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Chapter 8 (part 3)

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 4 months ago

Comments and Discussion:

 

Libera:

Yesterday I was speaking with my father about the fact that I can’t read newspapers on their web sites, while he finds this solution more comfortable. The few times I’ve read newspapers on line, I’ve found them chaotic, wasteful and I’ve missed the touch and the smell of the pages.

Probably I’ll be considered old-fashioned, but I also love the morning ritual that surrounds my readings: the purchase at the newspapers kiosk, the initial reading in a cafè in front of a cappuccino, and so on..

I completely agree with you when you say that even the persons interested on a particular section of the newspapers can find something else interesting through the pages. For example, I don’t know and I don’t understand anything about economy, but sometimes I’ve found something interesting and I’ve enriched my cultural baggage. I don’t think I could find it on line. I would have just jumped it.

 

 

Valeria: I have done a little summary on the things that in my opinion are important of this part of the chapter

Newspaper futures

High Modern and especially Late Modern designs made sense of the world by removing the newspaper itself from the world. No longer a partisan advocate or even a competitor in the marketplace, the newspaper and its personnel proclaimed detachment and rationality, inviting the fetishizing of the newspaper form. The most important innovations for newspapers, however, have always traveled from the margins to the front pages of newspapers themselves. Electronic news forms in fact draw heavily from the visual shenanigans pioneered in the tabloid format. Another dimension of news design that seems to be carrying into the future is the presence of vernacular design. In our close examination of electronic news in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, we found vernacular design in Web sites such as the Springfield Union-News, and we expect that home-made designs will continue through whatever other changes occur in the form of news. Web designs face an even greater constraint on format, limited to screen size. As a result most phases of Modern style do not exist in the electronic newspapers. The expansion of space in newspapers accompanied the Classicist and High Modern phases in print, but Web pages offer too little contiguous space to accommodate either phase. Few electronic newspapers go that route. The national Spanish daily El País, did not extend its reserved design to the Internet, but opted instead for Late Modern forms on line. Most of the highly designed electronic newspapers have preferred that phase.

In other aspects newspaper Web sites align with the pushy salesmanship of the supermarket tabloid and the new, emphatic broadsheet. Like its tabloid counterpart, the emphatic broadsheet bears a striking similarity to Web-based newspapers. Newspapers have entered another period of visual change that may seem directionless. The crowded anarchy of a newspaper web page, with its pulsing ads and colored hyperlinks, has a similar neo-Victorian look.

The shift to modern newspaper form came about in large part because of bottlenecks that emerged in the media. On a less visible level, newspapers have lost long-standing monopolies in classified advertising, financial information, and sports news. The eroding market position of newspapers and network news shows, and the decline of faith in any privileged position of mapping might spell the demise of the modern newspaper form, although the judgment of history must not be rushed.

 

 

Gabriela:

 

The late modern era of the newspaper erased the newspaper form the world. Nowadays we are reading about 6 millions of the newspapers a day-which is the same number as 100 before, like in 1906.

 

The electronic news forms pioneered in the tabloid format:

-bright colors

-small items

-chaotic abundance that annoys the eye and the attention of the reader

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Internet designs

Even as the modern news style conquered the world, newspaper publishers began to fear conquest at the hands of the World Wide Web. Soon after its development pundits and technophiles began to predict the demise of newspapers. In the best known pronouncement, writer Jon Katz (1994) predicted in the pages of Wired magazine that newspapers would vanish without a trace within ten years. His apocalyptic message found believers in the corporate offices of newspapers, which moved quickly into publishing their contents electronically, led by two design innovators, the Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer in 1994 and the San Jose Mercury News in 1995. Major newspapers such as the New York Times followed in 1996. At newspapers change has come deliberately and often with great reluctance (it took the New York Times decades of debate to remove the period from the end of its nameplate). In the history of news form, the leap onto the Web came precipitously. By the end of the century, almost all daily and most larger weekly newspapers had established electronic versions.

 

Newspapers outside the United States moved just as quickly into on-line publishing (Quadros, 1999). In Spain, several newspapers in the industrialized province of Catalunya (Avui, El Periódico de Catalunya, and La Vanguardia) began their Web versions in 1995, shortly after the first American sites. On-line editions of the major national newspapers published from Madrid (ABC, El Mundo, and El País) ensued within the year. Newspapers in Latin America followed a similar, fast-paced course. In visual form as well as content, innovation flowed from the United States. Take the example of the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, published in Brazil's industrial heartland. It established the on-line NetEstado in 1995 and within two years turned to one of the better known U.S. newspaper designers to create a look for the site. Like other international publishing entities, the Estado corporation joined News of the Future, a project established at the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to send regular updates on form and technology to its subscribers. The flow of design innovation, although rapid, still went from the United States at the center to other countries as a periphery. Scholars in Latin America called the process anglophone, Westernized, white, and consumerist (Amaral & Rondelli, 1996).

 

The growing practice of publishing news on computer networks is the second dynamic repertoire of design innovation flanking the U.S. newspaper. Like previous technologies, the Internet's intrusion into newspaper operations has been both conservative and revolutionary, both progressive and retrogressive. Although often considered the antithesis of the press, the Internet in daily use has so far acted as a surrogate print medium. Users share Internet news in much the way that they used to clip and mail newspaper stories. The result is not homemade news but something very much like it. Users at home can print out items and post them like newspaper clippings on their refrigerators. They can effortlessly clip and instantaneously mail items to each other, much as family members used to read the newspaper over breakfast and pause to say, “Oh, wait, listen to this.” In that sense, on-line newspaper users become narrowcast versions of the colonial printer, who clipped from many sources and selected from many letters to broadcast in each issue. The narrowcasting of electronic news allows users to scavenge similarly but share narrowly, clipping news on a particular topic and sending it to a select few.

 

One fin de siècle commonplace is that industrialized Western societies have become more oriented toward the visual. Late-modern memory has become photographic, imagination cinematic, and the everyday televisual. Interactive multimedia on home computers and over networks have provided the newest - and most visually varied - outlet for news. Understanding on-line news requires an examination of form in the context of the history of similar innovations, such as the rise of photography a century earlier and of the video cassette recorder in the 1980s. To examine the visual forms of newspaper on-line editions, we studied the sites of major American newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Atlanta Constitution. We also scrutinized the newspaper sites that led the way in Web page design, such as Mercury Center (San Jose Mercury News) and NandOTimes (News & Observer). This selection we supplemented by studying on-line newspapers from Europe and Latin America, to track the flow of design forms.

 

To get a bottom-up view, we probed all the sites associated with a particular geographic location, taking the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts as our base. Besides the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, a range of newspapers circulate print editions to local residents in the Pioneer Valley: The Boston Globe, Springfield Union-News, Keene Sentinel, Daily Hampshire Gazette, UMass Daily Collegian, and weekly Valley Advocate. All these publish on-line versions as well, which are linked on active regional clearinghouses run by non-profit (such as public radio station WFCR in Amherst) and commercial sites (such as InstantPioneerValley.com).

 

The most striking quality of on-line newspapers is the dominance of promotion. Ads include a banner across the top, many others forming a chimney down one side of the page, and several more across the bottom on most newspaper sites. The advertising, much of it self-promotional, commonly overwhelms the other content. The ads come up first, blink, move, run ticker-style text, and employ intense colors and dramatic images. The commonplace that advertising quickly flooded the World Wide Web takes on special importance for a medium such as newspapers, in which the bulk of design innovation grew out of advertisements.

 

On-line visual culture has trumped the cherished print-shop traditions of newspapers in their electronic editions. Print nameplates play only a minor role, upstaged by the site name in most cases. Nameplates appear usually grayed down from their solid print versions, as a very small reminder in the background of the Web page. Other accoutrements of newsprint culture hardly appear at all: columns, column rules, visual predominance of text, or variously sized headlines. Instead, the logic of the index takes control. All items lead elsewhere: small photographs to larger versions and associated text, headlines to text, blurbs to text. If the printed book, with its long line of text from beginning to end, is one-dimensional, and the printed newspaper, with its larger multi-columned page, is two-dimensional, a Web page is three-dimensional - a two-dimensional index plus depth. The Chicago Tribune dramatizes its three-dimensionality by openly imitating the look of a file drawer on its Web site, suggesting to the reader a similarity between clicking on the virtual tab (for access to a story) and opening a physical file folder.

 

The Internet began as a simplified print medium. Early users relished the simplicity and austerity of the new medium, and a conceit among e-mail and news group users held that the real Internet guys never used capital letters. At that early point, the Internet offered a new location for reading and writing, a return from the immediacy of broadcasting to the calm of words in type. The original textuality of the Internet became submerged, however, as the World Wide Web appeared and grew to approach the scale of a mass medium. Especially as newspapers have exploited the medium, on-line news has on the whole removed any extensive text from the viewer's first encounter, giving only headlines, blurbs, and index listings as links instead. Every move then leads to more advertising and more links, sometimes associated with disappointingly tiny bits of text. To read a single news article generally requires several clicks or scrolls through the promotional maze, with each few paragraphs of text involving yet another exposure to ads (which usually must download first). Complaints about connection delays aside, the promotional mission clearly dominates or makes its presence insistently known.

 

Within each screen, all elements follow the logic of Web design, with the interactive link intruding where the editorial judgment once prevailed. In print newspapers, reporters and editors basked in sublime ignorance of the actual readership of any particular item, assuming that their choice to display an item prominently on the front page translated directly into readers' attention and esteem. Web design flattens the steep hierarchy of the modern front page. Top stories don't look so top anymore. At the same time, web technology allows publishers to count how many readers click on a particular story. For the benign dictatorship of the editor, web technology substitutes the tyranny of the mouse.

 

Content gains its prominence in the on-line environment from the frequency of user activity, not from the priorities of public affairs reporting. The hit counters on many sites clearly display how many browsers have visited a page. The prominence of sports in Internet news follows from its history of building audiences, as it did in the early years of radio. Other content marginal or unknown to newsprint plays a leading role. Besides the on-line archive of previous editions, a fixture on most sites, the instant response poll figures prominently. Print editions limit archival matter to a few items From the Files, usually from This Date in History, and run days-old telephone response polls. Internet news polls, however, have the capacity to tally and display results in real time.

 

Other on-line content originates in the multimedia environment. The NandOTimes consistently offers a daily animation, a QuickTime movie combining video with USA Today-style charts in motion. We found one item on women in the work force that showed a briefcase opening and bar graphs popping out. The graphs would have conveyed the same information without any visual effects, but the information paled in comparison. Such effects offer pure entertainment value, conceiving of viewers as an audience seeking spectacle and novelty. The World Wide Web based its early success on the power of a few displays that users copied, bookmarked, talked about, posted to Web pages, linked, or exchanged as URL addresses. The notorious dancing baby drew vast numbers of obsessed viewers, who went on to create all sorts of iterations and embellishments of the original. Users could not resist the slightly repellent marvel: a cherub pirouetting on the pixels of a screen, vacant of substance but able to move traffic.

 

Although Internet technology would seem to diminish the stratifications of the print world, substantial differences turned up in our study between the major newspapers and local ones. The major sites have the most elaborate designs, predictably, as well as the most extensive links to other sites and options for viewer interactions. They require viewers to subscribe, often for a simple exchange of information (for the New York Times) if not a paid transaction (for the Wall Street Journal). Many sites set up mechanisms to charge users for access to archived news (almost two dollars for each article from the Chicago Tribune). They also publish multiple editions daily, with the time of last update displayed prominently, and include more content (longer articles or several versions of an article). Local newspapers do not provide as varied or timely a service and also cannot make demands. They open up fewer opportunities for viewers to respond and give feedback. In short, they do not exploit the interactive capabilities of the medium. They look like Web pages, not newspapers, but they don't act like either medium.

 

At the longest-running news sites, applications have completely abandoned the distinctiveness of the newspaper form. NandOTimes and Mercury Center bear the least resemblance to print newspapers. Like the thoroughly commercialized site of the Wall Street Journal, they provide an experience almost indistinguishable from that any large search engine or gateway, such as American on Line or the Netscape NetCenter. The fully developed on-line news site has become a creature of computer networks and browser software, the offspring of commerce in all respects, and a product wholly distinct from the parent newspaper. In these Web sites readers quickly find themselves shuffled off to other news providers. Even the most conservative ones, such as the New York Times, incorporate sidebars on many pages to link directly with the Associated Press and other news outlets. The portal function is most apparent on the most fully commercialized and most popular pages - the business page and the sports page, respectively. Business pages route readers to financial information providers in a fashion almost indistinguishable from the ads appearing on the same page. Electronic sports pages in metropolitan papers route readers to the sites of the local teams, the NFL, or Major League Baseball or to any of a number of related commercial venues.

 

The one obvious exception to these observations, the site of the New York Times, invokes most of the particulars of the newspaper form. Upon entering the site, a reader first encounters the solid print nameplate, along with other elements of Victorian design, such as the so-called ears on either side of the nameplate and vestigial column rules that appear first running the length of the blank page and then remain at the page top once the content has loaded. The black on white of the site contrasts starkly with other on-line newspapers. The screen presents a page-like vertical form (with roughly a one to four aspect ratio) requiring scrolling, and no advertising interrupts reading until further down. The extensive index along the left of the page visually resembles newspaper chimneys more than the usual Web-based indexes. The entire on-line edition clearly reflects the newspaper's position of authority as an institution, which gives the designers apparent freedom from the dictatorship of measurable clicks that tends to drive other sites. In this case, the power of the Times has reproduced itself.

 

Understanding web news

The visual relationship of on-line operations to their sponsoring newspapers resembles that of advertising to journalism. Like printed advertisements, on-line sites provide another stream of revenue, their excesses tolerated because of their indirect support for newspapers. That relationship helps provide the key to understanding the impact of electronic forms on the newspaper. The process of change, as the new technology of computer networks becomes incorporated into the landscape of news, does not resemble a sudden revolution, although it may seem that way. Instead, the process probably has many antecedents and crept up on newspapers gradually, somewhat like earlier visual changes in newspapers, such as the introduction of photography and the spread of modern design.

 

The forms of the industrial newspaper emerged from the entanglement in a series of relationships. Elsewhere we discussed how the development of the newspaper in the nineteenth century resulted in the accumulation of different flows of content and audiences (see Chapter 3), so that by the end of the century the metropolitan daily had become the meeting ground for different readers with different agendas. Newspapers segmented those agendas into departments, but fixed all of the departments in the overall form. As a result, the sports fan, the entrepreneur, the shopper, the patron of the arts, and the political enthusiast all came together at the site of the newspaper, which encouraged every reader in some fashion to undertake every role, to be a shopper and a voter, for instance.

 

The modern newspaper imposed a voice on all these streams. Elsewhere we have pointed out that the newspaper became monovocal in the modern formation. One aspect of this monovocality was a sense of identity for each specific newspaper. Readers developed a familiarity with recurring aspects of a newspaper - its editorial positions, its columnists, its ties to specific sports franchises, its promotions, even its reporters. Moreover, habitual newspaper readers could pick up a copy of an unfamiliar newspaper and figure out its character, doping out its politics, its style, its readership. This is one sense in which a newspaper creates and readers experience an environment.

 

The logic of corporate journalism has worked for a couple of decades to diminish a newspaper's distinctiveness. The Gannett newspapers exemplify this trend, with their cookie cutter designs, weak local ties, bland conservative politics, and overall obeisance to the demands of the chain. When strong-voiced papers like the Louisville Courier Journal and the Des Moines Register joined the other scalps on the wall of Allan Neuharth's office, it only confirmed what everyone already knew. The conditions of corporate newspapering mute a paper's voice.

 

The Web goes a step farther. What Gannett did by purging the Web does by bingeing. The modern newspaper achieved monovocality by suppressing the multiple voices of the various streams of content it drew from. The Web ultimately disentangles those streams. Even a conservative site, such as the editorial page of the New York Times, opens itself up to the multiple voices of its sources, allowing readers to take their pick of editorial cartoonists (none of whom appears in the print edition). This potentially endless multiplication of options for the reader makes it impossible for the Web newspaper to impose a voice on its matter.

 

In the same way, the Web also disperses a newspaper's readers. The modern newspaper brought all readers together in the same common space, but a Web edition directs them all to discrete rooms. A reader with an interest in sports need never glance at a public affairs story along the way. In fact, such a reader need no longer rely on the daily newspaper at all as a source of news. A sports fan may go directly to the ESPN site - still at this writing the most frequently visited content provider - and from there directly to a team site. For that reason, despite the fact that many newspapers, especially the New York Times, load up their sites with more matter than they make available in print, the readers of these sites are likely to read less of it than they would in print and less likely to remember what they read. These are empirical questions that require further investigation, but the form of on-line news points to a greater volatility or mobility in reading. If the metropolitan daily encouraged a common space of general knowledge, then the Web encourages narrower spaces of specialized knowledge. Anyone interested in the politics of Togo, the tiny nation and host to Africa's longest running dictator, can browse widely (and automatically) through the Web to cull news stories from many sources. Thus general readers can imitate reading practices formerly reserved for scholars and other specialists.

 

Popularizing specialist knowledge has democratic potential, of course. Web design by its nature weakens the editor's mediation of news flow. Instead of relying on the editor of the Enquirer sports page, a Cincinnati Reds fan may go directly to some of the sources that the newspaper used that day - the Associated Press wire or the Reds front office. The fans can be their own editors. In fact all sorts of people can build their own news media this way, taking a little from a wide range of sites. Although they may feel like free agents in an anarchic landscape, they are simultaneously targets for increasingly well-aimed advertising messages and marketing campaigns, the end result of which strengthens the economic position of the most successful of the new media, the ones that can claim the most hits. Those sites overwhelmingly are the Web versions of old media, print and broadcast alike. The independent reader, with apparently increasing freedom, also becomes an increasingly precise market segment. The trend did not originate with the Web. Newspapers experimented for years with ways to narrowcast their products, and most major newspapers produce zoned editions, targeted to particular locales. Much of the motivation grew out of advertising. Newspapers that can identify and deliver well chosen market segments can expect geometric increases in advertising revenue. The same holds for magazines, although on a national rather than a local level (Abrahamson, 1996), as well as for other commercial media (Turow, 1998).

 

The Web nevertheless allows a new level of disarticulation, and the ultimate driving factor remains promotional, as we have already stated. The New York Times, for instance, began to request demographic information from subscribers early on and employs technology that allows advertisers to target particular readers. At the same time, Amazon, the largest advertiser on the Web, is willing to maintain links to Times book reviews and kick back a fee to the Times when a reader jumps from the Times Book Review section to Amazon and orders a book. The line between the medium and the advertiser has blurred radically, in both agenda and style.

 

But dire predictions of newsprint's demise add little to an understanding of the process of change. In their actual functioning, Web sites and computer networks intersect with print journalism in much the same way as the advertising industry complements the newspaper industry. On-line news does not compete directly with printed newspapers as newspapers once competed with radio or movies with television.

 

The rise of electronic forms instead most closely parallels the spread of photography in the nineteenth century and the triumph of modern design in the twentieth. Newspapers incorporated photography into their pages slowly (see Chapter 5), resisting as long as the forms failed to serve the prevailing visual regime. When that regime no longer made sense in American political and economic scene, newspapers embraced photography as part of a general move toward modernism, which later accelerated in what looked like a sudden revolution. Likewise the adoption of page designs controlled by ideals and routines of visual mapping began early and again moved slowly at first before speeding up (see Chapter 6). The conventional wisdom of journalistic circles described the accelerations as a result of new technologies spawning head-to-head competition between newspapers and picture magazines or radio (in the 1930s and 1940s) and later television news (in the late 1960s and early 1970s). The much earlier origin of the shifts resists a naive narrative of technologically determined change and suggests a pattern of visual innovation.

 

When the recent process of digital transformation can be examined from a longer perspective, studies will likely show that the burst of activity near century's end followed a slow rise in the forms most associated with on-line networks. Certainly the move toward segmentation of the audience began earlier. Other aspects of Web design, including its abundance of material and its often self-consciously retrograde visual style, already made an appearance in Late Modern design as well.

 

The printed press can and probably will continue to co-exist with on-line news sites, whence newspapers can expect a continual flow of innovation. We can offer two observations on the likely course of change. First, newspapers will adapt elements from computer networks to fit news culture, just as press photography, as it grew out from the tradition of engraving, took on increasingly the values of journalism. Photojournalism emerged from the dialectic of new form (photographs) and existing content (journalism), as all invaders have done. The outcome resulted from melding and compromise, not utter rout or defeat for print, as some journalists predicted at the time. The same will hold for digital news, especially as it generates revenue. Mainstream dailies at first embraced the Web as a defensive move. Newspapers rushed into cyberspace to stake claims to their traditional monopolies - classified advertising, financial information, and sports information especially - before upstarts like the Microsoft Street pages preempted them. Newspapers at first did not anticipate profits from their Web pages. It came as something of a surprise when, in 1998, a majority began to break even or make money, but even then the profitability depended on the free content available from the print edition. At century's end, it is still very doubtful that the New York Times could survive separately as a Web edition, and in fact every profitable Web news site of any significance depends on a non-Web news organization, drawing on but not paying for its news gathering resources.

 

We anticipate that the various forms of newspaper delivery will coexist in the same way that the various forms of film exhibition do. Hollywood panicked over the videocassette in the same way that newspapers panicked over the Internet, but after two decades of the VCR, theatrical exhibition remained highly profitable. Video distribution became crucial to a film's bottom line and unexpectedly reinforced rather than undermined the status of big budget blockbusters and the studios that produced and distributed them (Wasser, 1996). Many films are now shot with viewing on the small screen in mind. The range of video products corresponded to the B movies of Hollywood's golden age and helped glamorize the A movies, the major theatrical releases, by contrast. The old product remained sturdy, however, and for a very good reason, one that reinforces the notion of the media as environment. The theatrical film, marketed at a far higher price than home video, then could command more from filmgoers willing to purchase an experience, not just a text. At some point newspapers will likewise market their already high-priced print versions as a reading experience of a unique and increasingly upscale variety.

 

Our second observation on the process of encountering the on-line world is that newspapers will change to reflect the emerging moment of American political and economic culture. As modernism arrived in America, the mode of pictorial narrative changed. Newspapers accomplished the change first by using collage and then by filling entire picture pages, shifting pictorial representations from static iconism (stock campaign engravings) in the nineteenth century republican ideal to picture-as-content (journalist-produced candid shots) in the twentieth century professional ideal. Clearly computer networks have already had a parallel influence. Content from on-line sources has achieved greater status in the hierarchy of news. Newspapers began to advertise their electronic scoops in much the same way they had plugged photojournalism - the last picture, the latest picture - early on. The earlier change accompanied the loss of image-as-handicraft. Not only did engraving and sketch art end, replaced by the supposedly mechanical photograph, but also the change led to the disappearance of artists' signatures, which at first had appeared within press photography as autographs. Artists, like authors, were eventually swallowed up in technical expertise. A computer-based parallel could result in a loss to the handicraft of reporting, continuing the pattern set as telephones placed mediation between journalists and sources. Another result, the growth of home-made news in the utopian vision of the Internet, seems less likely. The first few years of the World Wide Web pointed not to homemade but to corporate news, with institutional arbiters claiming to manufacture the facts and filter out the gossip (the realm of e-mail and perhaps chat rooms).

 

Eventually Web sites will absorb many functions of print, just as illustrations eventually took over much of the visual work previously done by verbal reports. Twentieth-century journalists, leaving description to the camera, turned especially to prediction. The future tense, although not absent in early reportage, had usually conveyed details (“the color guard of the 82nd infantry will follow the casket”). As photographs took over the details, reporters began to speak confidently of a wider future. On-line archives can supplant the background summaries central to explanatory news stories, as well as the repetition of pictures that have formed collective identity in the modern memory. The form of the Web moves news even further from event-centered reporting and toward analysis, interpretation, and prediction (Barnhurst & Mutz, 1997).

 

The changes would leave the journalist as expert, but also would suggest a return to the journalist as advocate. The disappearance of partisan journalism was surprisingly recent, accomplished more by the professional newspaper than by the industrial newspaper. The industrial newspaper produced economies of scale that led to conditions of local monopoly for newspapers; cultural factors then encouraged building a sense of professionalism on that foundation. Web sites, although somewhat monopolistic, also break down the barriers necessary to sustain monopoly. The local market we examined in western Massachusetts had gained a wider reach and also lost its insularity in the electronic frontier. The spatial and economic geography of North America, which retarded the appearance of national newspapers in the United States, becomes attenuated on the Web. In an electronic marketplace, we can imagine a series of truly national newspapers competing. Why shouldn't these come to occupy partisan positions (on the European sort)? Even without the advent of partisan national media on line, journalists might become partisan on their own. The availability of a largely free and linkable universe of information can allow a journalist the kind of autonomy that previously required entrepreneurial genius (of someone like I. F. Stone) or immense prominence (of someone like Seymour Hersh).

 

Most discussions of computer-based news tend to hyperbole and oversimplification. It is as if the visual landscape had changed abruptly, with the appearance of effects such as the link and the moving image within news text. Our examination of picture regimes showed that it is too simple to assert such sudden transformations. The visual was not simply missing before the rise of news photography in the twentieth century. In the same vein, motion in newspapers was not absent before the rise of the World Wide Web. Not only did all sorts of visual ways exist to represent the news, but also newspapers had textual ways of presenting an active vision of events. Even in the nineteenth century, newspapers could use techniques such as walking description to incorporate imagery as well as motion into text well before either cameras or computers entered news rooms.

 

The role of on-line news in the year 2000 is ambiguous, but no more so than the role of photojournalism in the 1930s, the full adoption of which was more equivocal than is often acknowledged. Photojournalism, like the Web, resulted from technological advance, of course, and also from artistic innovation. The shift came about when news workers learned how to make photographs as lucid as engravings, a step that required not only advances in the speed and handling of cameras but also in the visual conception of newspaper pages. Instead of containing a narrative within a single engraving from sketches, photography required integrating pictures into news, co-opting many tasks of text, and publishing multiple images to tell a story. It is not surprising that editors resisted at first, just as many of them now look askance at the on-line environment. Web designs, like picture pages, move news even further from contained, linear narrative. News workers are now reconceptualizing journalism as they learn to make electronic pages do the work of news, a step fostered by advances in technology but also by the larger visual environment.

newspaper futures

 

What will follow the high modern moment of American journalism (Hallin, 1994)? High Modern and especially Late Modern designs made sense of the world by removing the newspaper itself from the world. No longer a partisan advocate or even a competitor in the marketplace, the newspaper and its personnel proclaimed detachment and rationality, inviting the fetishizing of the newspaper form. Like all ascendancies, this one immediately anticipated its decadence, raised the alarm, and appealed for support. The popularity of the Internet and commercial information networks supplies the latest of many pseudo-crises, each of which has threatened to make newspapers little more than a memory.

 

The Internet and World Wide Web have so captivated the fin de siècle imagination that other sources of change tend to fade into obscurity. The most important innovations for newspapers, however, have always traveled from the margins to the front pages of newspapers themselves. Electronic news forms in fact draw heavily from the visual shenanigans pioneered in the tabloid format. Another dimension of news design that seems to be carrying into the future is the presence of vernacular design. It exists on the Web especially in the local press. In our close examination of electronic news in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, we found vernacular design in Web sites such as the Springfield Union-News, and we expect that home-made designs will continue through whatever other changes occur in the form of news.

 

The same cannot be said for Modern style. We have seen how the constraints of the tabloid newspaper page limited the phases of modernism, but compared to tabloids, Web designs face an even greater constraint on format, limited to screen size. As a result most phases of Modern style do not exist in the electronic newspapers we studied. We did not encounter the Proto-Modern phase at all in Web editions. The expansion of space in newspapers accompanied the Classicist and High Modern phases in print, but Web pages offer too little contiguous space to accommodate either phase. Modern order and neatness would allow for very few items on each screen, but the commercial urgency of the medium contradicts the quiet of empty space. Few electronic newspapers go that route. The national Spanish daily El País, for example, did not extend its reserved design to the Internet, but opted instead for Late Modern forms on line. Most of the highly designed electronic newspapers have preferred that phase, converging with the predominant design for both broadsheets and tabloids throughout the world (with the mainstream U.S. press as something as a laggard).

 

In other aspects, however, newspaper Web sites align with the pushy salesmanship of the supermarket tabloid and the new, emphatic broadsheet. Like its tabloid counterpart, the emphatic broadsheet bears a striking similarity to Web-based newspapers. They all adopt a promotional vocabulary to push events at consumers, selling their moral charge rather than the considered discourse of civic society. Perhaps they point to a new, postmodern formation. In place of the coffeehouse metaphor, they propose the discotheque. Bright colors, many small items, a disorderly and disordered abundance, and howling diction reign. Consumers distractedly dance along with the pirouetting crowd or watch in stunned amazement. Mainstream newspapers, as they reflect American culture, have considerable resistance to the disco metaphor, at least for now, but we take the qualities of electronic newspapers as a further indication of the demise of the modern formation.

 

Newspapers have entered another period of visual change that may seem directionless. With its underpinnings in postmodern ennui, the new visual form of news has no sense of history and seems to require no justification. The end game of modernism, as it expands beyond American borders and confronts a borderless world of interactive computer networks, suggests the unraveling of the newspaper map. The austerities of the High Modern yield to a new abundance, or perhaps rather an old abundance. The most visually striking newspaper of the 1980s, USA Today, belied its proclaimed affinity to TV news with a perhaps unconsciously retro design, and its millennial redesign only heightens that effect. The crowded anarchy of a newspaper web page, with its pulsing ads and colored hyperlinks, has a similar neo-Victorian look.

 

The end of modernism holds more than antiquarian interest. As we pointed out previously (Chapter 7), the shift to modern newspaper form came about in large part because of bottlenecks that emerged in the media. Recently the bottlenecks that fostered modernism have begun to shift and erode. An abundance of new televisual outlets on cable, the rise of talk radio, and the like have begun to challenge the authority of journalism professionals. On a less visible level, newspapers have lost long-standing monopolies in classified advertising, financial information, and sports news. The change is best understood within the long-term historical context of the rise of the modernist newspaper; it is poorly understood by hyperbolic denunciations of MTV and USA Today.

 

Perhaps MTV and USA Today are the most obvious contenders for the characteristic media of the end of the century. The eroding market position of newspapers and network news shows, the rise of new contenders for the title Keeper of the Social Map, and the decline of faith in any privileged position of mapping might spell the demise of the modern newspaper form, although the judgment of history must not be rushed. Our overview of current experiments with electronic newspapering are to the point. Such forays themselves do not threaten the professional autonomy of journalists as authors and experts - a story is a story, transmitted electronically or on hard copy - but they do threaten modernism. Whatever else it is - a dictionary, an encyclopedia, a library, a card catalog, a data network - an electronic newspaper is not a map.

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