Lazy Sunday Reading: From Linotype to Hyperlinks


Linotype operators work in the composing room at the P-I building at 6th and Wall Street in December, 1948. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer photo)

To follow up on my post about science journalism and blogs, a few reading links dealing with science in society, journalism, and the transformation of media.

First, Peter Dizikes revisits C.P. Snow's ubiquitous "two cultures", fifty years later:

"The Two Cultures" actually embodies one of the deepest tensions in our ideas about progress. Snow, too, wants to believe the sheer force of science cannot be restrained, that it will change the world -- for the better -- without a heavy guiding hand. The Industrial Revolution, he writes, occurred "without anyone," including intellectuals, "noticing what was happening." But at the same time, he argues that 20th-century progress was being stymied by the indifference of poets and novelists. That's why he wrote "The Two Cultures." So which is it? Is science an irrepressible agent of change, or does it need top-down direction? (source: NYT)

I intended to link to the full text of Snow's essay, in case some of you have not read it, but remarkably, I can't seem to find it online. Anyone know where to find a copy?

At the New Yorker, Jill Lepore reflects on the end of newspapers, and notes that this isn't the first time print media has been on its deathbed:

On October 10, 1765, an Annapolis printer changed his newspaper's title to the Maryland Gazette, Expiring. Its motto: "In uncertain Hopes of a Resurrection to Life again." Later that month, the printer of the Pennsylvania Journal replaced his newspaper's masthead with a death's-head and framed his front page with a thick black border in the shape of a gravestone. "Adieu, Adieu," the Journal whispered. On October 31st, the New-Hampshire Gazette appeared with black mourning borders and, in a column on page 1, lamented its own demise: "I must Die!" The Connecticut Courant quoted the book of Samuel: "Tell it not in Gath! publish it not in Askalon!" The newspaper is dead! (source)

Eric Nalder's brief elegy for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which printed its final issue last week, reflects on the difficulty of balancing news with creativity:

Such is the P-I's personality. The newspaper searched primarily for the meaningful story, but was beautifully distracted by the creative impulse. Those two forces were sometimes at odds with each other, but together they carried the day. If this were an economy of values, rather than an economy of money, we would survive as a print newspaper (source).

The photo at the top of the post comes from the P-I's photo archives, and depicts operators setting type at the newspaper's headquarters in 1948. More of the newspaper's photo retrospective here.

To put the P-I's end (and the troubled situation for many other newspapers) in context, read Clay Shirky's long but extremely interesting essay on "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable":

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven't been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors. (source:Shirky's blog)

Meanwhile, Clive Hamilton laments the possibly inevitable rise of flamers and trolls:

The brutality of public debate on the internet is due to one fact above all -- the option of anonymity. The belligerence would not be tolerated if the perpetrators' identities were known because they would be rebuffed and criticised by those who know them. Free speech without accountability breeds dogmatism and confrontation (source: Crikey).

And Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review comments on the Nature article and editorial that inspired my post, suggesting that the outlook may not be all bad:

Moreover, Donahue adds, he has never been sold on the "ghettoization" of science news, and a robust Web presence has helped pull Discover out of the science-magazine niche. "I'm not sure that people ever looked much beyond the stuff they were already interested in," he tells me. "When people read the newspaper, they read the sections they're interested and don't read the ones they're not interested in. I think for us, online has expanded the audience. Many, many more people are reading our content now than read the magazine, certainly, and there's not much overlap between the print readership and the online readership. I think our subscriber surveys say that it's like 25 percent-ish." (source)

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It was the Rede Lectures in which C.P Snow delivered his essay. There was then a New Statesman article, followed by the first and second book. I had a look for the essay, but could not find it either.