The cover illustration is an 1883 solar powered printing press used to promote new ideas about energy.

Revolutions in Communication is a critically acclaimed survey of media history now heading into its second edition.  The book  topped the Amazon sales list for media history in 2011, 2012,  and 2013.  It is widely used in college classrooms from NYU to USC, from Western Ontario to Florida International.

The book is a social and technological history that explores four major epochs of the mass media through the technologies that characterized their development —   printing, imaging,  broadcasting and digital media.  The book surveys all major communications  disciplines,  including journalism, photography, cinema, advertising & public relations, radio, television, computing and networked media.

The first edition is available  through  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Bloomsbury.

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The not-so-new concept of interactivity

Reading Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls,  the masterpiece of the famed Ukranian writer  (1809 – 1852), I recently realized just how old and how unexplored the concept of interactivity in publishing really is.

Readers of Revolutions in Communication know, for instance, that Elizabeth Eisenstein found instances where  map makers and scientific publishers asked readers with new information to correspond so that updates to gazettes and scientific journals could be incorporated in later editions. And many newspapers were produced with a fourth blank page that could be used to pass along family or community micro-news to other readers.

But I never came across anything quite like Gogol’s concept of interactivity in fiction: Continue reading

Radio interview with the author

Coy Barefoot of Inside Charlottesville interviews the author about Revolutions in Communication on March 4, 2014.

What if journalism can’t be “monetized” ?

It has often been observed that democracy is munted when there are fewer  independent fact-gathering operations or avenues for a diversity of opinion — what we used to call journalism. The hope, for the past decade, is that some formula can be found to “monetize” journalism — to make money from it.

An important new book,  Digital Disconnect  by Robert W. McChesney (excerpted in this article in Salon Magazine)  asks the bottom-line question:  What if journalism just can’t be monetized? What then?

Robert W. McChesney

McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois and one the nation’s leading and most thoughtful media critics.  He’s the author of many other books such as Rich Media, Poor Democracy.

In Digital Disconnect notes with irony that the media saw the Internet effect  coming for decades,   and that for all its thrashing around with new apps and gadgets, trying to set up paywalls and link up with advertising, it has not solved the basic problem.

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Voting ends, proposal stands.

This video is an application for a iVersity-funded Massive Online Open Course (or MOOC) based on this book. Voting has ended and my proposal was not funded, but that is no great surprise or disappointment because there were some terrific courses being offered, and it was an honor to be seriously considered.   Here’s the link to the MOOC fellowship courses. Thanks. Bill Kovarik.

Epic fail, dude.

( News item:  National Security Agency monitoring online games. ) 

By Linda Burton

Hey did you catch that level 90 Hun-tard in guild flex? What a fricking noob! Why the hell didn’t the GM kick his ass? The dude face-pulled trash and wiped us twice! How he managed to have an ilvl high enough for SOO is unreal! Continue reading

It was the End of the World as we Knew It

(Update: Nov. 2012 — ProPublica maps the ongoing scandal.)


The sheer mad genius of the thing.

Journalists bribing security guards.  Tapping cell  phones. Hacking computers. Spying on emails.

And not just once in a while, like the Cincinnati newspaper’s  Chiquita banana episode in 1997, or the Chicago Mirage Bar sting of 1974.

But permanently, as part of an ongoing operation, with an A-list of  targets including British prime ministers, rock stars, crime victims, even the royal family. Like Watergate in reverse gear.

The unprecedented, unmitigated  gall of News Corp. and its cheesy tabloid:  To run a private spy agency and dress it up as a newsroom.

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The newsroom and the greatest country

Jeff Daniels in HBO’s Newsroom.

Among the hundreds of reviews of  HBO’s The Newsroom during the summer of 2012,  so far, none have questioned the basic accuracy of the screed heard round the world.

You can watch it at this link  or just read it here:

“And you — sorority girl — yeah — just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world.”
“We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, No. 4 in labor force, and No. 4 in exports. America leads the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined.”

Acerbic. Bitter.  Certainly human. But …  journalistically accurate?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Information politics and oil wars

Were we wrong on “peak oil”?  Or just misinformed? 


World oil reserves were supposedly located mostly in the Middle East (green column). Source: BP, 2002.


But now we know that was only one category of world oil reserve. (BP chart modified with 2000 USGS data).

By Bill Kovarik

One of the more painful lessons of recent  history involves the way politics can slant  scientific information.

The latest entry in this category seems to be the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels.   Where we once had imminent shortages and a series of treasury-depleting resource wars for Middle Eastern oil, we now have natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands.

Reactions from the world press:

  • “We were wrong on peak oil,” said  George Monbiot of the Guardian in July, 2012.  “There’s enough to fry us all.”   Environmental strategies must change now because “the facts have changed,” he said. Continue reading

New metaphors for information

At the end of the 20th century,  two main metaphors for information were common:   information “overload” and the information “superhighway,” and the two concepts worked together.   Just as trucks on a highway can be over weight limits, so, too, could a person’s capacity to absorb information deliveries also be overloaded.

The problem with this metaphor is that it assumes a one-dimensional delivery of a quantity of information from point A to point B.

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On April 1, Google re-introduced Morse Code …

Note the two buttons - dot and dash - on the "Gmail tap."

Yes, its just two keys that express the entire alphabet.   And, while we’re at it, what about hand-set type and manual printing presses?

(Note the date – April 1) !