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 was in Amazon’s top 100 for media studies books in 2015, and has been widely adopted 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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Arab Spring’s tragic aftermath

Protesters bleeding after Bahrain army opened fire, February 2011. (Mohamed CJ, Wikipedia)

The Arab Spring was supposed to usher in an era of greater political inclusion and freedom, including press freedom, writes Dana Priest in the Washington Post July 26.   “Instead, in every country but Tunisia, it has led to the opposite: the near-disappearance of independent news and opinion, especially about governments and their security forces.”

Pakistan’s most famous journalist lives like a fugitive, Priest reports in Part I of the series.   Reporters are jailed, harassed and killed all across the Arab world,   Priest reports in Part II.

The article, and other similar articles in the past few years, shows that circumventing media technologies have limits. They may be technologies of freedom, as Ithiel de Sola Poole once predicted, but they can also be technologies of repression.

“The Internet and social media sites were the Arab Spring’s oxygen. Activists and journalists — often it was hard to tell the difference — used the tools of their generation to get around the forces of the old guard. Their effectiveness stunned the security establishment. But the old guard has caught up technologically…”


In Paris …


Information politics and oil wars



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 money and  politics can slant  scientific information.

Take the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels.   Where we once had imminent shortages, and the need to go to war to protect the lifeblood of the world’s economy,   we now have an abundance of natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands. And much more to come from the Arctic and coasts of Africa.

How do we explain the sudden abundance of fossil fuels?

  • “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

River Crabs and May 35th


A sadly comic approach to circumventing Chinese censorship is seen in this version of the famous “Tank Man” photo of June, 1989.  Photo links to Asaf Uni’s article in Vocative.

Internet censors — known in China’s censorship circumventing code as “river crabs” — will be out in full force over the next few weeks. People will be arrested, protests will be thwarted,  and there may even be a few executions.

The mere mention of June 4, 1989 — sometimes called May 35th — brings on the censors and the police.

It is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, when the army attacked peaceful protesters in Beijing.

An official death toll has never been released, although they range from hundreds to thousands. Nor has there been any accounting whatsoever of the dozens who were executed following secret trials for taking part in the peaceful protests.

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Speaking with a dead voice?

By Bill Kovarik

(Reflections on the NY Times Innovation report, an internal investigation that should have begun more than a decade ago, and that, even today, barely scratches the surface). 

In 1911, a young muckraking journalist named  Will Irwin began a 14-part  series in Colliers magazine called The American Newspaper.    He profiled great editors, considered media ethics and described sensationalism and advertiser influence.

The American newspaper, he said, was  “wonderfully able, wonderfully efficient, and wonderfully powerful  (but) with real faults.”

The main fault was this:

 It is the mouthpiece of an older stock. It lags behind the thought of its times. . . .To us of this younger generation, our daily press is speaking, for the most part, with a dead voice, because the supreme power resides in men of that older generation.

Of course, Irwin was writing for a magazine, which, during the muckraking era, was the medium that was actively circumventing newspapers and the AP-Western Union monopoly.

In the spirit of  Will Irwin, I started visiting newsrooms to ask how they were coping with the new media about 15 years ago.  I was working on textbook called “Web Design for Mass Media” published in 2001.    Would the Web help the news business? Would it hurt? Most of all, was it (in the words of Henry David Thoreau) just an improved mean to an unimproved end?

What I found was intriguing,  alarming and appalling. Continue reading

Holding back history

HearstThe New York Times  ran a great column by Timothy Egan on May 8th comparing ultra-conservatives today to newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst in the 1940s.

For a time, the press lord William Randolph Hearst did everything in his vast powers to keep the film “Citizen Kane” from finding an audience. He intimidated theater owners, refused to let ads run in his newspapers, and even pressured studio sycophants to destroy the negative.   

The point of Egan’s column was that the Koch brothers — those billionaire bozos — are pretty much trying the same thing with climate change, using their money

… to attack  the indisputable science on climate change, to buy junk scholars, to promote harmful legislation at the state level, to go after clean, renewable energy like solar, and to try to kill the greatest expansion of health care in decades. Money can’t buy love, but it certainly can cause a lot of havoc.

But they have already lost the larger fight against progress and modernity, Egan  says.  Just as Hearst couldn’t hold down Citizen Kane,  the Kochs cant hold down scientific facts and progressive ideas about renewable energy and health care. Continue reading

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.