Important information and reading matter

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The stimulus material for the MED 6 exam in June will be moving image. We’ve already looked at a few examples. I think we probably need to consider some advertising.

(The stimulus material for MEST 1 in June will also be moving image, as will MED 1.)

A reminder that Charlie Booker is about to “do” TV news for BBC 4 – and has also written about it in the Guardian today. Snip:

It doesn’t help that the news has to travel through a series of distorting Crazy Straws before entering your brain. TV news now comes packaged as a dazzling CGI cartoon, with the names of star anchors included in the programme title, and an absurdly theatrical air of bombast underpinning every second of every broadcast. Traditional newspapers, beaten to the punch by the immediacy of the internet and 24-hour news networks, are becoming less and less bothered with breaking actual news than celebrity gossip, or provocative comment, or shouty campaigning.

Worth a read, and you ought to watch the show, because we’ll surely be discussing it in class.

Another thing I think you all absolutely have to read is this blog entry by Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody. He’s currently the Man when it comes to new media, and all the old media outlets turn to him for pointers. Tell us what to think, Clay!

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

I hate to see predictions of the death of print. But not long ago, I posted another piece (also by Shirky, I think) which talked about what would be the last print medium to go. And the answer was the wedding magazine, because – in the writer’s opinion – that’s where the need for glossy close-up detail remains at a premium. I was a magazine freak at one time, and I still love to look at them, but there’s almost nothing I used to read in magazines that isn’t more easily available online. Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber links to this piece by Steven Berlin Johnson on how weird it now seems that, back in the day, we’d have to wait, month by month, to learn news about our favourite obsession – in his case, Apple computers.

If you wanted Apple news back in 1987 – or even 1996 – you generally waited for the latest issue of Macworld or MacUser, or MacFormat (I used to buy all three, plus The Mac), and read the news (already old by then) on the, you know, news pages. If you wanted to buy a printer, you might read a group test of printers. Who does that these days? If Steve Jobs sneezes, the whole world (and the world’s stock markets) catches a cold.

What are magazines for? Pretty pictures? Millions of them online. News and reviews? Ditto. In-depth obsessive articles? Ditto. I’m still in love with type, and I still think the biggest downer about the internet is that we all spend all day looking at Verdana and Georgia, but my love of typography doesn’t see me buying magazines anymore.

According to Shirky, we’re in the middle of a revolution akin to that introduced by Gutenberg with the printing press. You probably know by now that this is a favourite subject of mine. Every year I tell students how the introduction of italic fonts was important because it allowed for smaller, cheaper books, and I see a class full of blank faces. Smaller, cheaper books means that more people can afford to learn to read, which increases the overall level of literacy, which leads to more people turning round and saying to their overlords, “Hang about. What drivel are you spouting now?” Italic type brings us working class emancipation, trade unions, the labour movement, and the National Health Service. It brings us free education, free blogging software, Pro Tools and Bandcamp.

But it takes years, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out, for people to realise that paradigms have shifted. You don’t wake up one morning and notice that the earth is circling the sun, not the other way around. You wake up 600 years later, and all the torture, rioting, imprisonment, witch-hunting and social disruption have passed and now everybody agrees that the earth is circling the sun.

Shirky points out that we know what the world was like before the printing press, and we know what it was like after the printing press. What’s hard to know is what it was like in the middle of all that upheaval.

Chaotic, as it turns out. The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?

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