“Freedom of the press belongs to those that own the distribution system. Perhaps that has always been the case, but in a mass society where nearly everyone is instantaneously plugged into a variety of national communications systems, wide-spread dissemination of the information is the crux of the matter.”
That quote easily could be applied to the current debate buzzing through the web about social media vs mainstream media but it was written back in 1970 by Abbie Hoffman (one of the founding members of the Yippies) from his jail cell in Chicago.
For those New Media Gurus who weren’t born yet, Yippies had nothing in common with Yuppies and pre-dated the later by many years. The term Yippie was derived from Youth International Party, an anarchist group that tried to disrupt the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Yuppie, in case you’ve forgotten, was derived from Young Urban Professionals who were what the rich kids became when they got tired of the revolution.
Hoffman wrote a revolutionary manifesto called Steal This Book which, despite its title, sold enough copies to make the best seller list, much to his embarrassment. The book is available on line here and is more anachronistic than anarchistic these 40 years later.
Back then “new media” were the so-called “underground newspapers” with names like the Village Voice, the New Leaf and the Georgia Straight. Most of them have long since gone out of business and the ones remaining found better ways to monetize themselves, usually through arts and entertainment advertising.
When they began, underground newspapers printed stories that the mainstream media were not covering. They challenged the journalism establishment and wrote first-person, opinionated accounts of things as they saw them. Sound familiar, bloggers?
Forty years ago, it was called New Journalism and was much criticized by the mainstream media of the day who feared its strong story-telling style would mean the death of conventional reporting. What it did instead was foster writing by Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer and Joan Didion. I’m still looking for a blog of their modern day equivalents.
For a great example of New Journalism, check out this article about Frank Sinatra, written by Guy Talese for Esquire Magazine in 1966. Talese compiled a compelling portrait of the singer without interviewing him.
But this is becoming too much of a history lesson, so let’s cut to the chase and talk about the current debate over how the web is affecting newspaper reporting.
“The Internet is a new frontier for news. Radio did not kill newspapers, television did not kill radio. Newspapers written a hundred years ago were full of outrageous opinion and often very little facts. They’ve grown up. The same thing is going to happen with the Internet.”
That’s from a panel discussion at an international communications conference held in New Orleans. It was sponsored by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a group that likes to keep abreast of the latest trends in media issues. The conference was held – just let me double check the date – in 1998 . . . um, 11 years ago!
Oh, and the speaker was me.