The Power of The Press
When I was a kid, I remember seeing old movies of men in fedora hats with a small piece of paper in the band just above the brim that said Press. They would all have a small pad of paper and a pencil in their hands, and they were screaming out questions to a movie star or politician and writing down the response.
As a young man, I had no idea what that word, Press, meant sticking out of their hats. I just knew they were reporters out to get their story.
Now that I'm older and have the experience of understanding that the Press credential refers to a person representing a news organization, the word doesn't seem to matter as much anymore. Or does it?
Did you know that a German Goldsmith in the 1400s is responsible for fake news? How's that for a splashy Headline? Yes, clickbait, call to action (CTA's), and open rates are all subject to one man's dream to help spread the written word faster and more cost-effectively to the masses.
Johannes Gutenberg was a goldsmith by trade and lived in Mainz, Germany, during the 1400s. He was a part-time inventor and enjoyed reading and writing. His position as a goldsmith allowed him to tinker with metal and iron to develop molds or engravings to pour melted gold and other alloys to make a form.
Follow Your Dream
The knowledge he acquired and his zeal for creating helped him pursue an idea to create a movable typeface. This new process of type or word manipulation would ultimately speed up the development of document creation, updating, and correcting (word processing).
Everything Changes Now
He developed a revolutionary product that would change everything. Through a loan from his brother-in-law Arnold Gelthus, he set up shop and created the printing press necessary for production, and he added his movable typeface to simulate the written word on paper. This had never been attempted before as everything was hand written up to this point. Everything changes now.
By 1450 Gutenberg's Press was fully operational, and he was printing poetry and other lucrative text like Latin Grammars. These types of jobs helped fund his operation and set him up for the printing that would set the direction for a whole new way of life, it was called the Gutenberg Bible. With another loan in 1455, this time by Johann Fust, he was able to print 180, 42-line bibles for the average citizen to read. You can compare that first printing with the 5 billion Bibles in print today and see just what a transformational technology Gutenberg had unleashed on the world.
The Cost of Success
Like many young and intrepid inventors, Gutenberg had a dispute with his investors. After the successful printing of the Gutenberg Bible, Johann Fust demanded his money back a year later in 1456, accusing Gutenberg of misusing the funds. Ultimately Gutenberg would lose the case and as payment gave Fust control over the Bible printing workshop and half of all printed Bibles. Thus it was financially devastating for Gutenberg, but it was not the end. Gutenberg's achievements would not be forgotten, and soon he would be recognized by Archbishop von Nassau. Nassau gave him the title Hofmann (gentleman of the court). The new title allowed him a monthly stipend of money, grain, and wine. Gutenberg would live out his days in this court and quietly pass away in 1468, where he laid to rest in a church in his hometown of Mainz.
Meanwhile, Fust was setting up shop, which was the first in Europe to bring out a book with the printer's name and date, and proudly proclaiming the new mechanical process by which it was produced. Sadly it made no mention of Gutenberg. But this would set the stage for every author's recognition and fame for centuries.
The Birth of A New Business
Now that you know the history of Johannes Gutenberg, you no doubt understand the meaning and the definition of the word, Press. Looking back now, I guess it was easier to describe the process by which we get our written word than by stating who is the actual writer of it. Now back to my earlier claim that Gutenberg was to blame for fake news. I say this not as an indictment of Johannes but as a finger pointing to the past. In the next serval paragraphs, I hope to inform you of how the news gets to you today, as well as the intended effects it has on you.
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It's The New Millennium
Let's fast forward to the year 2000. Technology is moving at a rapid pace. We are now entering the digital mobile phone generation, and newspapers and t.v. are still the main mediums of communication. Only a few things are different now. Television in the U.S. is predominantly cable, and you have several news channels to chose from, including your three networks' local news programs. The internet is getting faster and easier to use, and more news-based companies are seeing the low cost, easy distribution capabilities of being online. All of this activity starts to phase out the newspapers advertising income and subscription rates decline. Lower subscriptions and ad dollars mean less newspaper staff. The first people to get fired or "RIF'd" (reduction in force) are the editors, fact-checkers, and reporters. The new digital consumers of news are now "clicking" on news items they want to read and are leaving a digital fingerprint on topics or issues that are important to them. Digital information is an insight that content providers like news agencies have had little access to before. They start to realize that producing more targeted content is helping grow their audience size. More audience means more advertising dollars. The news outlets are now taking the lead from the reader in realtime and distributing the news accordingly.
The Tail Wagging the Dog?
Let's take a look at the first mass-produced/printed book. It was the Bible. For the first time, lower or middle-class people could have access to reading, and it grew exponentially throughout Europe and the rest of the world. The publishers could dictate what books to print, and they chose the information they wanted to give the people. Now in the new millennia, people were dictating to the publishers what they wanted, even if they weren't aware of it.
One More Thing
In 2007, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, says to his audience, "Oh yeah, one more thing. Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along and changes everything". He goes on to explain the new device Apple developed, to his audience. He tells them that it has widescreen iPod touch controls, a mobile phone, and an internet communications device. It is called the iPhone, and it did indeed change the world. Like it or not, Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple created the next printing press. Like Gutenberg, they don't actually produce the content, they just deliver it faster and easier than anyone else.
According to 2020 research done by Pew, more than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet. The platform preference breakdown is that roughly half (52%) of Americans prefer a digital platform – whether it is a news website (26%), search (12%), social media (11%), or podcasts (3%). About a third say they prefer television (35%), and just 7% and 5% respectively say they prefer to get their news on the radio or via print. Ask yourself how you view or consume news today. I bet you fall in the 52%.
Access to information has always been the key to influence. Making information easy to create and distribute was the goal of Gutenberg, but others saw its real potential. If you could control the distribution of information, you can control the information shared.
We, the people, get to choose what it is we read or watch, and in turn, we tell those that are looking, what it is we prefer. The responsibility lies at your feet. No one is there to help you make an informed choice. It is all up to you.
Hey, Look Over Here
If social media has taught us anything in this new world of communicating, not everything is what it seems.