Talk: Center for Women and Democracy

Notes for my Food For Thought talk at The Center for Women and Democracy in Seattle. It’s the 10th anniversary celebration and the theme tonight is The New Media Landscape. I’m to provide the historical context. Note: talk changed after group introductions and dinner discussion.

1. In the beginning, there was the word. And it was spoken. Then along came the alphabet. Power implications.

The invention of the alphabet started us down this long road of mediated communication technologies. Initially, only a few people could read or write; power accrued to those who could (or who could command those resources). Making copies by hand, a laborious and thus expensive process, produced beautiful manuscripts and books subject to errors of omission and commission. The invention of the printing press accelerated the social changes initiated by the alphabet by reducing the cost of duplication and standardizing the end product: publishing was cheaper the end product had “better” quality. Clay Shirky argues that it took centuries for the disruptive effects of the printing press to work their way through society.

2. Printing spread knowledge, which then led to changed power structures. Speed: two-legged/four-legged, then telegraph.

3. In the US, there were 43 “newspapers” in 1783 — we’d probably call them journals. The Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedom of the press, was ratified in 1791.

4. Newspapers expanded their social power in the early 19th century as part of the industrial revolution. For example, The Times of London was founded in 1785, but it did not have a mechanized press capable of printing on both sides of a sheet at once until after 1814. By 1840, the steam-driven printing press could churn out millions of copies of a page in a day. As a result, the paper became a delivery mechanism for more than news: puzzles, comics, tips for the housewife. And, of course, ads.

5. Late 19th century is the Golden Age of Newspapers – they were the main source of news and, in many communities, the only source of local news. This gave way to the Golden Age of Radio in the 1930s and 1940s. FDR inaugural address. Despite lack of electricity in much of rural America. Golden Age of TV – 1940s to 1960s.

6. Competitive pressures led to consolidation:

  • deliver eyeballs for advertisers
  • economics: cost wrapped up in first paper off the press (marginal costs)
  • regional monopoly on asynchronous messages into your home

7. Laws to limit consolidation – to try to manage the power of the bully pulpit.

8. 1980 : CNN; FOX and Murdoch, 1985; 1933 Telecommunications Act.

9. 1993: Mercury Center, the first complete daily online newspaper, announced today it will leave its original electronic home on America Online to focus exclusively on developing its award-winning site on the WorldWide Web. The change will take place August 17, 1996.

10. 1993: Mosaic browser (Netscape, Firefox). 1995 : Craigslist mailing list launched. By 1998, 2004: Facebook. 2007: Twitter.

  • Economics
  • Disintermediation
  • Flood of information – self-serve gas – 21st century literacies

11. Return to the “spoken” word (metaphorically). Mobile-hand-helds/always on/ubiquitous computing

A few words about me:

  • Studied journalism at the University of Georgia in the late 70s. Inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, like others of my vintage.
  • Studied economics at VPI.
  • Late career academic
  • Spent four years writing about politics for – while teaching about digital media at UW
  • Interested in the intersection of technology and institutions of power, like media and politics. Concerned about digital literacy skill gaps.


Jay Rosen, NYU

The People Formerly Known As The Audience

Rosen’s Flying Seminar In The Future of News

Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press

Clay Shirky

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

My writings:

** Economics/Business Models **

MythBusters: Subscriptions Don’t Cover Salaries

Repeat After Me: Newspaper Consumers Have Never “Paid” For Content

Rupert Murdoch: Journalism and Freedom – A Rebuttal

Future of Journalism Discussions Need Reality Economics

** Future **
To Curate Or Create?

Highlights: Producing News With Your Smartphone

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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