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Cover of the book. Click here for the  full cover with description and blurbs.

Revolutions in Communication is  all about  the printers, reporters, photographers, filmmakers, advertisers, PR practitioners, broadcasters, computer geeks, and all manner of rebels, thinkers and visionaries who were ahead of their times,  who led the times, and who created The Times.  This critically acclaimed survey of media history is now in a second edition.

The book surveys all major communications  disciplines,  including journalism, photography, cinema, advertising & public relations, radio, television, computing and networked media.

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Heroes of democracy

David Brooks has started a series of columns in the New York Times that he called Heroes of Democracy.  The columns are biographical but also insights into the ideas that explained and sustained the democratic momentum of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thomas Mann

He starts with Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize winning author of “Magic Mountain” and other novels, who fled the Nazis and came to America.  As Brooks said:

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

Second in the series is John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher who argued for freedom of speech in service to democracy.  Brooks said that to Mill:

John Stuart Mill

Real citizenship is a life-transforming vocation. It involves, at base, cultivating the ability to discern good from evil, developing the intellectual virtues required to separate the rigorous from the sloppy, living an adventurous life so that you are rooting yourself among and serving those who are completely unlike yourself.

Students of history, and anyone who cares about democracy, may want to stay tuned to David Brooks.  We’re taking bets on the rest of the list in history class here at Radford University.

How China is changing the internet

What happens when innovative technology from China interacts with the open internet in the rest of the world? Terrific New York Times video:

Gene Roberts reflects

Gene Roberts and crew celebrates one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s many Pulitzer Prizes. (From Nieman via “The Newspaperman” by Roberts.)

Legendary editor Gene Roberts reflects on a lifetime in journalism in this Nieman Storyboard article May 5, 2017 by Julie Schwietert Collazo.

Some of his observations:

BBC’s WWII truth blitz

When BBC’s German language service began in 1938, the policy that seemed to hold the most promise was to tell the unvarnished truth, according to research reported in the Guardian recently.

In practice, telling the truth would mean that British defeats in battle would be reported accurately throughout the war, without exaggeration,  says Dr Vike Martina Plock of the department of English at Exeter University.

Plock discovered BBC memos at the archive center in Caversham Park, Reading.  “It is fascinating to see how the BBC provided the German public with accurate information during the war and thereby began to re-educate individuals who had been living, willingly or unwillingly, with 12 years of Nazi propaganda,” she told the Guardian. Continue reading

Science & Environmental Journalism

Science and environmental journalism in history — An ongoing project by Prof. Bill Kovarik — is available at this link.

Fake news and advertising boycotts

 Fake news needs to be curbed through targeted advertising boycotts, according to writers of recent  opinion articles in Slate and the New York Times.  A prime example: a Breitbart story about global “cooling” that misuses Weather Channel information. (See WC response video, right),

Consumer activism against Brietbart and other fake news sites is being organized at a Twitter site called Sleeping Giants, with the idea that most commercial companies are only accidentally placing ads on the sites.  According to the site:

We are trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars. Many companies don’t even know it’s happening. It’s time to tell them.

Sleeping Giants recommends that a screenshot of a commercial ad placed next to   Continue reading

What good is history?

On the witness stand in a libel trial, Henry Ford famously said:  “History is bunk.”  Ford was very good with machinery, but no one ever considered him a well-educated man.

Something rather like the “history is bunk” statement has led to a recent  academic  dustup among our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic.  On May 30, Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, opined:  Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’   

So, what if Johnston is right?  After all, what good is history?

According to Jonathan Healy, answering Johnston in June, 2016, history is interesting, important, skill-building stuff, but most of all, the profession that serves  as umpires when the politicians go out of bounds.

William H. McNeill, then-AHA president, expressed similar ideas in a 1985 essay.

The changing perspectives of historical understanding are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life.

Bravest new world

A new system in China is apparently “game-ifying” citizenship, giving you scores for social media participation and judging you over friendships.  According to Extra Credits, an outstanding video game discussion and education forum, this takes Orwellian thought control to a bizarre and potentially horrifying new level.

‘Every frame’s great take on Keaton

If you’re not familiar with Tony Zhou’s  “Every frame a painting” channel on YouTube and Vimeo, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a recent take on Buster Keaton, master of silent film comedy.     

Zhou, by the way, was interviewed recently in this Patreon podcast (uploaded to SoundCloud).