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A new media history February 6, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Blogs, New Media, We the Media.

The first two weeks of reading for Introduction to the Digital Age can be summed up with one word — history.

New media history sounds like an oxymoron, especially when considering that the word “blog” just came into popular conscience in the past few years and that the founding technologies that made mass adoption of user-generated content came about just decades ago. Still, the readings for class this week (both from the book We the Media and from selected blogs) reveal that while the revolutionary new media changes did not happen to long ago, there is an important history there that needs to be remembered.

We the Media

We the Media, in addition to serving as a primer on what community-created content is and how it has shaped society in the past decade, is a history book. This isn’t just true in the opening chapter when author Dan Gillmor looks at historical trends of community journalism from Thomas Paine to present day. The understanding of the book as a work of history permeates through all of the chapters.

Consider these examples:

  • 2002: Bloggers jump on the mainstream media’s failure to cover the racist comments made by then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, which ultimately led to his resignation (chapter 3)
  • 2004: Wikipedia publishes its 500,000th article (chapter 7)
  • 2004: Internet billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban launches Blog Maverick, which has become a leading CEO blog (chapter 4)

At first glance, these events might not seem like history; they are still in recent memory. However, they are part of the recent record of events that has had a significant impact on the way that we need to look at and understand media and the way that people consume information.

Blog Readings

Just as We the Media can be read as a historical reference, so too can the blogs assigned for class reading over the past two weeks.

Dave Winer is a major part of the history of the social media revolution. This week, he added a bio to his blog that explains it all:

Dave Winer, 51, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. Former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a masters in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelors in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

Without Winer, the popular blogging technologies (such as RSS) that are widely used today might not even be around.

Or consider Jeff Jarvis. His work has been famous for a long time, but thanks to new media he himself has become a brand — and, as he pointed out on his blog, led him to be named one of Forbes’ 25 “Web Celebs” for 2007.

These are just two examples, and there are many, many more. (Some of these prominent bloggers are mentioned by name by Gillmor.) A key take-away from all of these bloggers (and Gillmor) is that these men and women are history makers. They are pioneers in the field, and can teach a lot to newcomers like me who have only been blogging for about a year (first here and then here).

As professional communicators during the day and students of communication at night, it is important not to forget our history. Because where we came from illuminates where we are headed and makes us better professionally and academically.



1. ggwfung - February 6, 2007

media is just an interface, and was previously one way. Bloging is the new media – bidirectional.

It does change history. Person to person instant contact. Revolution from the keyboard.

Love Jeff Jarvis. Daily thought stimulants.


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