Technology, Culture and Journalism

Although this piece from the NYTimes, The Future of Journalism as Told by Hilaire Belloc in 1918, is largely about connecting the dots on journalism and blogging, I found there were a few copyright nuggets in the lead-in:

Every few days, I get an RSS feed that lists the new books added to the University of Pennsylvania Library’s catalog of online books, and I go foraging. To me this is a long-distance version of the kind of trolling I have done most of my life, wandering through the library stacks, making accidental discoveries in the shelves along the way.

But there is a paradox here. This is a high-tech library filled with old books. Because of copyright restrictions, it’s rare to find a publication date much later than the mid-1920’s. Nowhere else that I know of can you feel as clearly the difference between the protected waters of copyright and the open sea of the public domain.


“The Free Press” is an extended essay examining the history of what Belloc calls the “Official Press” in England and the emergence of a rival “Free Press” in the form of small, often short-lived journals.

The Official Press, Belloc argues, is centralized and Capitalist (he always capitalizes Capitalist), and its owners are “the true governing power in the political machinery of the State, superior to the officials in the State, nominating ministers and dismissing them, imposing policies, and, in general, usurping sovereignty — all this secretly and without responsibility.” The result “is that the mass of Englishmen have ceased to obtain, or even to expect, information upon the way they are governed.”

It is a delicate historical task to transplant Belloc’s argument from his era to our own. Perhaps nothing else distances his essay so much as his assumption that major newspapers actually shaped the political power of the nation — that politicians governed at the sufferance of newspaper owners.

[…] But “The Free Press” is still worth reading, for it describes, with some important adjustments, the evolving relationship between political bloggers and the mainstream media.