Tue 25 Jan 2011
Mass communications began after a German goldsmith named Johnannes Gutenberg in 1439 borrowed money to produce souvenirs to sell at a religious festival only to have the festival postponed for a year.
Unable to repay his investors, Gutenberg (left) offered to share the proceeds of a “secret” with them and during the next 10 years devised a printing press that used movable type. The invention led to the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and eventually mass-produced books in general, as well as newspapers and magazines.
The first newspaper in the American colonies was Publick Occurrences, published in Boston in 1690. Its first and only issue was printed on a hand-powered press like Gutenberg’s. The newspaper, however, had not been officially authorized, and it was immediately shut down, its press run confiscated, and its publisher arrested.
The first paper to survive was The Boston Newsletter founded in 1704 by the postmaster. In the 1720s, two other newspapers were launched in New York.
By the start of the Revolutionary War, there were a couple of dozen newspapers in the colonies. By the end of the war, there were 43.
Virtually all were weeklies with circulations of roughly 500. Using Gutenberg technology, that was about all that a print shop could produce in a week. When the First Amendment guaranteed Freedom of the Press, newspapers such as these were what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
By the 1830s, improving technology allowed for creation of mass-circulation newspapers, and by the 1890s, two New York City papers, The New York Journal and The World, were each selling half a million copies per day. The day after the 1896 election of President William McKinley, each paper sold 1.5 million copies.
Then along came radio broadcasting, which began in Holland in 1919 and in the US in 1920. Suddenly newsmakers and entertainers could speak directly to audiences everywhere. Radio, of course, was only the beginning. From 1928 to 1931, the first television stations began broadcasting in different parts of the US.
Back when I was studying Mass Communications in college half a century ago, the news media consisted of magazines, newspapers, radio, and television.
The next medium to come along was, of course, the World Wide Web, which was launched in 1990. Soon organizations ranging from small businesses to the news media were creating websites to promote themselves. Meanwhile individuals such as I began putting blogs online. (The word blog, by the way, comes from web log in the sense of a ship’s log.)
In 2004, a new type of website devoted to “social networking” went online when Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. Facebook allows users to post vast amounts of text and photos online at no charge. The company makes its money selling advertising on the site.
It all sounded simple enough at first. Friends and relatives used the site to let each other see what they’d been doing and read what they’d been thinking about. But then some strange things started happening. For example:
Last August it came to light that a wife in Cleveland, Lynn France, had suspected her husband was having an affair with another woman, Amanda Weisal, so she logged onto Facebook and typed in Weisal’s name.
John France and Amanda Weisal France on the Today Show.
Not only did she find photos of her husband with Weisal, the pictures showed the two of them getting married. Lynn France then accused her husband of bigamy. John France, however, denied it, claiming his marriage to Lynn in Italy back in 2005 was invalid although he acknowledged fathering two children by her.
Now that’s social networking. Or how about this?
Last November, a 51-year-old Antioch man halted westbound traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge for an hour when he stopped in the slow lane and told officers via a cell phone that he was armed with guns and explosives.
Craig Carlos-Valentino (at right in CHP photo) also threatened to jump off the bridge. Eventually he surrendered to authorities. No explosives or guns were found in his car, and his 16-year-old daughter, who had also been in the car, was unharmed.
Carlos-Valentino is now in jail awaiting trial, but what in the world was going on? The suspect told officers he was upset that his wife was going to leave him. And why did he think that? She’d revealed it on Facebook.
Nor is the issue merely a matter of indiscreet postings. Much in the news this past three weeks has been the 1987 kidnapping of Carlina White. A woman posing as a nurse had stolen White, then a newborn, from a Harlem hospital.
But Carlina White came to wonder if she were really the woman’s daughter and eventually found her actual parents via a missing-children’s website.
With all the publicity over the girl’s being reunited with her true family, Pettway disappeared for 10 days, but on Sunday, she turned herself in to Bridgeport, Connecticut, police. And how was that arranged?
Sunday happened to be police Lt. David Daniels’ birthday, and when he logged onto Facebook to see who had wished him a happy birthday, he found a message from Pettway saying to call her.
Communications have come a long way since Gutenberg, but so far I’ve declined friends’ and relatives’ invitations to stay in touch with them on Facebook. To me it just seems like a waste of time since I have no plans for bigamy, leaving a spouse, or surrendering to Connecticut police.
It’s not that I have no interest in self-promotion. While talking with my friend Lynn Axelrod Saturday evening, I began balancing a cup of coffee on my foot. To my disappointment, she failed to notice, so after 10 minutes I finally pointed out my balancing act.
Lynn quickly snapped a photo with her cell phone, and now the world can see that I too have a story to tell. It’s not, however, sordid enough for Facebook.