GOODBYE GUTENBERG: The Newspaper Revolution of the 1980s by Anthony Smith
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GOODBYE GUTENBERG: The Newspaper Revolution of the 1980s

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Goodbye Gutenberg, hello computers. Goodbye competing mass newspapers (L.A. Times + 3); hello metropolitan monopoly (L.A. Times), geographic fragmentation (local editions), social differentiation (special-interest--or ""life-style""--sections). And that's just the outward, structural change in American newspapers dissected by British media expert Anthony Smith in this sweeping, probing study of the newspaper form at the onset of the electronic age. To Smith, the news is neither good nor bad: faced with population dispersal (into the suburbs) and declining circulation (relative to population growth), with the competition of TV (for national advertising and audience time) and the cultural shifts of the Sixties, newspapers had to change; passing concurrently from family ownership, they were ready to change; and the introduction of computer technology (encouraged by industry-financed research, facilitated by IRS deductions) made a successful change possible, ""raising the whole horizon of what might otherwise have become, by the 1980s, a moribund industry."" How this change has been effected and what it portends for journalistic practice is illustrated by the example of the Washington Post--which, despite its ""highly interactive"" system of news processing, had already, in response to radio and TV practice, moved more and more ""into a multisource medium of news information."" Smith sees the reporter's range expanded (by access to more information), rather than diminished; but the new reporter will also be less an author, more an information-broker (as, in the days of Gutenberg, the author replaced the scribe). He foresees, with regret, ""the ancient craft of printing"" doomed. And scrutinizing the coming electronic information media (Britain's Prestel system, Japan's CAPTAIN, Warner Communications' Qube), he forecasts--along with the reigning futurologists-greater individuation; but he also recognizes the attendant problems of invasion of privacy and governmental control--or abdication. Because he casts his net so wide, one can challenge him at many points--most especially on the compatibility of ""composite"" journalism and freedom of speech. His text, however, is less an analysis or a prognosis than a wrap-up--in the manner of a Twentieth-Century Fund or Carnegie Study--which casts intelligent light on a host of interlinked phenomena. It's bound to be much consulted, discussed, and cited.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press