The idea for this post comes from Liam Wilkinson, the newest member of the Jesson team, who is absolutely inspirational in the fresh thinking he is bringing to Jesson. Welcome aboard, Liam.
After listening to me moan about the latest round of cuts at traditional media outlets like Post Media and Rogers, Liam wrote this email: “The rise of small-scale bloggers and citizen journalists is nothing new. Prior to the age of the big time newspapers, news was dominated by small pamphlet publications and basement newsmen with small printing presses. Back then, the ‘news’ was inherently riddled with the bias of its publishers, an idea people understood. Perhaps it is more useful to think of ‘the death of news media’ as ‘the return to small-scale publishing.’ Whereas once the printing press democratized the spread of information, now the internet is doing it.”
Of course, Liam is absolutely right. Pamphlets emerged as a means to broadcast a writer’s political views and flourished particularly during the revolutions in France and America. Broadsheet or broadsides were originally for the purpose of posting royal proclamations, acts, and official notices. Eventually people began using the broadsheet as a means of political activism by reprinting speeches, ballads or narrative songs. The emergence of broadsheet newspapers came about in 1712 when the British government placed a tax on newspapers based on the number of pages. When the tax came off, the tabloid format appeared. A kind of class divide resulted with the Broadsheet staking out turf as the establishment publication that catered to political and intellectual elites. More lively and accessible with illustrations and photography, the tabloid catered to the masses according to a recent story in The Guardian. Seen in this context, newspapers were really just a blip on the radar and the internet is simple a return to the earlier tradition.
My sadness at the demise of traditional newspapers stems from a number of things. First, the social upheaval among some really terrific senior journalists is heartbreaking. The terrible thing is that the big media conglomerates are letting the veterans go as a cost-cutting measure. Of course, this opens the door for young, lower paid talent, but there is just something ugly about the toll this is taking on people’s lives.
Second, I liken reading a newspaper to an analog experience. While digital media offers greater choice and flexibility, there is an increased tendency to explore vertically rather than horizontally — and what is at risk is a broadly informed public versus those who develop deep pockets of understanding within fields of interest. For me, cross-fertilized thinking is essential to innovation. But there it is, I am stuck in the time warp. Hopefully young people like Liam will keep me moving with the times.