By Gerald Businge March 2010
There is currently a big debate in the US about the survival or not of traditional media like newspapers, radio and television due to the increasing popularity of online forms of news and information access. I come from a different environment in Uganda where the disruptions on traditional media and journalism are not as severe (but are apparent).
The newspapers or printed forms of news communication, as well as traditional radio and television still command significance in the news and information cycle. While broadcast media reaches more people in my country, the majority of broadcasters depend on the print media for their news. As a media entrepreneur, I have been interested in the technological changes that are having a rather adverse impact on journalism in the traditional media that many people so fervently depended on for news and information.
I have noted that nowhere have the disruptive development in the media industry and journalism been more felt than in the publishing media (print). Actually, most of the debates of a dying journalism and collapsing media are mostly pointing at the newspapers and other printed forms of news and information as losing their significance and grip on audiences.
Being that information has been more effectively shared in printed forms, and that published works have tended to be a monopoly of some “special people”, it seems reasonable that the interactive and free for all channels of communication enabled by new technologies and the internet today should be perceived in terms of dealing a heavy blow to the print media and indeed other works of print like magazines and books.
But how have the technological changes impacted on the print media and its importance to audiences? Is the print media still the main defining factor or major reflector of the social environment? What are the cultural impacts of these new technologies on the traditional dependence on newspapers and other printed works? What economic conditions spiraled the dependence on printed works and what are economic conditions that are dictating or might dictate a shift to other forms of communication and engagement?
These are interesting questions as we search for how the media and or journalism can survive in this era of disruptive change. But before I launch into my analysis of this interesting trend of events, I should note that most of the arguments and discussions are taking the media and journalism as if they are one and the same. From my understanding, media are the channels of communication. Journalism on the other hand is the practice or craft of generating (following a set of principles that ensure public interest is served) and conveying news, descriptive material and comments on issues or events through a wide spectrum of media. From my own experience and analysis of the media or media houses to be precise, most of them have always carried little journalism compared to other content. My understanding of the current debates in the US actually seem to point to the decline in the importance of newspapers due to a perceived lack of journalism and many people are looking to other media to get the journalism they need, faster and in ways that allow them (audiences) to participate and get feedback.
History of Publishing and influence of technologies
The history on publishing or printed media shows there have been several technological and innovative changes geared towards making the written word sharable to more people. From the movable clay type by Chinese and Koreans in the 11th century to Johan Gutenberg’s movable type printing press, technology has been critical in improving how the publishable material is produced and distributed.
Since printed works dominated the forms of mass communication, a lot of scholarly importance has also been attached to publishing with all learning materials until recently having to be published. The first and major news came from printed materials that would take days or months to arrive, for those who had a chance to read them.
The onset of Alois Senefelder lithography (see publishing time line below), a method of image transfer that produces high-quality printed images, the type writer and the 1822 William Church invention of the first mechanical typesetting, the publishing industry benefited greatly from technological developments to reach more people and print cost effectively.
Even the latter developments of laser printing, digital high capacity printing through machines, or one newspaper or publisher being able to print from one location in different areas for different audiences through online sharing of files at the printing house, all show that the publishing industry has had its fare share of benefits from new technologies.
Publishing time Line
The world’s oldest known printed book, The Diamond Sutra, a seven-page scroll printed with wood blocks on paper, is produced in China.
The Chinese and Koreans continue to experiment with movable type, using clay, wood, bronze and iron. The complexity of Chinese and Korean symbols creates a major stumbling block to the process.
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