The Shape of Things To Come

Franklin’s press

While I am working at the Star Ledger this week, I am also reading Eric Burns’ new book, Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism.

It is a fascinating history of the beginnings not just of journalism in America, but of the newspaper business in general.

While Gutenberg is generally credited with inventing the printing press in 1452, the first newspapers only appear in America in 1690. Although Gutenberg had all the technology he needed in 1452 to, in fact publish The New York Times, it would take more than 200 years for that technology to resonate in newspapers.

Publick Occurrences bore little resemblance to a newspaper you might read today, except perhaps for The National Enquirer, but it was indeed one of the world’s first newspapers. Although it was only published for one edition, others would quickly follow on its heels, both in Britain and in the Colonies. Within 40 years, Benjamin Franklin would be publishing the far more successfulThe Courant on the press shown above. That piece of wooden technology in fact bore little difference from the machine that Gutenberg had pressed his first bibles upon.

It is not the technology that shifts culture, but rather the application.

All of this brings us to video and the web.

The technology of the web has now been with us for only 17 years, since Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web. And the implications of that technology are now only starting to be felt. But as with the printing press, the effects will be shattering.

This Sunday,The New York Times reported that every minute, 10 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube.

This is in itself an astonishing number. In the world of conventional television, the very act of merely manufacturing 10 hours of television could occupy a small production company for nearly a year. Now, the unleashed ‘citizenry’ is cranking out 10 hour of television every minute!

And we are really just at the very very beginning of the ‘video revolution’.

Youtube itself was only created 18 months ago.

TV Week reported yesterday that Youtube last month delivered an almost incomprehensible 4 billion streams of video to 74 million unique users – in one month.

There is a lesson in these numbers.

The Revolution has arrived,

People around the world are starting (and only just starting) to create videos in droves. This is not a trickle. This is a tsunami, and we are only at the very very beginning of the process.

This is almost the same phenomenon that followed the invention of the printing press. The world went from a mere handful of volumes to nearly 15 million books in print in only 40 years

By the same token, the new world is not only making videos, they are also sharing them and watching them. 74 Million unique users. Chris Matthews, nice guy though he is, gets 440,000 viewers. And he is one of the more watched one. That is .5% (that would be one half of one percent) of Youtube. And Youtube doesn’t cost anything!

What is going on here?

What is going on is a revolution on the order of Gutenberg’s, and it is happening very very fast.

What will the final product look like?

No one knows.

No one knows any more than one could have predicted The New York Times in 1452 looking at Gutenberg’s new invention. But over time, newspapers evolved and matured.

Now the confluence of video and the web are putting pressure on newspapers, but they are also creating an opportunity to create an entirely new grammar and an entirely new way of gathering, packaging and distributing stories.

This is the great opportunity afforded by projects like the one we are engaged in at The Newark Star Ledger.

And those who are participating in it, like those in our bootcamp, have the rather unique privilege of creating and crafting this new world. It is something Franklin would have appreciated.


4 responses to “The Shape of Things To Come

  1. So newspapers have come a long way. Two hundred years to accept the Gutenberg press and on;y twenty years to realize the the internet was real.

  2. The common thing to remember from the time the printing press was invented, to radio, television, the web, the web with video is that to attract an audience it has to be interesting…even setting aside video quality and production values(look at Blair Witch for Pete’s sake).

    For consumer contributors it only has to interests their friends for family.

    For anyone looking to make a buck(TV, Newspaper, Web companies), i.e., it’s not a hobby… it has to find an audience or keep an audience to support advertising revenue or it’s a failure.

    There’s already a mega-ton of b-s on the web that I could give a crap about…and I don’t even have enought time in the day to watch (or even read) all the stuff I do find interesting.

    Chris Weaver

  3. The Masked Avenger

    Love the way you imply that America published the first newspaper and Britian and the colonies followed. In fact the London Gazette was published in 1665. This is typical of Americans rewriting history.

  4. Dear Gary
    There are many many claimants to First Newspaper.

    Johann Carolus’ Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien, published in 1605 in Strassburg, is often recognized as the first newspaper. The Dutch Courante uyt Italien, Duytslandt, &c. of 1618 was the first to appear in folio- rather than quarto-size. Amsterdam, a center of world trade at the time, quickly became a source of newspapers in many languages, often before they were published in their own country. The first newspaper in France was published in 1631, La Gazette (originally published as Gazette de France).Many of these early papers reported only on news in other countries, as the home government was likely to take a dim view of any reporting on local events. By 1638 the Peking Gazette had switched from woodblock print to movable type.

    The first English-language newspaper, Corrant out of Italy, Germany, etc., was published in Amsterdam in 1620. A year and half later, Corante, or weekely newes from Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, France and the Low Countreys. was first published in England by an “N.B.” (generally thought to be either Nathaniel Butter or Nicholas Bourne) and Thomas Archer. The first successful English daily, The Daily Courant, was published from 1702–1735. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

    It would seem that neither Britain nor America can claim this ‘first’.

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