities, politicians, and businesses, it became so hard to protect free press and maintain its objectivity. With the advent of the internet, social media, and other of modern technological means to communicate and deliver information, many were optimistic that we have entered a new era of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, dominate powers have caught up and started counterstrategies that adapted new technologies to sufficiently restrict and discourage free expression.
Lev Manovich argues in his “How Media Became New” that there is no such thing as “new media.” All types of media, starting with the Daguerreotype, the Analytical Engine, the Lumiere’s Cinematographie, and the Tabulating machine, are just phases of presentation that have led to the logical contemporary media convergence. In fact, those early platforms predicted the merging that we are witnessing nowadays in media and computing realms when people are able to reach and interchange media content through multiplatform (p.322). This argument meets McLuhan’s idea of that the “new” in “new technological mediums” stands for the new spaces that they create (McLuhan, 2003, p. 14). It also meets the Eveland’s Mix of Attributes Approach to the study of the new communication technologies where the new is the content that is simply carried by various media (2003, p. 395). Therefore, historians who look into the origin of media could better understand the current transformations of the media.
Our third and fourth reading assignments for this week present cases of media history that are in need of rewriting. Both blacks’ and women’s history of media involvement, particularly during its early years, was neglected (Everett, 2001, p.245) (DiCenzo and Ryan, 2007, p.253). Advocates of the two groups’ matters have crusaded to retrieve the ignored history, by looking into those who were making the two groups’ news, producing their own periodicals, and taking advantage of new communication technologies (Everett, p.256), (DiCenzo and Ryan, 2007, p.254). Tracing these two groups’ history of struggles to attain respect, attain identity, and reform the past, can offer great value to any scholar in mass communication history to comprehend the public sphere’s range and activities that could shape opinions and mobilize activists.
– McLuhan, Marshall, and W. Terrence Gordon. Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man / Marshall McLuhan; Edited By W. Terrence Gordon. n.p.: Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2003.
– Eveland, W. P., Jr. (2003). A “Mix of Attributes” Approach to the Study of Media Effects and New Communication Technologies. Journal of Communication, 53(3), 395-410.
– Scolari, C. A. (2012). Media Ecology: Exploring the Metaphor to Expand the Theory. Communication Theory, 22(2), 204-225.
What an interesting collection of readings this week! I like how each week I not only learn of the subject matter or theme under discussion but get to see how history can be traced, interpreted and narrated. In The Trade News, Thompson (2007) traces the development of the printing press in Europe led by the Catholic Church in the “pre-print communication network” (p.113). The author also makes reference to the historical political economy of the printing press with the government’s imposition of taxes, something which had a dual oppositional role: money for the government and the collapse of small presses. I like how the author develops the piece with each era leading to the next – the four types of pre-print network. It is similar to what Keller (2007) does in tracing the history of photojournalism to what we are currently accustomed. To be sure, I did not know that phots in newspapers started out as sketches drawn by draughtsmen. I also did not know that the real first encounter of journalism with photographers is the Spanish-American war. Nonetheless, the skill with which Thompson (2007) and Keller (2007) piece together historical events and moments (such as what Keller (2007) does about the shift in newspapers from using halftone illustrations to using press photographers, and then later the use of photo agencies) is intriguing. Sure, life and history by extension has gaps but I appreciate how these authors write in way that makes it easy for the text to flow without being pretentious about the historical details.
Another interesting read is Neglected News: Women and Print Media, 1890-1928 by DiCenzo and Ryan. In what seems like a delicate navigation through history, the authors discuss the historical contribution of activist feminist periodicals in Britain beginning in the late 1800s. The focus is on how such publications disrupted entrenched politics not just of government but also of the mainstream press. In fact, the authors argue that these print media “came to influence attitudes toward women’s roles in public life” (p.241). In this piece I also notice how context underpins the way the history is told and interpreted, this is important. Yet, I also notice a level of ambiguity about the way this reading and some in the previous weeks lament how history in this field of mass communication and media is taught and written. In this piece in particular the authors accept that history must be told in context yet like some of the authors cited, DiCenzo and Ryan (2007) too seem to lament the contextualization of media history. Restated, I think there is clarity needed in how we define context and gaps in research. In our different research projects as scholars we often review existing literature which is written in context and then point out gaps. How might we define the two terms?
For my dissertation, my take away from this week’s readings is the importance of giving historical context to the development and rise of alternative media/radio in South Africa. Perhaps by situating alternative media in the context of the entrenchment of democracy I may find a link to the fall of non-mainstream media and the rise of mainstream and government funded media in the country. This semester, my final project resonates with the article by Levine (2001) because of the authors attention to rhetorical analysis.
Is new media just new content? I disagree. I think new media as a concept is misplaced. I want to think that new media is not content but technologies or platforms that we continue to create to carry content. I think a useful debate would be how the (new) media technology affects the structure of the content. And in that we can evoke McLuhan.
I have found that the history of print media that I have come in contact with is usually very dry and very boring, which is unfortunate because the topic has the potential to be fascinating. Histories of journalism and magazines that I have read in the past have not focused on the cultural aspects of the medium, but take a much more factual, textbook approach. This week’s readings were far better. It is a point that seems to have been constantly emphasized in my courses this semester, but Lev Manovich’s article “How Media Became New” argues that there is no such thing as new media. All media forms, including the printing press, the internet, film, radio, television, etc. have been called new media in some fashion, but they all have (art) historical precedence in previous technologies. Each new technology builds upon previous strategies of disseminating information and/or entertainment, what is more ‘new’ are the types of new spaces these technological platforms create.
As explored in “Neglected News” and “Circulating the Nation” the histories of the black and woman’s press have previously been neglected (along with the queer press). DiCenzo and Ryan in “Neglected News” explore the role of media in shaping women’s roles and experiences in the public sphere (or lack thereof). To address a point Lindani made about the contextualization of history, and DiCenzo/Ryan’s apparent ambiguity and lamentation on this subject, I wanted to question why feminists have not articulated a radically new model of articulating herstory. The traditional structures are problematic for women’s history, and although I think the author’s do a great job at establishing a history of women in this medium, I’d be interested in seeing different modes of expression to better contextualize and articulate the history.
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