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Chapter 9 (part 2)

Page history last edited by PBworks 18 years ago

Comments and Discussion:


Valeria: The newspapers has changed in the ages and one of the most important change is the multi – vocal in which many readers can act like citizens. It was adopted also from the Victorian newspaper, but it was profane. Also it was a contradiction multi – vocal was used in the years and adopted to the various phases of the news. And it is used also in the Internet news.

I think that newspaper has changed because the thought of people change and also the way of looking the things.



Here I am trying to write some of my ideas from this chapter.

Modern journalism erased the details and put instead order and clarity.

The new wave in journalism wanted the reader closer to the printed press, relying on human subjects to produce objective knowledge.

All the news were adapted to the mass and even humanized, they didn’t represent only the story, and they participated at the quotidian life.

All the news connect the reader into a particular relation with the events and personages of the day-the reader participates lively; he is suddenly absorbed in the middle of the action, as a spectator; he lives each experience by reading the article and seeing the picture.


KNOWLEDGE IS POWER-the news are addressed to a public of individuals with a medium level of knowledge: for some of them are new terms, but for others may represent things that they already know.




Headlines became news(the number of news increased; there are almost 30-40 news per minute and there is a real “fight” for which should be printed or not).



























Ideal news form

Our excursus on voice offers a normative guideline for news forms. Multiple voices enhance democracy. Multi-vocal forms invite readers to act as citizens in ways that mono-vocal forms, no matter how much mastery of facts or truth they promise, never can.


The historical record does not reveal an ideally multi-vocal form. The Federal period fantasy of a public sphere presents an alluring ideal, in which newspapers operate like town meetings, but the actual formation of the printerly newspaper reproduced the monotone of propertied gentlemen. The partisan newspaper, by virtue of its position within a competitive news and political environment, reproduced a strong, demotic voice representing itself as one of many, but at the same time its forms cast readers as party faithful, listening to only one voice (that is, fully attending to only one newspaper). Although the editor represented himself (usually) as a debater, the Partisan period in fact set up the relationship between editor and reader as teacher-student or drill sergeant-recruit - discipline masqueraded as persuasion.


The Victorian newspaper was truly multi-vocal, but its multi-vocality was profane. The many voices of the marketplace shouted down the lonely voice of the political arena. Consumer freedom seduced readers away from politics, now recast by the news as a dismal realm of tawdry spectacle, idiotic discipline, and inevitable misgovernment. Modernism did not invent the depoliticized public; it merely took it out of the profane neighborhoods of the Victorian paper and enshrined it in the temple, where reporters, the new high priests of civic discourse, could lead it in prayer. Some truths will not set you free.


Perhaps an ideally multi-vocal newspaper is a contradiction in terms. If so, then we await the deformation of the newspaper. The melange of styles in news would then point to the rejection of forms expressing not only the type of news production but also any larger public ideal. Without its civic justification, the newspaper would have even less claim on reader loyalty. We are reluctant to accept that grim possibility. Granted, all of the newspaper formations we discuss cast readers into contradictory material and represented relationships. All of them are deeply implicated in legitimating existing concentrations of power by making them seem simply obvious, but not all are equally culpable. The modernist newspaper is the most implicated here, because it has combined the inescapable function of visual representation with a journalistic claim to fully and neutrally map the social and with the economic power to make that claim believable. Put tersely, the project of mapping the social has always entailed more power for the mapper than for the citizen.


A broad irony of modernism is the pessimism it produced. Enlightenment philosophers, by placing the individual at the center of their project, treated all citizens as inherently good and equal, beginning from the same blank slate. The resulting egalitarianism gave sense to the American Revolution and produced the printerly and then the partisan newspapers, the most optimistic of the formations we examined. Each succeeding formation has moved further away from the belief in the power and inherent goodness of the people. With the Late Modern phase, news arrived at its nadir, thoroughly pessimistic in regard to readers, who it conceived as lacking knowledge, paying little attention to public affairs, and requiring constant visual cajoling (by marketing techniques) to show any response.


The ideal of the newspaper then moved on from map to index. As the High Modern phase of news passed, the possibility of mapping the social receded from the ambitions of news professionals, even as the autonomy of news workers receded before the advancing power of the news corporation. Instead of retreating to the multi-vocality of the industrial newspaper, the multiplicity of neo-Victorian design has produced a new kind of mono-vocality. The index as guiding ideal suggests that the newspaper might become a daily almanac. The best known American almanac, Poor Richard's, supplied a reference tool for the immediate use of readers, laced with tidbits of moralistic prose. It contributed not only to the financial success of Benjamin Franklin but also to his celebrity. The almanac, a hybrid form combining tabular material and raw listed facts with a miscellany of more narrative content, makes its distributor a practical authority, and gives him or her a textured and recognized voice.


But neo-Victorian forms are surely transitional. As the newspaper moves into cyberspace, we anticipate a coming formation that we might call the network newspaper. The network newspaper would combine the corporate structure of the Late Modern news with the free forms and easy interconnectedness of the Internet. The endurance of the corporate structure has defied so far the predictions of Internet utopians, who expected the disappearance of scarcities in production (no need for paper and presses anymore) and of bottlenecks in distribution (no need for trucks and newsstands either) to open opportunities for more entrepreneurial news businesses to compete with and eventually uproot the dominant corporations. Utopians expected the free flow of information to kill the dinosaurs, but instead all of the important web-based news sites grew from existing news organizations. The Internet greased some of the relationships within the old forms of news, but in material terms has not yet produced new relationships. True, readers can talk back more easily to their newspapers on the Web, but the act still resembles talking back to the television set - something akin to therapy, perhaps, but not to political action. At least at this point the network newspaper encourages reader response primarily as a form of surveillance intended to strengthen the marketing and advertising functions of the corporation.


The Web also relates news forms to each other quite differently. Some formerly solid barriers, lines that separated the sacred from the profane and the news from advertising, have become more permeable. Previously well-defined divisions of labor in news production also show signs of strain. To the good, the vast network of relationships that produces the news has made itself more visible to readers. The fixed vantage point from which professional journalists surveyed the world in the High Modern period has dissolved. Network newspapers reveal instead a shifting nexus of different lines of force, representing the reader as a fleeting atom in the net.


We can choose to face the prospect of the next newspaper formation with more hope than history warrants. Multi-vocality in its ideal form may come at last. A limited deprofessionalization of journalists, coupled with the enhanced autonomy of readers, may produce a dialogue capable of overcoming the intense bifurcation of the public into active and passive parts that has become more characteristic during the modern era. A form of public deliberation through the news would then become at least possible, however unlikely.


Throughout U.S. history, stylistic decisions have assigned and channeled much of the work of the newspaper. Such decisions have paid little attention to less immediate implications, but instead recapitulated rather thoughtlessly the dominant distributions of power. We can say fairly that in the newspaper and in print culture and the media generally, the play of power is more simple, more tame, and better legitimated than in the culture or practices of everyday life. In every period of U.S. history, the voices of political debate in taverns and public squares have been more diverse than the spectrum represented in the press. Before the Civil War, women accomplished many things in the world but only a few in print. In the Progressive era, African-Americans found myriad ways to resist white power in the workplace but remained simply subaltern in the mainstream press. The formal decision by which newspapers elected to add the adjective colored to the name of every Black person, whether in an obituary or a story about a prizefight, did much to represent African-Americans as less than full citizens (and their own newspapers emerged to redress that treatment). Style can accomplish a lot.


At the end of the modern era, much attention has been called to the rhetorical impact of formal decisions. No news photographer can innocently ignore the implications of depicting Blacks rather than whites among chained arrestees or drug users. No reporter can innocently ignore the implications of quoting and naming male sources while paraphrasing unidentified women. No designer can innocently ignore the implications of choosing to group gay rights and AIDS stories together on the page. The journalist's lost innocence merits our congratulations. It should be carried further, as we have intended to do here. The greatest harm for the common good redounds when power operates at the margins. The modern commitment to openness thus must extend to the decisions newspaper conductors make about their visual form. Without the gauze curtain of ignorance that once obscured the manipulation of visual form, journalism may become more democratic, an aim we heartily endorse. We have yet to reach a point where we understand all the ways in which style creates and distributes power.


We do not, however, propose to isolate style from all the other ways that power is created and distributed. To do so would be to yield to the logic of the Late Modern newspaper, in which style is supposedly freed from corporate structure to do whatever work designers bid. Late Modern styles, whatever the designer's intent, inevitably reproduce corporate power by their mere inclusion in the relations ordered by the corporate newspaper. Styles cannot by themselves overcome the limitations of the corporate structure and the surrounding economic and political culture. In the final analysis, the newspaper remains a creature of its environment. Despite the powers of the press, which we have duly celebrated here, the work of overcoming an unfair distribution of social, economic, and political power must also be undertaken elsewhere.


News forms nevertheless do some work in the world. Although restricted by class, the forms of news opened participatory opportunities to gentlemen in the Federal period. The forms of early illustrated news reproduced the civic gaze that sustained a republican ideal. The Victorian forms of news gave the industrial newspaper near universal reach. Finally, the forms of news sustained a factual reliability in the modern newspaper, despite its other failings.


A final note

Our belief that the form of news makes a difference goes beyond any simple nostalgia for the idea of the newspaper, although we readily confess our personal histories and proclivities. We see our own citizenship playing out on the backdrop of news forms. We remember not only events but the look of those events in the press. As our aging memories become less crisp and vivid, what remains is the pattern of how things looked: the environment that newspapers created in which we experienced the affairs of the day.


In the ten years we have dedicated to our analysis, our engagement with daily newspapers has soured as that news environment has changed. We no longer read print versions with the same pleasure, a pleasure that always went beyond our evaluations of their journalistic and design virtues. Today's Chicago Tribune probably is a better paper in both regards than the one we read in the 1980s, but we value it less because we see through its visual and civic pretensions. At the same time, we use electronic versions more often but with increasing ruthlessness, getting our information on the run and taking no pleasure in it at all. Perhaps this is because we can't carry it around with us, and droop over it on the bus, and gesture at friends with it, and stick yellowing clippings from it to our refrigerators. We would never consider lingering over the on-line crossword puzzle as a guilty treat. The computer is our work station.


The fact that our newspaper reading has begun to move onto computers attests to the many ways in which news has moved out of both the domestic and the public and instead into the corporate world. The news on line and in print beckons us into an environment driven by tasks and by the bottom line, and like many other readers we resist by ignoring the visual gimmicks of Web pages and Late Modern newsprint designs. The corporate setting plunders the visual form in search of short-term gains, and our own activities respond to that set of values. The example provides one final illustration of how the form of news narrows and limits our options. We extract what information will serve immediate purposes, and although we intend our perfunctory attention as a form of resistance, it in fact reflects the extractive models of corporate environments. Throughout its history, the form of news has played a similar game of gotcha.


That is not to say that we do not harbor optimism. We have dedicated time and energy to the project of documenting the changing form of news to alert readers and journalists to its power, with the expectation that awareness can motivate change. Design decisions are more than mere cake decorating that disguises the substance of news, but instead add to and limit its nutritional value. In any activist agenda, the first step is to raise consciousness. Although we do not prescribe what the environment should be, we want to show what it has been and to take part in the process that will re-imagine what it will be.


We hope that the newspaper survives and evolves into a formation that will encourage civic culture in new ways. Although not a panacea, a reformation of the newspaper could help achieve greater justice. We hope that future forms of news will combine the participatory opportunities that the printerly newspaper gave to gentlemen with the civic gaze of early illustrated news and the universal reach of the industrial newspaper and the factual reliability of the modern newspaper. No other institution offers more promise for the regeneration of civic life. After all, history has not stopped, as anyone who reads newspapers knows.

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