The latest Economist has a wonderful section on the future of news, and one of the points it makes repeatedly is that the future of news isn’t that different from the past. Here’s what news looked like in the wooden-teeth times:
THREE hundred years ago news travelled by word of mouth or letter, and circulated in taverns and coffee houses in the form of pamphlets, newsletters and broadsides. “The Coffee houses particularly are very commodious for a free Conversation, and for reading at an easie Rate all manner of printed News,” noted one observer. Everything changed in 1833 when the first mass-audience newspaper, the New York Sun, pioneered the use of advertising to reduce the cost of news, thus giving advertisers access to a wider audience. At the time of the launch America’s bestselling paper sold just 4,500 copies a day; the Sun, with its steam press, soon reached 15,000. The penny press, followed by radio and television, turned news from a two-way conversation into a one-way broadcast, with a relatively small number of firms controlling the media.
Fast forward to 2011, change the terms and the buzzwords, and here’s what you get:
Over the past decade, throughout the Western world, people have been giving up newspapers and TV news and keeping up with events in profoundly different ways. Most strikingly, ordinary people are increasingly involved in compiling, sharing, filtering, discussing and distributing news. Twitter lets people anywhere report what they are seeing. Classified documents are published in their thousands online. Mobile-phone footage of Arab uprisings and American tornadoes is posted on social-networking sites and shown on television newscasts. An amateur video taken during the Japanese earthquake has been watched 15m times on YouTube. “Crowdsourcing” projects bring readers and journalists together to sift through troves of documents, from the expense claims of British politicians to Sarah Palin’s e-mails. Social-networking sites help people find, discuss and share news with their friends.
The coffeehouse is back. It worked then, who says it won’t now?