Kevin Macdonald’s State of Play is not a (good) film about the end of print newspapers and way not about democracy in the age of the Information Society. But watched under these points of view, it does (totally accidentally) provide some materials for reflection worth mentioning them.
A print paper story
The plot can be summarized as old-school investigative journalism star teams up with junior on-line journalist/blogger to uncover case of political corruption, murder, criminal lobbying, bribery and other US Congress political sphere related issues.
When the whole set of conspiracies are about to be discovered, some things happen (caution: simplifications, biases and spoilers ahead):
These news are too good to be published in a blog, they well deserve being printed on paper(approximate quote)
- As some details lack to complete the news, rotary presses are hold on stand by for hours and the edition is not closed
- In the meanwhile, some criminals die or almost die
- In the meanwhile, some witnesses die or almost die
- In the meanwhile, some reporters die or almost die, risking the loss of absolutely all the relevant information
- At the end, the pieces of news are written, edited, prepared for printing
- Newspapers are printed, cut, folded, packed and put on trucks to be distributed… the day after
It is under the light of some recent news that we have to interpret the preceding list of events. For instance:
- During the Night of the short text messages, March 13th, 2004, after the Madrid (Spain) bombings of March 11th, 2004, people gathered in front of the headquarters of the party of the then Primer Minister to ask for transparency in the reports of the government (see also ¡Pásalo! Relatos y análisis sobre el 11-M y los días que le siguieron, 619 KB). Millions of SMS where sent and thousands of people literally took the streets angry with the news they where getting.
- On Tuesday, April 7th, 2009, people gathered at the Piata Marii Adunari Nationale, in Chisinau (Moldova), in a demonstration against a possible election rigged by the Communist party. Despite the lack of consensus (see Unpacking “The Twitter Revolution” in Moldova and Studying Twitter and the Moldovan protests) on whether Twitter played an important role in organizing the demonstration, it is beyond doubt that Twitter did create an international debate around it. In a matter of hours.
There are plenty of other examples, like mobilemonitors.org.
The end of paper, on-time democracy
This is not about news, this is about information. This is not about just being “notified” of happenings, but about being informed to debate, create oneself a state of opinion and act. This is not about journalism, this is about government and democracy and freedom.
In the age of the digital revolution, denouncing the Spanish Primer Minister’s lies or the presumably rigged Moldovan election cannot wait until the following day. And, most important indeed, these facts cannot risk not being made public at all because of lack or loss of intermediaries.
In matters of hours — especially in a Globalized and Network Society — governments change hands, people get imprisoned and executed, or citizens lose all their savings.
To me, the last sequence of Kevin Macdonald’s film — a trip through the whole process of printing a newspaper — is not the intended elegy to print newspapers, but a visit to the Jurassic Park of journalism. If newspapers are the guarantors of transparency and accountability, if newspapers do serve the citizenry, they have to do it at the pace of times, at the pace of that citizenry they claim to be pretending to serve.
To me, the first quotation —
These news are too good to be published in a blog, they well deserve being printed on paper — should be understood in terms of comfort (paper for the couch and the weekend, online for the mobile Internet and immediacy) rather than in terms of importance (though time will tell what the evolution of e-ink/e-paper will bring).
In the age of crossmedia, McLuhan’s
the medium is the message is over. There are no media. No more. As true that there are no Internet users (as an ontology), but people, sheer people that are increasingly adopting yet another device to do what the zoon politikon does best: to communicate and to engage in conversations.
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2009) “The end of paper, open gates to on-time democracy (not about journalism)” In ICTlogy,
#67, April 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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