The Form of News

Posted on April 9, 2011


The Form of News chronicles the history of newspapers in the United States, analyzing their evolving form, content and structure in order to demonstrate the connection between news form and democratic culture. The authors – Kevin Barnhurst and John Nerone – illustrate how the form of news has transitioned in relation to significant social movements in US history, starting with the American Revolution and ending with the emergence of the Internet. This book’s relevance to 3D printing is not direct; rather it is in parallel connections that can be made to the medium of printing as well as its implications.

The first newspapers originated in the colonial era and began as “extensions of privileged communication.” (Barnhurst and Nerone, 35) Due to material costs associated with printing and dominant attitudes that only gentlemen should have access to publicly printed materials, newspapers were reserved for the educated and privileged. The colonial newspaper served a civic purpose and reflected impartiality, maintaining the position that the newspaper was merely a conduit for information. The American Revolution marked the first influential transition in newspaper content and prompted a change in this position. With the Revolution came the politicization of news. Newspapers became an outlet for propaganda and increasingly took on political affiliations.

The market revolution of the early 1800’s precipitated the second major transition in the form of news. In response to the rise of market transactions and a reduction in costs associated with the printing press, newspaper production started to expand. As a result, commercial competition amongst newspapers intensified. The growth of the market economy also drove content to be more commercially-focused rather than politically-oriented.

With industrialization came increasing modernization of processes. Newspapers became even cheaper to print, thus amplifying output. The course of modernism gave rise to the industrial newspaper, which introduced the appearance of the professional paper; the corporate newspaper, which marked a decline in objectivity; and the late modern newspaper, which has focused on the visual design of news.

Today, with the emergence of the Internet, the form of news has changed yet again and can be seen as increasingly subjective. News aggregate sites gather information from a wide array of informants, producing greater misgivings about credibility of source. Additionally, the rise of blogging has enabled anyone to contribute content and voice an opinion. These realities significantly blur the lines between professional journalists and citizen journalists.

There are parallels between the history of newspapers and the history of printing. Where printing was once a privilege as well, it is now ubiquitous. A process that used to be highly centralized is now universally practiced. Reductions in material costs have also had consequential effects. We have transitioned from replicating a single entity with the printing press to mass producing any written document with the inkjet printer. As a result, commercial competition amongst printers has amplified. In many respects, the medium of printing has evolved in response to the same social conditions as newspapers – the market revolution, commercialization, industrialization and modernism have all impacted how printing has developed over the years. Now, just as the Internet opened the door to citizen journalists, 3D printing will allow entry to the manufacturing industry as never before seen. The Internet allowed people the ability to contribute to news production; 3D printing allows people the ability to copy and replicate objects as well as to produce original objects. Though 3D printing is still limited to those who can afford the technology, it has the potential to prompt industrial change in the same way the Internet has revolutionized news production.

Submitted by Kristin McNally

Posted in: Reviews