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Posts Tagged ‘Gutenberg’

This post was published originally on the American Press Institute site on my old Training Tracks blog, April 20, 2007. It was one of several posts in my API days dealing with the Newspaper Next project, an API partnership with Clayton Christensen. I just blogged about Christensen’s most recent insights on the news businessBreaking News, in the Nieman Reports. I have updated or removed outdated links.

Visiting Bryce Canyon in 2007

I’ve done some exciting and inspiring travel in the past month.

I visited Bryce Canyon, where centuries of sedimentation followed by tectonic upheaval followed by wind and frost erosion left the earth in fascinating, massive columns of sandstone called hoodoos.

I visited Mainz, Germany, where in a darkened room of the Gutenberg Museum I looked at the first editions of the Bible printed with movable type and even older and more ornate Bibles crafted by hand.

I thought about the modern newspaper in both of these places where nature and man displayed these ancient treasures. (more…)

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First Amendment plaqueI was a panelist yesterday, Wednesday, April 15, at First Amendment Day at Iowa State University. Dr. Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State, opened with remarks that I recommend reading first. My response follows (I ad-libbed a few lines, but mostly followed this prepared text):

I’ll start with a couple requests. If you have a cell phone, please get it out and hold it up. Now, if you have used that phone today to send or receive written communication or images, whether by text message, email or web, please open or activate your phone so that the screen lights up. Now wave that phone and look around you. (Nearly everyone in the crowd, mostly students, waved a glowing phone.)

This is the future of freedom of the press. It is healthy, it is thriving and it will not be stopped, even if the companies that own printing presses can’t find their way to a prosperous future. The light of freedom shines as bright as those lights we see throughout this auditorium. (more…)

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I posed by my initial at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in April 2007.

I posed by my initial at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in April 2007.

This will be my Monday column in The Gazette:

 

I can be a little smug when I receive e-mails from conservatives who attribute the decline of newspapers to our supposed liberal leanings.

I understand the shifting media landscape so much better than these people, I tell myself. Aren’t they aware that conservative newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and Orange County Register are facing the same upheaval?

That smugness reared up in another place last week when I was reading a message from an academic who wanted to know more about the “experiment” we’re undertaking at Gazette Communications. I mulled how to tell the professor this is no experiment. We’re undergoing a no-turning-back transformation here.

Then I read Clay Shirky’s blog post “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” I realized I’m just beginning to understand the shifting media landscape. I can see that even a no-turning-back transformation is truly an experiment.

For nearly two years now, my closing shtick at presentations for newspaper industry gatherings has revolved around Johannes Gutenberg, whose development of movable type and a printing press transformed the world in the 15th Century.

I told of visiting the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, in 2007. For a journalist in his fourth decade working for newspapers, it was an emotional experience to see the history of printing in its birthplace and to see three ancient, original Gutenberg Bibles. In the same room where the Bibles were displayed, I also saw several older Bibles, beautiful works of art handcrafted by monks in the centuries before Gutenberg.

In closing my presentations about innovation in the news business, I likened those monks to today’s newspaper industry. If the monks’ product was a beautiful handmade book to be passed down through the generations as a treasure, its days were numbered when Gutenberg developed the printing press. But, I added, if their product was a message that they believed in their souls was the word of God, this new technology would help spread that message to countless millions who would never be able to have one of those precious handmade Bibles.

Similarly, I said, our product today is not ink on paper, delivered to your home daily with an account of yesterday’s news. We’re pleased that so many people count on their newspaper and we certainly have been hearing from them the past week after we made some changes to The Gazette. But that newspaper you love or hate is just a delivery system, not the actual product. Our true product is news, information, meaning, context, connection to the community and connection to the marketplace. If we can use today’s revolutionary technology to advance that product and deliver it in different ways to new audiences, we can thrive in this revolution the way the Bible thrived in the printing revolution.

It’s a good shtick and I deliver it with a fervor that would make my preaching parents proud. But when I read Shirky, I realized I didn’t fully understand the Gutenberg revolution and its meaning for today’s newspaper industry.

Citing Elizabeth Eisenstein‘s book The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (I’ve already ordered it and may write more about it in the future), Shirky cited lessons from the Gutenberg revolution that snuck right past me: “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.”

Shirky couldn’t predict, and neither can I, where this revolution will lead: “No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need.”

After reading Shirky, I had to admit that we are experimenting, even if we aren’t turning back. The Gazette Co. remains by far Eastern Iowa’s leading news source. We need to experiment now from this strong base, even if the local and national economy and the newspaper industry are in turmoil.

We face an opportunity as profound as Gutenberg’s. We need to be bold enough and visionary enough to seize that opportunity and contribute to this revolution.

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