The Annihilation of Space

by Jack Rooney

“This is indeed the annihilation of space.” That’s what one anonymous writer said of Henry Morse’s invention of the telegraph (it also appears on page 76 of the reading for Tuesday). I have to say, if that guy thought the telegraph was the annihilation of space, the internet would blow his socks clean off his now dead feet.

I read somewhere that the entirety of the internet (all of the electrons and such) weighs only 50 grams (the rough equivalent of a couple of nickels). Then again, that might complete BS, as in my experience, most of the internet is. Regardless of the accuracy, though, this “fact” hits on a theme quite relevant to the reading, or at least to the aforementioned anonymous quote. The internet is the end (or at least the current stage) of a gradual evolution of communications technology; an evolution that has more recently transformed into a rapid revolution. This evolution is well documented in the chapter we read for class, at least in the period from 1833-1850.

We have talked at some length in class about the economic forces that act upon the news and force journalists to cover “soft” stories instead of “hard” news. However, as this chapter illustrates, it was good old fashion capitalistic competition, in the form of the penny press, that brought journalism from the age of the party paper, aimed only at the wealthy and white, into the age of mass consumption news for all. Corny colloquialism aside, the penny press was a game changer. Daly said, “When news is a product for sale, the customers give powerful signals to the producers about what they like, about what they believe and don’t believe. If readers don’t buy, then even the most admirable or worthwhile experiments fizzle; if readers don’t buy, older species go extinct and new mutations disappear. Readers provide the feedback that lets editors know what they consider worth paying for” (p. 61).

That’s all it took. Editors gave readers an inch of control and they took the proverbial mile, and then some. People like Benjamin Day and James Gordon Bennett may have opened the door to sensationalism, but they opened it for everyone. Objectivism (or the pursuit thereof) grew out of the desire to maximize circulation (p. 62). Certainly, others in the same era like William Lloyd Garrison renewed the style of advocacy journalism, but instead of promoting partisan politics, he and others harnessed the positive power of journalism to fight against evil forces like slavery.

The final significant development mentioned in this chapter may not have been as singularly earth-shattering as the telegraph or the penny press, but the formation of the Associated Press certainly brought journalism into its current age (or perhaps now former). The invention of the telegraph enabled such collaboration in pursuit of the “greater good” of journalism. It also forced journalists to write concisely (which I’m not doing right now, but I swear I can do it. Dick Ciccone drilled it into me), a style which remains predominant today.

All told, this age of journalism may not have brought us directly to the current state of journalism, but it undeniably laid the foundation for modern media.