4: News, Politics and the Ownership of Information

4: News, Politics and the Ownership of Information


(machine whirring) (stamps stamping) – Welcome, all,
to this session of Censorship and
Information Control During Information Revolutions. So let’s start
with introductions. How about if you go first, Will? – Sure, my name is Will Slauter. I’m a historian and I’m
interested in the history of news publishing and
the history of copyright, and I’ve just finished a book which tries combine
those two histories and thinking about
questions of ownership, of news over a long
period of time. – Siva, could you
go next, please? – [Siva] Yeah, sure, hi,
this is Siva Vaidhyanathan. I am a professor at the
University of Virginia. I apologize for not being
able to appear in person. I had planned to
and just came down with a pretty nasty
illness this week, so just could not make it. So I’m glad I have
this opportunity. My early work was
about copyright and that’s how I
got to know Cory, and sort of got in this
conversation early on. That was at the end
of the 20th century and beginning of
the 21st century. More recently, I have
published a book about Google in 2011 called The
Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry). And just this year, I
published a book called Antisocial Media: How
Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. So that’s fun. – Great, and Cory,
could you remind our non-in-the-room viewers
who just tuned in about who you are, please? – [Cory] Sure,
I’m Cory Doctorow, and I’m a science
fiction novelist and an activist
and a journalist. I work with the Electronic
Frontier Foundation. I’m one of the owners of
the website, Boing Boing, and I’m at the MIT Media
Lab as a research affiliate and at UNC as a practice,
visiting professor practice at the library school,
and at the Open University as a visiting professor
of computer science. My interest in this
is both professional, and I’d guess you’d say ethical in that I’ve had
this long association with trying to think
through the social dimension of technology, but also as
a science fiction novelist, the way that information,
dissemination, and particularly copyright
rules are structured has an enormous salience for me and really determines the extent to which I can pay my mortgage. (laughs) – Adrian? – I’m Adrian Johns, I’m
one of the two organizers with Ada of this. I’m in the history
department here and I also chair a
little graduate program called Conceptual and
Historical Studies of Science. I do the history of science, the history of printing
and publishing, especially in what Europeans
call the early modern period, so from, I don’t
know, 1450 to 1750. I wrote a big fat
book called Piracy, which is about opposition
to intellectual property from 200 years before
intellectual property existed until about 10 years ago. – And I’m Ada Palmer. I’m also here in the
history department. I work on radical thought
in the Renaissance, radical thought in
the Enlightenment, somewhat on radical thought now, and I’m also a
novelist like Cory, so I have an interest in
the workings of copyright and publishing and
information movement today in addition to in
a scholarly sense. So Will, I hope you could
kick us off a little bit, ’cause this morning,
you and I talked about some of your work on the
earlier discussions of news and whether news could be owned in comparison with the
foundation of copyright laws about the ownership of
other kinds of information. And I wonder if
you could kick in with a little bit of that, and then I’m sure Siva
and Cory and others will have corollaries
to talk about with it. – Sure, well, one of the things, I worked on a book on
the history of attempts to control news, and copyright
is only one mechanism that you might use to try
to control the flow of news. But what I found
was that actually, the history of copyright
for news publications is quite different, follows
a different trajectory than the history of copyright
for other kinds of works, including other kinds
of informational works. And this has to do
with changing attitudes towards what news is
and how news functions. So from a fairly early date, there are debates
about whether or not you can have a kind
of literary property in accounts of recent events. And there are a number
of kinds of opposition that developed to that
in the early efforts to create a monopoly
right in news. One argument that
develops is that news is somehow different than
other kinds of authorship, that it’s not only fact-based, but it’s supposed to be a kind
of account of what happened. It’s not supposed to
be creative or made up. It’s not supposed to have
too much imagination. So you see that actually
when people are developing, trying to develop a
copyright for news, there are oppositions to it based on kind of aesthetic
or cultural grounds. The other main argument that
was often used against it was that news needs to circulate because journalism is
important to democracy, and having knowledge about
what’s happened in the world is absolutely fundamental. And so anything
that might restrict the circulation of
that information
would be problematic. So in a way, you’ve got, that’s the history of sort
of the ideas for and against, and I’ve tried to
recount that in my book, but also to think about how
news publishers actually work. But I think I’ll stop
there so that people can react, and–
– Well, I was hoping you could add a tiny nugget, just ’cause I’d love to hear Siva and Cory’s
reactions to this. You talked about local papers that would then be
transmitted sometimes with the aid of the post office to have the material
reused in other cities. – Right.
– If you could talk about that very briefly. – I think the basic point
there is that news publications have always existed in relation to other news publications that are situated
in time and space. So if you think about
a local newspaper generating content locally, they might not have any problem with a newspaper in another town reproducing their information. In the end, actually,
this is how news spread for a long time,
through the post, and even later,
through the telegraph was that information, not
everybody can gather information from everywhere, so early
forms of cooperation were basically exchanging
news among publishers. And so that what happens
is that over time, based on the introduction
of new technologies, but also new practices,
new ways of publishing, new things like press agencies, or the invention
of evening papers which now compete
with daily papers, the invention of weekly papers, which compete with, and so on. So these boundaries, the
time-space relationship among publishers is
constantly being reformulated. And it’s this larger kind
of political economy of news that determines the
extent to which copying might seem good or bad. In some cases, copying
can seem very useful and can be justified as a way of spreading news
and commentary. And in other cases, depending
on the relationships among publishers, copying
could seem like a threat. – [Ada] If early
on, a New York paper actually actively wants its news to be republished by
a Houston area paper, and there’s no
subscription overlap between those two papers because they’re both
consumed locally, then both of those papers
have a vested interest in making sure news
isn’t copyrighted. So that that reproduced
news can happen and so that that
cooperation can happen, which is very contrary to the
interests of a book publisher, for example, who actively
wants it to be limited. – [Adrian] I think, from reading Will’s work,
(Ada laughs) I think that one could put it
actually stronger than that, if I remember right. That back in the
days immediately
after the Revolution, when a copyright act is passed, that’s only one
half of, as it were, a new informational contract
in the nascent United States. And the other half is the
setting up of the post office. – Yeah.
– And one of the clauses, if I remember right, from
the post office is that it’s set up partly to
facilitate exactly this. You build up a
democratic republic by circulating information,
by making it essentially free for newspapers to send
copies to other newspapers so that they can copy it and the news can become
a kind of shared resource on the basis of
which a rational, sort of public
democracy will emerge. I think that–
– That’s absolutely right. I would pair the
1790 Copyright Act, which was the first U.S. statute
of copyright, it was 1790. It explicitly protected
books, charts, and maps. And the 1792 law setting
up the post office, I would see those together. It wouldn’t have made any
sense to anybody at the time to put a copyright on
newspapers, for example. The kind of subsidy
that made sense to them to ensure that
information would spread were postal regulations that
charged an extremely low rate for newspapers, making
sure that they could spread to subscribers very easily. And then, as Adrian said,
actually making it entirely free for newspaper publishers to
exchange their newspapers with each other. Why would they exchange their
newspapers with each other? Well, to get the local
news from other areas. And not just news. I mean, other things that
appear in newspapers, like literary pieces,
like lists of information and prices of commodities,
like poems, and other things, so this was definitely
treating news as a shared resource
in this period, and one that could
be repackaged locally and framed locally
for a local audience. And the postal policy was
clearly subsidizing that. – So it’s as though, you know, one often talks
about intellectual
property and copyright as forms of artificial scarcity. They create value
by artificially creating scarcity of things. It’s almost like if at
that foundational moment, you have artificial scarcity, but you also have
artificial plenty, in a certain way.
– Mm. – The system is set up
to override, as it were, what might be thought
of as natural scarcity in the sense that these are quite large
geographical distances that newspapers
could be sent across. If you artificially
make that free, then it really is a,
it is, it’s a big deal. – I mean, they explicitly
talked about the fact that this was an experiment. Having a democratically
elected republic in an expanding geographic area, they really talked about, well, how do you get information
across these vast distances. How do you make sure that
people who are voting for a state legislature
or national governments have the kind of
information that they need. So postal policy
and the way the post and the newspapers worked
together was part of that. – [Cory] I’d be interested
in hearing some views on the extent to which the
power of newspaper proprietors paid into that debate as well. One thing that we’re
seeing in the EU where there’s still a
fair bit of power accruing to those proprietors,
especially in Germany where these very powerful
newspaper families, is that copyright
policy is being made often in defiance of
any kind of good sense, but to the benefit
of those proprietors. Specifically, there’s
this new Article 11 rule that’s part of the new
copyright directive that says that
linking to the news will require a paid
commercial license if you use one word or
more from the article in the text of the link, which would often
include, you know, just the link itself
will often have more than one word
from the article in it. And the way that it’s
structured appears to also prohibit newspaper proprietors
from waiving this right so that if you have a
creative commons news site or what have you, you’re
required to do this. And this seems pretty
obviously structured to the benefit of a narrow
subset of news proprietors and specifically to, like, half a dozen very
powerful German families who are dictating policy
for 480 million Europeans to tilt the board in their favor and transfer a few million euros from Facebook and
Google to themselves. – Yeah, well, sadly, a lot
of the French publishers are in favor of it
too, and I’m not sure that they all understand
exactly what will happen because the information
ecosystem is very complex. And despite the fact that
this EU Article 11 proposal has been there for
over two years, we still don’t
have a single study that says it’s
actually gonna generate a significant revenue. In fact, everything
suggests otherwise. But there’s a kind of, the rhetoric is all about
protecting the press and about giving a fair
share of the revenue, the advertising
revenue that’s captured by Google and
Facebook and so on, giving some kind of way of
returning some of that value to the news organizations
that are so vital. But to return to Cory, to
return to your question, in the early period,
the publishers did
argue back and forth about the best
policy for the post and later for copyright. And the big publishers
in New York, for example, wanted a different kind of
postal policy that would be, for example, a universal
rate, that would be, would cost the same amount
to send a New York newspaper, regardless of the distance. Smaller publishers in
smaller towns and so on said, well, this is no good. You have to have graduated
postage, because if you have… Otherwise, if you have
an extremely low rate, then publishers
emanating from New York, and Philadelphia, and
Boston are gonna control the entire news
industry in the country. So every time postal
policy came up, these kinds of questions of
what would be the effects on democracy, what
would be the effects on access to local information, what would be the effects
on which publishers would get the most
readership and so on. This was often come
up, and I think sadly, with the EU Copyright Directive, we’re not getting enough
discussion about that. About how it’s gonna affect the
whole information ecosystem, how it’s gonna affect
smaller publishers, smaller platforms, and so on. – [Siva] I was thinking
about taking the story in a slightly different
way and moving it into our current
set of dilemmas. One of the things
that we could track over the similar
period of time is that for the last few centuries, we’ve seen the price of
production and distribution of printed material, and
thus let’s talk about news, fall at the same time, we’ve seen over the
last few centuries, at least in Europe
and North America, and then soon after
in most of the world, the sort of ideological
and commercial demand for knowledge and culture go up. So you have the price of
production and distribution of material going down, the demand for
material going up. These are two obviously
interrelated phenomenon. One doesn’t necessarily
cause the other in some simplistic way. It’s not the technology
that drives literacy, it’s not literacy that
drives technology. We are all embedded. Our demands are embedded
in our machines, and our machines are
embedded in our demands, et cetera, right? That’s a long story. But the story also takes
place at different paces. So at first, the story
of the drop in prices of production and distribution and the increase in demand
for stuff happens slowly. So you can watch it over
two or three centuries steadily getting there, and
then about the mid-19th century and well through the
end of the 20th century, this acceleration gets bigger. So everything gets faster. The price is dropping faster, the distance that content
can travel gets farther, and the demand for this
stuff gets more intense, and it gets more
interesting, more complex. So that’s a long story, so you get that
picture in your head, then think about that last
decade of the 20th century, and you could even trace
it from 1995 to 2005. In a really short
period of time, much of the world
goes from a condition or an assumption of scarcity. Scarcity of expression,
scarcity of knowledge, to one of abundance, and
abundance doesn’t even quite capture the situation now. This idea that all of a sudden, we are overwhelmed with
a torrent of sounds, and images, and text,
demands on our attention. We are asked, in
fact, tempted to put more and more interface
devices and systems in front of our eyes for more
and more time of the day. Each of these devices has more, a bigger variety of influences. So again, imagine
this is our condition. So these two trends
are happening slowly for several centuries. For about a century and a
half, it really speeds up. And then in a 10-year
period, everything flips. We, not long ago, lived
in a quiet and dark world. Human beings fumbled
around in the dark and didn’t make a
whole lot of noise, or the noise we made
didn’t travel very far. Now we live in a loud
and bright world, and one that we haven’t
quite adjusted our ears, and our eyes, and our minds to, let alone adjusted
our laws, and norms, and rhetorical practices. So one of the things
I think about a lot when I think about
the control of news, or censorship of news, or
even issues like copyright is that the norms, and
laws, and rhetorical support for what we generally call
free speech or free press, they’re still anchored
in the assumptions of that quiet world,
or of the quiet world that is about to become
faster, louder, and brighter. At least there’s
some indication. We invoke this term, the
enlightenment, right? The enlightenment is
about bringing light. So we’ve been desperately
trying to hook up lights into our lives for
several centuries. We’ve had massive
industries devoted to this practice, to this goal. We’ve put children through these institutions
we call schools to push the idea
of enlightenment, and it all makes sense
and it all made sense. But we still view what
we just went through in the same terms that John
Stuart Mill wrote about. Where he’s writing in a world
of printed and bound books that only a handful of people
on earth can encounter. And he’s not
necessarily thinking, and none of the people who
thought about these issues in the 18th and 19th centuries could even start to imagine
our information ecosystem, our media ecosystem, which
is so radically different in just a short period of time. So what I’ve just
outlined for you is something that I have been
messing around with in my head just for the last few months. I spent a couple years
writing about Google, and then I spent the last
two years or so writing and talking about Facebook. As I said, that’s on the
tail end of thinking about a lot of the same issues
about how copyright changed over several centuries
in much of the world. And the rapid acceleration
of that flip that happened between 1995 and 2005 in
various parts of the world still just boggles my mind. I’m pretty sure I’ve
not gotten a hold of it. But the real key
to me now is that we are as far from living
in a quiet and dark world as we could possibly imagine, and we have a different problem. The problem is not necessarily
that people can’t find ways to express themselves,
can’t find platforms, can’t find audiences,
or can’t find a means. That was a problem to be
solved for several centuries. We have a new problem, and it
is a function of cacophony. This is a flip side problem. Right now, the problem we
should be trying to manage is the fact that we have too
much noise and too much light, and we find it almost
impossible to think, individually or collectively,
in these circumstances. It doesn’t mean we
can’t figure it out. But if we’re gonna
figure it out, I’m pretty sure we can’t
rely on the modes of thought that helped make the
world brighter and louder. I think we might have to
develop new ways of thinking through this problem. I think it’s a problem we never
really anticipated having. – So you’re making me
very much newly regret that Ann Blair couldn’t join us for this series.
– Ah. – Ann Blair, who
works on the feeling of having too much information
in the late 16th century, and I think we’ll talk
about that in a second, but there was a student
question in the corner. Yes, that is exactly
how people felt in the Industrial Revolution, that suddenly there
was a cacophony. More, many, many more
papers were being produced. It’s also how people feel in the second half of
the 16th century when, as in Blair works on,
for the first time, they feel there is
too much to know. There, the perception
is more books are now being produced
than you can read. You can’t read all
the books anymore. – Immanuel, yeah–
– Up until now, the system has been, – Right.
– to be a learned person, you read every book
that comes out because there’s not all that many.
– I mean, Immanuel Kant had
the same anxieties. It’s one thing to feel it, and I think everybody
in every age feels it. Once the acceleration starts, it’s a phenomenon that’s
impossible to ignore because whatever
day you’re thinking and writing about the situation is brighter and louder
than the day before. So the very fact that
we had that feeling only indicates the
fact that there was a curve of loudness
and brightness. I think we can empirically show
that it did in fact happen. It goes beyond a feeling. The feeling is constant
because the motion is constant, the growth is constant. But the fact of the matter is we live in a very
different ecosystem now than we did even 20 years ago. And it has complicated our
ability to think collectively, if we were ever were
any good at that, which is another challenge. I don’t wanna be so
ahistorical as to think that we had mastered that
project of thinking together. – You know, I just wanted
to say that, I mean, it’s nice to meet
you virtually, Siva. (Ada and Adrian chuckling)
I’ve been a fan of your work for a while and one of the
things that reading your book, Antisocial Media,
made me think about is that you could see
Google and Facebook as tools that society relies on to try to manage all
this information. And if you think about the
parallels with the Renaissance and earlier periods where
they had similar anxiety even though the scale was
arguably very different. You think about the
tools that they developed that Ann Blair talked
about, title pages, indexes, compilations, library catalogs, all sorts of tools
that were developed in the first ages of print to try to manage
the information. In the 18th century, there
were similar anxieties, but there were new
forms of publication that were developed, like
magazines and digests, and ways of trying to
kind of manually aggregate and manually deal
with all this stuff. – That’s right.
– And if you think about Google and Facebook
as one way of trying to sort of manage the
flux of information, and then you read Siva’s
work and you realize, well, but it’s not
a very good way of managing it.
(Siva laughs) Or it creates all sorts
of perverse effects. We’ve gotta have some
other way of dealing with all this abundance than simply living
in filter bubbles. – [Siva] Absolutely, you
should’ve written my book, thank you, I think you
summed it up perfectly. We’ve bought into, or
attentioned ourself into, I don’t know, attended
ourself into these two systems that filter our attention
and structure our stimuli, not exclusively,
but significantly. And in Google’s case, I would
argue almost necessarily. Once we decided to have this
thing called the World Wide Web as a major part of our lives, we needed a Google
to help us manage it, and the question for
me back in 2011 is, is Google the right kind of
agent to do this management? My conclusion was we
should’ve built alternatives, just as librarians
harnessed the cacophony of the print era
rather effectively, we needed some sort of public
human knowledge project to manage the growing
cacophony of the digital era in a global sense, and
that was an opportunity we were missing out on by
relying on this private actor to make decisions
in its own interest while it pretended to make
decisions in our interest. So that was kinda my
conclusion in that book, but at this point, I’m much
more worried about the fact that we have a system of
algorithmic amplification that chooses for us the material that
sparks the strongest possible emotions among us. That has a very different effect than a simple Google
search problem. – [Cory] I wanted to relate
this to a critical juncture in Google’s history. When Google started, they
referred to search algorithms as though they were
discovering mathematical truth about relevance, so people
would go up to Google engineers and business development
people and say, why isn’t my webpage about
cats on the first page of the Google results
for a search for cats. And Google would say, because
it’s not a good enough page. If you want your page to show
up on the first 10 results, make it a better
page about cats. Because we’ve written
math that figures out what the best cat pages are. It was really socially
useful for them because it spared them a
lot of genuinely awkward cocktail party conversations where you would have
to explain to someone that you didn’t like them. And that’s why their page
wasn’t in the top 10 results. That you just thought that
they were doing things badly. And you would instead
say, the math doesn’t lie. And then what happened was that
governments woke up one day and started to say, if this
is math, it’s not speech. That the top 10 results, if
they have extremist content, copyright infringement,
pornography, or any other class of speech that we believe we have
an interest in regulating, we can do so without implicating
free speech interests. Because it’s as though
you had rolled a dice that was weighted to decided
where the result would fall. You didn’t make an
editorial choice to do this. And it’d have been
really obvious to anyone who paid attention
prior to that moment, that although the
programmer might not decide, oh, this page goes first,
this page goes second, the programmer, when
they write an algorithm that ranks this page first,
and this page second, and this page third, is making an aesthetic
editorial judgment. The programmer looks at
the results and goes, that looks right to me. And so this is an
aesthetic editorial choice that has this strong
speech interest. Google itself
deliberately undertook
a project to change it. They got Eugene Volokh, who’s
a First Amendment scholar, to write essays,
law review papers, about how this is not math, it’s a subjective
speech-interested judgment, and therefore, governments
should stop telling Google how to order their
search results. That this was like a
tactical thing they deployed as an anti-regulatory measure. – In case people are interested, there’s a scholar at
Harvard, Alex Csiszar, which is spelt C-S-I-S-Z-A-R, who’s been working
on the history of things like peer review
systems in the sciences. He’s found evidence at least concerned counter-strategies
by journal editors, going back through
probably the 1960s. Because they were worried
that institutions, scientific research
institutions,
scientific researchers, would, as it were, game the
system about citation indices in a similar way to that’s
now happening to Google. So citation indices start out
and quite quickly, in fact, it turns out that if you ever
had a vision of them as being, as it were, an
objective measure of scientific influence on policy, that’s qualified, and
undermined, and shifted by forces that
realize how they work. And they’re able to
sort of manipulate them and get a higher citation index than they ever
otherwise would have. – I’m very interested in
two overlapping issues that Siva’s comments
touched on here. One is the reality of being in a period of exponential
growth of information. Being in a period of
the exponential increase in how quickly information moves and how much of it
we have access to. I would say that that begins
at the point of print, or possibly a couple
decades before print when there was a big push
in increasing the pace at which manuscripts were
being produced in Europe, and that from then till now, every decade you are having
an exponential increase in the speed in which
information moves. And it’s continuing to increase, and the increase is, as he
said, is getting faster. I sometimes like to refer to
the era from the printing press through now as the
exponential age. Defined in part by the
fact that information is moving exponentially faster so that not only
each generation, but each person living as
a generation experiences the movement of information
being consciously faster in the second half of your
life than in the first. But the reality of living
in an exponential age is not identical with the
consciousness of feeling that you’re living in
an exponential age. The fact that information
is moving in new ways being something that
you’re aware of, and that you think about a lot. So for example, I can
certainly remember when I was younger
coming home from school and my parents would watch
the news on television, and there was only one the news because we only got one channel. And later, we had
three channels, and then my parents
would discuss which of the three
versions of the news to watch on television. And to me, that was a change. But I didn’t think
very consciously about the fact that
that’s a significant and world-shifting change. But I think right now, even
middle schoolers coming home from school are very
conscious of the fact that social media is
changing information, that search engines are
changing information. This is the saturate
conversation and a
self-identity issue about how we feel
about our own era. One of its defining
characteristics is that it is in a state of exponential
informational growth. Which is not only
represented by the fact that this middle schooler
has already seen the news through Twitter and
Facebook and social media, through the intercessions
between classes even while at school
because news is inescapable. But also just because
there are conversations about that very fact
very ubiquitously. And there have been, I think, no period since
the printing press that haven’t seen
exponential increase in the speed with which
information moved, partly because the printing
press itself took time to disseminate, and it itself
disseminates exponentially. At first, Gutenberg has a
press, and he has one press, and then he teaches some
people to make presses and they have four presses, and they teach people
to make presses, and they have eight presses. And it’s like the puzzle
where you have a penny on the first square
of a chessboard, and then you have two,
and then you have four, and then you have eight. And by the time you get to
the far end of the chessboard, you have trillions of dollars. But by the time you’re
a third of the way across the chessboard, there have been a bunch
of exponential increases, but it isn’t at saturation yet. You can look at the
dissemination of
the printing press in that exponential space. It’s invented in
1450, but it increases in increasing degrees
of saturation steadily over the next several
hundred years, each of which trigger
major revolutions. So for example,
it’s around 1700, the dawn of the Enlightenment, when there are finally
enough printing presses and a large enough
buying public of books that authors, for
the first time, start seriously
living on book sales instead of living on
dedicating the book to the duke of such and such
and getting a bag of gold being the primary business
model for being an author. You see lots of changes
in what gets written and how it gets published triggered largely by there being one order of magnitude
more printing presses than there had been a
half-generation earlier. Even though no new specific
technology was developed, but new ways to aggregate,
new ways to share information, new ways to digest the
news from daily into weekly into monthly saturate. All of these thing
increased and shifted how much information was there. But so all of these decades, all of these
generations experienced this exponential growth, but
there were particular moments that you saw people
talk about it more. The late 16th century, people
are really talking about it. The very late 15th century,
when printing is brand new, people are really
talking about it. Now we’re really
talking about it. It was certainly happening
when I was younger, but we weren’t talking about
it quite at the same level and I think that
that distinction, is it exponential and are
you conscious of the fact that it’s exponential
is an important factor. – [Siva] What do you
think the factors are that bring the phenomenon
to public consciousness? If that’s even a 16th century
idea, public conscious, but let’s just say
something people talk, and write, and feel about. What are the conditions? Why does it happen at some
moments and not others? – Good question. Adrian, do you wanna? – Well, there’s no one–
– Or you could disagree and say you think that it
doesn’t not happen in some… – I guess, I… I mean, the obvious
one is just advents of technological changes. We could go through the
invention of printing, the development of steam presses in the early to
mid-19th century, radio broadcasting,
TV broadcasting in
the 20th century, internet, now these– – [Ada] Telegraph. – Telegraph in the 19th century. These things both actually do increase the speed with which
you can transfer at least small bits of
information back and forth in the case of the telegraph. And they focus people’s minds. The other thing that
they do, I think, just a, this is another bell that
was ringing in my mind is that they also repeatedly
have had this weird effect of focusing attention inwards on almost something like
subjectivity or psychology because with each one,
there’s a rich set of, I hesitate to call
them metaphors ’cause I don’t like
the term, metaphor, I think it’s too sort of weak, but they’re
metaphors, figurations where one decides that the very
practice of thinking itself is like a telegraph. In the 19th century, there’s
a very rich literature of people saying
that thinking is, the nervous system,
the human body, is basically an internal
telegraphy system. The same thing
happens with telephony in the late 19th century. In the mid-20th century,
it’s decided that memory is basically like
a tape recorder, then it becomes like
a video recorder. And there’s a moment when if
you have startling memories, those are called
flashbulb memories because they’re what happens
when you set off a flash, like a Polaroid. – [Siva] Right, now
it’s an Instagram Story. My memory is an Instagram Story. – So there’s something
where, I think one of the, I guess one of the things, the reason why I
say this is I think that if one focuses attention on the story of
exponential increase, there’s a kind of risk that
one tacitly assumes that, as it were, the human
subject remains the same through this and that’s like
the common calibration point. The act of reading, say, is
the common calibration point. And I don’t think it’s
quite clear that that’s so because at each juncture, these exponential increases
have led people, in some ways, to reconceive what the
very act of confronting, and appropriating, and
taking in information is. What it is to read,
or view, or listen. Arguably actually
itself changes. Because we think that
what it is is different because we live in a differently
saturated media world. – Will?
– Yeah, I just wanted to say, I mean, certainly moments of very visible
technological change bring out a lot of
this discussion. But you can also take
periods like the 18th century where there was no
technological improvement in the way printing worked
or anything like that, but there were massive
changes in the number and kinds of publications
that were produced. And so in the 18th century, you find a lot of
discussions of a mania or a kind of obsession
with reading, and you find anxieties
about the kinds of reading that people are doing. There’s a German scholar named
Rolf Engelsing who’s talked about the reading revolution
in the 18th century. And he said that there
was a general shift from intensive reading
of one or a few texts, and usually these were the
Bible and prayer books, to extensive reading of a
very wide range of material. Scholars have since
called into question this and said, well,
actually, the same reader can read the Bible or a
novel very intensively and then read the
newspaper and pamphlets in a much more of
a skimming way. And clearly, any
individual reader could have multiple strategies. But the very fact that
there’s this discussion and this anxiety about
the proliferation of texts and the kind of lack of control
over it is, in that case, not a technological
change at all, but simply the invention
of new forms of publication and the proliferation of
all sorts of periodicals that get a kind of ephemeral, have a kind of ephemerality
attached to them and people sort of worry
about that there’s sort of too much to manage, but also
that there’s just kind of something frivolous and
not serious about it, and it creates faction,
it creates controversy between religious
or political parties that are playing out in
these periodicals and so on. So sometimes it’s
not technology, and it’s actually the larger
economy of media at the time. – Or if it is a technology,
it isn’t a technology like printing
press or telegraph, it’s a technology like
footnote, like index, like compilation, like
magazine compiling the week’s reviews that… A technological innovation
of how to organize and how to think
about information, which then changes
what reading means and how reading is
viewed in the culture. I remember one point sitting
with a couple of other press historians and thinking, we can date Disney’s
Beauty and the Beast to probably within a
decade of the year 1600 because the poor provincial
town has a bookshop, but nobody in the town thinks
of it as a political act for Belle to be reading. So it has to have
enough printing presses for a small town
to have a bookshop but Voltaire’s letters on
England haven’t come out yet. And that’s a pretty
tight window. Now, this is, of course,
an imaginary space, but thinking about the fact
that the act of reading might mean a different
thing in a different decade from what it meant earlier. – [Cory] So I wanna propose
a way to square the circle, maybe, which is that the
quote-unquote normal order of an exponentially growing
communications technology is that at its inception,
you can consume all of it. So when the first bulletin
board systems appear, you dial your local
bulletin board system and you read every message
everyone in your city with a computer and a
modem wants to transmit. And then as the growth occurs, you have to shift from a
deterministic exhaustive model to a selective model where
you choose a few forums or bulletin board systems
you’re going to dial into, and then exponential
growth outstrips that and you have to move to
a probabilistic model where you just skim all of it. You dip into it
like it was a river. And you count on
signal amplification
of significant things for people to retweet, or
retumble, or repost, or argue about the things that
are important enough so that wherever you
dip into the river, you are statistically
likely to find the important news
of the moment. And that model is
very uncomfortable at each of these
phase transitions, but comfortable once
you’ve accomplished them. And if there’s not
enough refractory time between those that each
of those comfort moments and the emergence
of a new technology, there’s just never any moment
in which you feel comfortable. So it’s not that
people of antiquity were not struggling with
information overload because everybody had
made up an epic poem and wanted them to listen to it. It was that there was enough
time between the manias that you could normalize them, and we can’t normalize
them anymore. – There’s a (speaks
indistinctly), there was a question there. There’s an interesting
linguistic practical indicator of this
to some extent that, so in the early
years of printing, there was an aspiration to
create a universal library. French historian Roger
Chartier has pointed to this. There’s an aspiration to
create a universal library, which in the first
thoughts of it, would be an actual building
which would hold all the books. And that dream
doesn’t quite go away. It’s there in Borges
later and so forth. But quite quickly
it becomes clear that you couldn’t
actually build a building that’s gonna create
all the books ’cause there are more books
being produced so fast that you’d have to expand it and it would fill
the whole planet. Though then the universal
library becomes a book, so it’s a bibliography
produced, actually, by Gessner, who was a zoologist
in Switzerland. And it attempts to just
list all of the books. You could look it up in the list and then you could go
off and find the book. That, after about
two supplements, it becomes clear that
the universal library
can’t be a book, and what it then becomes
is a periodical, a journal. So it becomes essentially one
of the first review journals, Bibliotheque Universelle,
and it goes on, so the idea is that
the universal library is intrinsically open-ended. Then it kinda dissolves
completely in the 18th century and you start
getting these things almost like libraries
of libraries. But that’s an
interesting transition, from building, to
book, to periodical. – So the question
is how the Cold War, with two factions strongly
trying to restrict information and it keep it out of
the hands of the other affected the public
consciousness of
the simultaneously exponentially increasing
amount of information. – [Siva] Wow, that’s a
really good question. I think it’s the
sort of question that could generate a
nice PhD thesis, in fact. Because it tracks along
with a really interesting set of debates in
the 1960s and ’70s about the sincerity
of the virtues of the free flow of information, the notion of whether the
free flow of information is in fact a mask for northern and western
imperialistic media companies, the Disneys of the world,
the Dow Jones of the world, and whether in fact the
free flow of information would overwhelm the
developing world with a set of images that are
irresistible to the public and thus would crowd out any
sort of indigenous knowledge or local concerns, or local
literature, or local film. Media policy in the 1970s
across most of the world reflects these anxieties. So there’s a sense in
the parts of the world that are not under Soviet
control and yet not signed up to the explicit
mission of the United States. By the way, that would
include France and Canada. There developed a set
of resistive policies to the principle of free
flow, a radical free flow so that every
Canadian radio station would play X number of
Canadian artists per hour so that it would not all be
American and British artists on pop music in Canada. And in France, there
would be X number of films in any city at any given time, X number of screens in
any city at any time, playing French and/or
European-funded films so that Disney and
Woody Allen would not overwhelm every screen
through the power, the commercial power
of the producers. Not to mention that sort
of cultural attractiveness in some ways, of the sort
of made-for-the-world films. So it’s a really
fascinating set of debates that goes on in the Cold War about this concept of free flow. And the real concern
that U.S. imperialism will come dressed
as Mickey Mouse rather than as
MacArthur or Patton. That theme, that sense of
concern remains a bit vestigial after 1995, after the
notion that digital networks might actually change
the whole formula. Because the assumption
about the digitization of cultural production is that it will open up more
voices and more channels, and there might be
something closer to a level playing field. Of course, we found that
not to be true in the least. We found a very weird playing
field than what we had before, a completely different
playing field. But I think that that’s, I mean, that’s a fascinating question. The role of the Soviet
Union in these debates is something that’s almost
a little bit too simple, I think, in my own my mind,
and deserves deeper examination than anything I’m prepared
to talk about at this point. – I think on that another
factor is that the… The amount of censorship
and control of information and oppression that was
going on in the U.S.S.R. was vast and historically
unprecedented and enormous. But that also allows the
opponents of that system to propagandistically
self-identify as the free world. And as the world where there must be free information flowing and where there
isn’t restriction. Which builds up a lot of
America’s own self-identity as the country
without censorship, which is in no way true,
and was in no way true then, but is nonetheless sort of how
America gets us to imagine it in its own
self-presentation, I think, to a degree that is greater
during and after the Cold War, even than before in terms
of how much America felt that its freedom of speech was a part of its
signature identity and something that
it wanted to spread with the rest of the world
by making the world free through the dissemination
of information. That leads me, and I know we had another question in a moment, but I’d love to hear others
weigh in on the question of geography of
it more directly. Because we have, at several
different points in this, touched on how the way
movement of information, and especially in particular
the movement of news, but also this cultural stuff, is affected by local communities and then gradually the
isolation of the local becoming less and
less over time. So that if early on,
it was a great boon to all of these newspapers
to be able to let other newspapers freely copy
their news in another city so that they can do the same, because there was no
competition in their market ’cause they’re all
selling primarily locally. That’s certainly not
true of news right now where news is consumed
on a vast national or, in many ways,
language block format, where something that’s put
out in English language news is gonna be consumed
and consumable in most of the English
language-speaking world. Same for the French material
in the francophone world, same for Portuguese material in the
Portuguese-speaking world, making us have geography
change its meaning. So the geography still matters
because what laws affect you, what government
changes affect you, what language you’re speaking, what local artists you are
trying to communicate with are still strongly
affected by geography, and we still have policies like
what Siva was talking about in the Cold War where
Italy legislates that only X percentage
of movie theaters may screen English
language films. Other movie theaters, the vast
majority of movie theaters, must screen films in Italian. They may be foreign films, but they must be
dubbed into Italian to preserve the
Italian language. We see this kind of
geographically-based concern. But newspapers today cannot
function the way the newspapers that Will was
looking at functioned because their market
is so different. Or perhaps they
can a little bit. So could we hear a little
more about geography? Thoughts on geography? – Well, I think there’s
another missing piece here, which I will come
back to geography, but it’s related to that,
and that’s how you fund this production of news. Historically, advertising
was so important in the funding of the newspaper. Whether it was the
local newspaper, or a more regionally
distributed newspaper, or a more nationally
distributed newspaper, advertising became
increasingly important. You can see it already
in the 18th century that it was the majority
of profits of newspapers and by, I think, it
peaked around 2000 at 80% of the revenue of
United States newspapers was advertising. And since 2000,
it has plummeted. And you can actually, it
actually started declining in around 1980 or so, the total
amount of advertising money. But what happened then is that
not only can you access news from any point in the world based on your linguistic skills, but the whole local
advertising market drops out so that now you have to look
for how to fund this news. It started with early
things like Craigslist, which made it possible for
you to find a house to rent, or a bike to buy, or
whatever, by going online. That immediately affected
newspaper’s ability to run the classified ads. It used to be that’s where
you’d go to look for a job, or a bicycle, or whatever
would be in the newspaper. And then the general
buying cars, and watches, and all of that too, so the
shift of advertising online and the way in which
the local newspaper has been unable to control
that revenue stream is just absolutely massive, and it explains why things like struggling to have
some kind of new intellectual property for news or have any other way
to increase funding is on the minds of publishers. – [Siva] Yeah, and I would
say that that is a problem that changing copyright
does not solve, right? Changing copyright might shift, I think we’ve gone
through this a bit. Might shift the
visibility of articles in certain frames marginally, but it doesn’t move the money in the way that
actually regulating the advertising industry might. Or regulating the,
as Europe has been, and I think in some
successful experiments, regulating the ways in
which data is collected, data are collected and
used for the placement and targeting of advertisements. It’s the data that makes
Facebook and Google better at doing advertising than
any media form ever created by anybody, anywhere,
it’s the data collection that makes Facebook
and Google superior to and less expensive
than purchasing an ad through the Wall Street Journal, purchasing an ad
through The Guardian, purchasing an add
through Le Monde. Those things are
not as effective, from an advertiser’s
point of view, than purchasing a, betting
on a keyword on Google search or purchasing a set of interests as a targeted
audience on Facebook. This has resulted in a massive
flow of advertising money away from all of the
different forms of content that have long depended
on advertising, magazines, newspapers,
television, or radio, to these two companies,
Facebook and Google. And at the same time,
in order to demand, in order to summon the audience that one needs to even survive, a publisher must pander
to the algorithmic demands of Facebook and Google. So there’s a constant anxiety. Are we reading Facebook
and Google properly so that our content shows
up in front of people’s eyes at the right moments, and
therefore what must we do to make ourselves
more attractive to Facebook and
Google’s algorithms. At the same time, Facebook
and Google are taking away all the advertising they
would’ve earned anyway, so it’s like these publications
are constantly making design and editorial decisions to feed the very beasts
that are starving them. And it’s a really vicious cycle, one that no one has yet come up with a bold enough response to. I think it’s a pretty
serious emergency, and all we have seen so far are some fairly weak
and marginal responses, like this copyright
change in Europe, which is, at best,
useless, at most, harmful. – Yeah, I would agree with
that, and I think it’s, I mean, one way to look at
the Article 11 and Article 13, is to see the way the
rhetoric is all crystallized around a kind of, a fear of a kind of
American control of media. So much of it is reminding
me of your question. So much of it is
about we’ve got these big American technology firms that increasingly shape the
information, and the content, and how we experience it, and we need to find some way. Europe is now trying with,
has tried with privacy, and now they’re gonna try
another way with copyright. The real thing that’s
the elephant in the room is fiscal policy,
it’s actually taxing their corporate profits,
which might be a way of then redistributing that as a subsidy for artistic creation in Europe. But fiscal policy
is hard to debate. It’s hard to deal with on
the European-wide level ’cause each state is
sovereign and so on. But clearly, it’s something
about this advertising revenue that needs to be the
focus of figuring out how you could potentially
harness some of that to redistribute, but
copyright, I agree. It’s not gonna do it. – [Cory] Yeah, I wanna
jump in with a few notes on newspaper history and
then the post-war era in which different
countries had anxiety about particularly American
media crushing them. So Clay Shirky has
written a bit about the so-called golden
age of the newspaper after the partisan era
when you had this idea of non-partisan local news. And he says that it was a
function of this patrician newspaper proprietor who
would own the local paper and feel some civic duty. The paper’s customers
were primarily people who wanted to find out
about sports scores, and the paper’s advertisers
were primarily people who wanted to sell white goods. And the news was a kind of a, it was like a civic
duty that was peeled off from the profits of selling
white goods to sports fans in order to send someone
down to city hall. This was the quid pro quo
of being a great family in the town and publishing
the town’s newspaper. That’s really kind
of what’s broken, and when you think about it, it’s actually a fairly
recondite and weird way for us to have
run this essential
democratic institution, and it’s kind of strange that
it lasted as long as it did. Now, in Canada, there
has been, as you heard, this Canadian content
rule, and not just for TV, but for magazines and so on. This was, in fact, a
very sharply debated rule in the most recent
renegotiation of NAFTA that just concluded
a few weeks ago. And one of the things
that Canadian publishers have historically been
really worried about is what was called
the split run, which was when magazine
like Sports Illustrated would pay reporters in
America to generate news and they would recoup the
costs of all of that reportage in America and then they
would come to Canada and they would
reprint the magazine, but they would approach
Canadian advertisers and offer them rates
that reflected the fact that they’d already paid for
all of the variable costs associated with the production
except the printing. All the reporting had
already been paid for, and so they could undersell
Canadian competitors. And this split run where the
advertising was separated from the reportage was at
the heart of multiple rounds of trade negotiations,
including the first NAFTA and the current NAFTA
between the U.S. and Canada because it is such
a powerful thing in advertising-driven media to separate the
production of the content from the targeting
of the advertising. – Fascinating. – Those are good,
so about geography, there’s a couple of other
things that I’d raise. This is completely different from the issue
about advertising. One is that… I don’t know this, in
fact, Will will know this. My sense is that if you
think back sort of 50 years, at least in the U.K.,
to a more heroic age (Ada chuckles)
of newspaper journalism, major British newspapers
like The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, had
correspondents who were placed in other parts of the world, and they lived there
for long periods. And so the reporting
that you got back was sort of informed by
awareness of the local culture. The Telegraph still does that, and The Guardian still
does it to some extent. The Times I don’t know
because it’s behind a paywall, so I haven’t looked at it for,
like, a decade. (chuckling) But often I think that
that culture of sort of rather Edwardian world of
correspondents has dissolved. And in place of it, what
we have is something that is portrayed as
being like crowdsourcing. So when events happen, what
you get is either that the, or actually, both, that the
newspaper flies somebody in and they land, they
parachute into somewhere, they report on, as it were,
the surface developments. And then they’re
airlifted out again and they go back to
London or New York. And that’s supplemented
by essentially a request that local citizens send
stuff in by Twitter, or cell phones, or whatever. It’s explicit on
the BBC News website where if something happens
like an earthquake, at the foot of the report,
there will be a thing, are you there, can you
please send us a paragraph. I think there are very
complicated things to do with ethics
and credibility, responsibility for stories
being accurate or not that come with that shift. Honestly, I don’t know
to what degree it’s real. My subjective experience is
that it feels real to me, that something like
that has gone on. And it’s very much a
geographical thing. The Telegraph or something will
certainly have its reporters in Westminster, but it won’t
necessarily have reporters now in New Delhi, or Port
Moresby, or somewhere. The other thing is that since this is partly about censorship, it’s worthy remembering that
if the information networks are transnational, they’re
still geographical, but they’re not bounded
by national boundaries. Policing is
jurisdictional, typically, so the police may
have enormous powers within one jurisdiction, but
they then hit a big problem if, say, that the pirate TV signal is routed through some other
jurisdictional place, different country or something, and it’s actually hit
a different level. A few years back, I found myself
talking to a police person from Hong Kong who’d been
engaged with policing pirate TV, which is why that
example comes to mind. And he made the point that
it’s no longer the case even that the digital files
that they’re trying to police are definitively in
some other country. They’re in no country,
they’re sort of split up in different sectors that are in different
jurisdictions completely. So there’s no, it’s not
like he can go to the, his corresponding person
in the Philippines, say, and say, can you go
and raid this plant, because there is no such place. You find yourself having
to deal with something that is simply incommensurable with the world of
jurisdictional policing. – Will, did you wanna… – Sure, I mean, absolutely,
the foreign reporting is one of the
first things to go. It’s extremely expensive and
in the reduction of staffs of even these
successful newspapers, that is certainly one of the
things that we’re seeing less, sustained use of
foreign correspondents, people who are
there on the ground. Some of the big papers
can still afford it, and it’s a prestige
thing, and they keep it, but it certainly was something
that, in the older model, that is kind of a strange model, but was a model in
which the sports scores and people’s interest in sports paid for the foreign reporting. On the border thing, I mean,
there’s just even everyday banal examples of that. In France, for example,
you’re not allowed to, journalists are not allowed
to report estimates of exit polls during elections, and even the
broadcasters have to wait until precisely 8:00 p.m. to announce any kind of
estimate of the day’s vote. But if you’re a journalist
based in Belgium or in London, and you have people on
the ground, so you get, it’s almost a kind
of pirate radio thing where people are tuning
in to other sources on other sides of borders,
but in the same language, and able to sort of, so, yeah, the state can’t police that as
easily as they might like to. – So there were two
separate questions. I’m gonna repeat them, and
then we’re gonna have our break because it is break time, and I believe the
coffee is outside, and then we can talk
about them afterward. The second was a question
about the difference between elite news consumption and non-elite news consumption, which is certainly
something I work on a lot in the Renaissance where we
think of printed materials as being only for elites. And so the consumption
of literature by
illiterate audiences is a really fascinating field in which news is
a central factor. So elite versus non-elite
news consumption. And then other ways
of dividing up news into different categories, and the three
proposed categories, though we can play around
with others, were news that is sustained by generating
advertising revenue and that is written in order
to appeal to the people who will make advertising
revenue cost-effective, versus news that is
produced and marketed in order to advance
a particular agenda. So that the particular paper, let’s say a communist
youth organization paper may be much more concerned
about spreading its message than it is about
advertising revenue and may be getting
all of its revenue from people donating to a cause. That is another revenue stream. And then the third being
subscription revenue streams for people who are willing to
pay for a particular thing, which, in particular, sustains
specialist publications such as, the example
given was trade journals. I would use the example
of Locus Magazine, the trade journal of the
science fiction world. Where if you
desperately want to have tedious black and white pages which meticulously list
exactly what has been licensed by every science fiction and
fantasy publisher in that month even though they won’t
be out for three years, you pay money for this magazine. But very few people in
this room will pay money for this magazine,
but nonetheless, it’s a sustainable model because
of the subscription system. So subscription versus
advertising versus support through the cause itself for something that
supports a cause. So let’s talk about that, and also elite and
non-elite news consumption and other things when we
come back after our break. Thank you. All right, welcome back, all. We have several speakers who
are going to be filtering out at different points over
the course of the next hour as we wrap us, so we’re gonna
let Siva take first crack at our questions
residue from first half, one of which was about elite versus non-elite
consumption of news, and the other was
about different ways that news has been
monetized or funded. – [Siva] Right, okay, yeah. I mean, different models for… Of political economy for news. I mean, I think the only
responsible response is a little bit of everything. I think we’re gonna have
successful advertising-based, or advertising-funded
news organizations for at least a few more decades. They won’t be prolific, they won’t be anything
close to universal. But there will be a handful. NBC still pays for itself
through Ford trucks, and Coca-Cola, and Budweiser,
and Procter & Gamble, and that’s unlikely
to change very soon. The bottom’s not gonna
fall out of that. At the same time, The
New York Times finds that harder and harder
to do every month. And so it is steadily shifting
its sources of revenues to more subscription-based practices, people signing
up for conferences, or for elite levels
of membership, or paying for full web access,
having tiered membership. Those are two different
models right there. Then there’s the ProPublica
or Texas Tribune experiment of having memberships and
philanthropic organizations, foundations support the
effort along the way. They run big conferences
that bring in a lot of money from sponsors and that way,
they’re not fully dependent on the whims of advertising. Then there’s just gonna
be a big shakeout, so there’re gonna be a lot
of journalistic organizations that just won’t exist. Those are likely to be
the local and the niche, although some niches
have enough buying power behind them that they could, they could start
charging quite a bit. But the thing is, none
of this is particularly profound or controversial. I think we’re gonna see everybody try everything
and then see what works, but I don’t see a long-term
prospect for advertising. What that means, of
course, is a concentration of primary access to those
who can afford to pay for the publication. That brings us back to a
sort of pre-penny press potential readership, so where
more of the better journalism comes from the Wall Street
Journals of the world. What I haven’t
mentioned is, of course, things like state support
or political party support, which are also pre… Well, at least
political party support, those are pre-penny
press models. I think that’s under-explored. I mean, we certainly see
massive subsidies in France. And we see revival
of party-based media in some rather ugly forms in
certain parts of the world. But the thing we’re not
gonna have is this weird blip in history that
we had since 1945, like basically 1945 to 2005 when we were able to have a
professionalized news flow that had global reach
and ran a surplus, and we could pretend that
we were actually paying for the Moscow
Bureau rather than the coverage of
the White Sox game. And so we’re probably
gonna have to step down from what was a very unusual
time of heavily funded professionalized journalism
in a global sense. I think we had an
interesting run with that. But I think we’re reverting
to the mean at this point. – Do any of our historians
wanna weigh in on – Sure.
– feeling the (mumbles) of that period or not? – Sure, yeah, I
think it is true, that it’s increasingly evident that this advertising-funded,
bundled product of the newspaper where
sports cross-subsidizes foreign reporting
is problematic now. And I think it’s time
for us to think about what journalism is
and what its role is, and to start thinking
about possibilities that have been anathema
for a long time. In this country,
there’s a tradition of avoiding the discussion
of state funding because somehow, state-funded
journalism would be somehow in contradiction
with the First Amendment, or it would somehow, the
state could not be trusted to police itself and so on. So that’s unlikely. We’re unlikely to have
state-funded journalism. But there are other areas
where, in fact, there are, in history, you can look
at all the subsidies that went to newspapers
in the earlier period that I’ve studied, like
the post office subsidy. And in Britain, of course, you have the
tradition of the BBC. So we can’t ignore
that possibility. But one thing we were
talking about this morning is think about the university. Think about the university
as a model for a place that can be a fabulously
rich institution built on private money, but
also depends on a lot of tax exemptions and the
things that go along with having a nonprofit status and access to federal
funds and so on. And the university, one of
the functions that it has, is to support the
kinds of research that would not have funding
on the private market. So we could, if we
really valued journalism, see the university as one place where we could have
journalism departments, not just to train
future journalists, but to actually
produce journalism. Because if the university
can pay chemists, or anthropologists, or
so on, to do research, they could also
pay for journalism. There are some examples of that. I mean, there are
journalism schools that produce journalism. There’s the Poynter Institute
that has a relationship with, I think it’s
the Tampa Bay Times. And you have examples of this. Another one that Siva
mentioned is foundations, and we could think
about big benefactors, the sort of Jeff Bezoses of
the world saving newspapers. But I think that’s not
a sustainable answer to the question either. It may help in the
short term and so on, but there may be other
kinds of foundations that could be set up. They could have more
wider participation. There’s a French
scholar-economist
named Julia Cage who’s written a book in French. I would translate it
sort of Saving the Media or Saving Journalism, and she proposes different
kinds of funding structures. And one of them is a kind
of foundation structure where there would be
crowdfunding participation. But not just I’m
gonna give donations like I occasionally
do to Wikipedia. But by giving donations,
I’m also gonna be, have a voting right
in this organization. And that you could actually,
she’s an economist, so she talks about
the different ways that you could set this up so that the largest
donors don’t automatically have the most control as they would in a
shareholding corporation. But it would be a kind
of not for profit, not for profit foundation
that would be funded through a larger participation and could have a way
to perpetuate itself and not be interested in generating dividends
for shareholders. – [Siva] And I would point
out there’s a Dutch news site called De Correspondent
that uses that exact model. It seems to be quite successful. There’s a lot of energy
behind it right now, so we’ll see how it turns
out in the long term. I’m really glad you brought
up the idea of universities sponsoring, making,
fostering journalism. I run a center at the
University of Virginia called the Center for
Media and Citizenship, and it has two purposes. One is to do that very thing, to sponsor journalism in
the best possible way. So we are about to launch
a statewide, student-run state news service,
deploying student journalists at all of the public
universities in Virginia to do the local reporting
that contributes to a weekly magazine
that’ll run on the public television
stations here in Virginia. So again, commercial-free,
subsidized entirely by these universities,
but lightly subsidized. And I also run a magazine called the Virginia Quarterly
Review, run out of my center. It is heavily subsidized
by the university. Although it makes subscription
revenue on top of that, it does not sell any ads,
and it’s quite successful. It runs in the black every year, wins national magazine
awards regularly, competes for writers and readers with the likes of The New
Yorker and National Geographic, and it has Pulitzer
Prize winners contributing to it regularly. So that’s the sort of
thing that can happen and should happen more. But we should start, perhaps,
looking at that model on a local basis so
that given the fact that there are college towns
all around America in places that are losing
their local news outlets, colleges and universities
can pick up the slack in a lot of those ways, and that’s just in this country. I would also say that, the other thing my center does
is it flips the challenge. Instead of asking, like a
journalism school would, how do we save journalism
as it has been practiced and funded for 100
years or 200 years, we ask what do citizens
need to operate in an informed and
responsible way going forward? What sort of norms, and
regulations, and platforms, and technologies, habits of
mind, and sources of information do citizens need to engage? That’s a question
that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson
would’ve asked rather than asking how to save or how to build
a business model. The idea of a business
model follows from that. But first, we have to figure
out what we as citizens need to be able to behave and
act in a way that retains some sort of power and
influence over what is at least, for a little while longer,
a democratic republic. – Abstracting out from what
we all know universities to be to what problem universities are fundamentally
trying to solve, they’re trying to
solve the problem of how do we make
sure research occurs that is valuable to society that isn’t sustainable
under capitalism. That isn’t self-funding
under capitalism. How do we make that operate. And simultaneously, how
do we protect research that gives us answers that
people don’t wanna hear. How do we protect the
researcher who comes back with a finding that is against
the interests of industry, against the interests
of government, against the interests
of advertisers. And so the systems–
– That’s, yeah, I’m sorry. – The systems that we have
in place in a university, including the tenure system, fundamentally abstracting
that away from what universities generally
study and what they produce, that they produce academic
monographs and articles. The system is you
have a researcher, the researcher produces
a bunch of good material, some funding body judges, yes, this person is
producing good material. The person says,
I wanna continue
producing this material, the funding body says,
okay, we’ll give you tenure and a permanent line of funding, go forth into the world
and produce this material. – Right.
– And you can imagine that existing for journalists. That there would be
a body that says, you’ve done some
great journalism. We want to give you a stipend. Go forth into the world and
fill it with good journalism. This is fundamentally trying
to solve the same problem that universities solved. – [Siva] Well, I’d say we’re
constantly trying to resolve it because the assault is steady. So, yeah, but at least
we have a language, a tradition, a set of values,
and some cultural status, although that is
as well eroding. But, yeah, we operate
from an assumption that disinterested
pursuit of knowledge is a good, in and of itself, and we rarely have
to re-argue that. Most of what we do most
days takes that for granted, and that’s the lovely
thing about our jobs. I’m a former journalist,
and as a journalist, we constantly have
to re-argue that. We constantly have
to reassert the disinterested pursuit of
knowledge as a core value. You would think it
would be a given in the world of journalism, and it is only in the most
romantic visions of journalism. But in the real world of
journalism, it is not at all. Journalism was only liberated
by its economic surplus for about 75 years, or liberated to the extent to which it was. So that a journalist at
The Cincinnati Enquirer could actually
investigate Chiquita, one of the biggest
employers in Cincinnati for all sorts of abuses
in Central America because for a long time,
that paper ran a surplus. The moment when that paper
is in danger, as it has been, that kind of reporting becomes
basically impossible to do, and that’s what we’ve seen with
newspapers all over America, and that’s why so much
of the bolder work is relegated to institutions
like ProPublica, which their defining mission
is to challenge the status quo and produce
disinterested knowledge. – [Cory] I wanted to propose
a slightly different account of how we got here, which
really involves that, at the end of the 30
years following the war, we elected politicians who
stopped enforcing antitrust law. And so one of the
things that happened was that newsrooms
became horribly weakened, monotonically, year after year, regardless of what was
happening in technology. It wasn’t Google who
caused all of the little family-owned newspapers
to become giant chains, who consolidated all
of their news gathering in centralized newsrooms with centralized ad
sales departments. It was Google who moved into
that weakened environment where those firms had
already been harmed and started to take
those weak entities and to kill them off. But the reason they were weak is because of lax
antitrust enforcement. And the reason
Google got so strong is because of lax
antitrust enforcement, and the reason that market
ideology is commanding so much of our public discourse and requiring academics to
argue over and over again for the value of
pursuing knowledge that is not of
immediate corporate use is also lax antitrust
enforcement. And that we have these three
things that are effects, and we spend a lot of
time trying to figure out which one of them is the cause. – You’re reminding me of
bookstores and publishers, and in particular, the
process where right now, we’re in a situation
where we’re watching the giant Amazon beat up
the various book publishers like Macmillan
that we work with. Whereas a little while ago, the narrative was
Macmillan the giant which was beating up the
small independent publishers that it parasitically dismantled in order for the
big five publishers to assemble themselves up
to the scale that they are. But then Amazon is of an
order of magnitude larger than those things,
so that our battles between giants and dwarfs,
the dwarfs are the giants of the earlier
iteration of battles because we have allowed the
lax enforcement of antitrust to let things grow in such
vast orders of magnitude and so quickly. – [Cory] Well, and not
only that, but of course, and Macmillan’s the
smallest of the big five. Bertelsmann, on the other hand, is the largest
publisher in the world. They were allowed to buy Penguin even though they already
owned Random House. Their publishing
arm is just a wing of a much larger business entity that mostly makes munitions, but also owns a bunch
of newspapers in Germany and commands a lot of
German domestic policy, and thus EU policy, and
is one of the prime movers behind Article 11 and the
European Copyright Directive. Each of these
firms is very happy to see antitrust dismantled
while they’re merging and becoming very large. And then each of them
becomes very alarmed at the enormity of
the other sectors that come and eat their lunches. The thing that Jeff Bezos
said when he started Amazon, he said to the publishers, I consider your margin
to be my opportunity. You could put that
on the tombstone for the first two decades
of the 21st century. – [Siva] I’m sorry, may
I just issue a farewell. I’m sorry, I have to
go pick up my child. My wife is also sick today, so I’m having to relieve her
of some duty she might’ve taken had I been able
to be in Chicago. So again, I’m terribly
sorry, but I wanna thank you for giving me this opportunity. This was one of my
favorite discussions I think I’ve ever had with
a great group of people. The questions from the
audience have been amazing, really good, really helpful,
I’d love to hear more. Please don’t hesitate
to find me on email and get in contact
with me if you wanna go any farther with
any of the issues that we’ve talked about. And again, thank you,
Ada, for this opportunity. This was really
helpful, thank you. – I wanted to raise the
question about credibility. With all the talk about
the political economy of news organizations and
the structuring of newspapers and the possible
alignments between things like universities and
news organizations, I think there’s,
it’s almost as though one talks about this as though the reception, the
quality, as it were. The quality, not in
the sense of quality, but the character
of the news as news is commodified to the
extent that it’s independent of these structures,
like the rhetoric of news isn’t dependent
on the structures. And I think historically
that hasn’t really been true. I think there’s a very
interesting history of how news attained, and
sustained, and has competed for credibility with other
versions of narratives about the world. This is partly to
get back to something that Ada mentioned at the break about the non-elite
consumption of news. And if you remember
on the reading list, one of the things
that you were supposed to look at this week was a
piece by Danton about the, I think it was this week, right? On the Information – Mm-hmm.
– Society in Paris. If I remember right,
that’s the one that starts with a tree.
– Yes. – And he talks about all,
in 18th century Paris, if you were consuming
news from newspapers, that’s one way in which
you get something. But you’re also getting
things from ballots, and sermons, and libels
that are pinned up to trees or doorsteps and
things like that. – Well, and we’ve got, in our History of Censorship and
Information Control Exhibit, we’ve got a photograph from,
I think it’s the 1940s or ’50s from UChicago Campus of a tree that was used
(Adrian chuckles) that way here on campus. And people would pin
things to the tree, and some of them were
political speech, and some of them were,
I have a beanbag chair, does anyone wanna buy it,
come to my door at this. But that the practice of
having a collaborative social bulletin board, whether it’s
for satires and pasquinades, or whether it’s for please
buy my beanbag chair is something that persisted
until very, very recently, and persist in some spaces. – Yeah, and what I
wanted to point to in a kind of halting way is
that we tend to look back at the preserved records
which have come down to us, which are very selective. We look back and we see
from the 18th century a record of, say,
runs of newspapers. Or runs of proclamations
or something like that. And so we tend to sort of
assume that the credibility is adequate in the documents
themselves by themselves. But if you lived in that world, that’s certainly not the case. You’d be cross-correlating,
as it were, the reports that you would
come up with on the page to all of these other things that have left almost no trace
unless you’re very fortunate. In the case of ballots, we
do have printed ballots. But a lot of the
stuff, like gossip, you can only get at very
indirectly and often through jaundiced
representations of them. This is not that
different from now. I think if you go outside of
where somebody referred to living in New York or
Washington, D.C. or something where you only read
the posh magazines. If you go outside of that world, maybe even inside that world, much of what you read and
how you appropriate it and what you attribute credit
to and how you put it to use, what you think carries
plausibility and what doesn’t is arrived at through a
complex, kind of never-ending negotiation between
different things that we might call
media, so gossip, conventional wisdom,
television, radio, cinema, books,
journals, newspapers. All of those things operate– – [Ada] Graffiti. – Graffiti, yeah. I actually happen
to live in a house that was next to one of the
only permitted graffiti walls in the city.
– Oh. – Until the university
bulldozed the wall. – Oh, no.
– About five years ago to build that horrible tower
block down on 53rd Street. (Ada laughs) But it was great, the
artists were terrific. Actually, it was interesting,
since you (murmurs). My daughter actually
did a school project on the graffiti
artists down there. She went and interviewed them. And though the story that they
told was probably not true, it was interesting
that what they told her was actually quite a
long historical story about where graffiti came from that went back
hundreds of years. And I thought that was kind
of an interesting thing about the constitutive
role of the stories that we tell about the
history of media in, when we think about what
media are worth pursuing and worth reading. But anyway, so what I
wanted to say was that there’s a sort of
constructedness
about the credibility of facts, stories and
things that we miss when we only look at the
preserved paper textual records. It behooves us to have a
kind of imaginative leap and to try to get
back into that world where you’re constantly
judging everything against everything else. Concrediting, 17th
century word for this. – [Ada] Concrediting? – Concrediting, it comes from, so in the 17th century,
there’s this… There’s a civil war in
England in the 17th century. Several civil wars. And they’re accompanied
by the growth of the first
periodical newspapers. And the problem with
this for people writing quite soon after the civil
wars have calmed down, say 30 years later, is that
the records that they have are typically these newspapers. But the newspapers are
hopelessly jaundiced, and they make up battles. This is like Orwell. They make up battles, they
make up monstrous births and prodigies, and
comets that are preceding the victory or defeat
of one side or another. So what you have is something
that you know took place in broad terms. You know that there was
such-and-such a battle on such-and-such a date,
but trying to reconstruct what actually happened
on those dates is fatally compromised
by the textual nature of the records that you have. And the one-time
clerk of Parliament, his name was John Rushworth, compiled the first documentary
history of this period in about 1680 or so. It’s called Rushworth’s
Collections. He has a preface where
he explicitly says this is a major
epistemological problem. How can we figure
out what the news was when every single news source is interested,
biased, fictitious in
one way or another. And what he says you should do is this thing
called concrediting, where you basically sit there with every newspaper you
can find covering a certain, they’re usually weekly,
so you cover a week. And you basically
cross-correlate the claims. So if you find that,
say, one newspaper claims that Prince Rupert had a dog that would charge
into battle with him, and it was black
and its name was… What’s the name of
Prince Rupert’s dog? I’ve actually forgotten the
name of Prince Rupert’s dog. But anyway, so-and-so. Then if one newspaper
reports this, it’s probably just because
they were trying to insinuate that Prince Rupert was a witch. If four or five report
this, then it’s probably, then its credibility is
four or five times as great because they probably come
from semi-independent sources. So it’s cross-correlating it. So he calls it concrediting. And something like
that is a sort of, there’s a sociology in the
history of practices like that that explain… That link the production of
news to the reception of news, and the way that news
operates in society. – You’re reminding me of
the book, Evening News, by Eileen Reeve, who is
another, Eileen Reeves, who’s another scholar
I thought about trying to bring in if we
had had even more reach to do this in, who was looking
at the dissemination of news right before 1600
when you would, they were starting to set up what you could call the
first news networks, which are people who
go to a big town, collect all the
copies of letters and whatever rumors
and so on they can get, and then get on a horse and
ride to a different town, and then either read
it aloud in a pub or present it at a court if there’s a local
count who has a court. Or sometimes if there’s
a printing press there, printed as a pamphlet
and it gets moved on. So the very first news networks are just a guy on a
horse who makes a career of going back and forth
between two cities as a disseminator of
the collected materials so that the process
of collecting it and then once you’re
collecting it, if you have more than one
source, cross-comparing, is a problem that they’re
already struggling with before 1600, but
much more after. – I actually have
to go in a second, but there’s another
interesting thing. So this last week in a different
class that I was teaching, we read a book by
historian Peter Lake called Bad Queen Bess, which
is about various things, but largely it’s about
Catholic representations of the nature of politics under Queen Elizabeth
I in England. So this is a Protestant regime. It’s oppositional
Catholics writing tracts that are sort of critical of
political policies in this era. And one of the things
about it is that there’s a common representation
among these Catholics that the Tudor
state is operating at a really Orwellian, sort
of thought police regime. Where not only do you have
to go through licensing or something like that, but
you’re really not allowed to think certain ways. And they’re incredibly
effective, they
say, the Catholics. And one of the weird
effects of that is that it changes how
you read, as it were, the unlicensed tracts. Everybody knows that
licensed newspapers are the voices of the times,
as Francis Bacon says. That they’re just gonna
get orthodox stuff. But there’s also
unlicensed tracts. If you’re a Catholic and you
believe that the government has a kind of Orwellian,
totalitarian control over everything and there
are still unlicensed tracts, you read the unlicensed tracts
as in some way coded parts of government discourse,
which is very odd. So you start looking in them for signs about maybe
factions within the state, or signs for what does the
state want you to think by impersonating
oppositional figures. And you get into this very
sort of strange spiral, interpret kind of
hermeneutic spiral about it. – [Ada] Interesting. – Sorry, Ada.
– Oh, the… The question is how one
can do concrediting, the risk with concrediting
is what if one newspaper, which made the story
about the prince’s dog and all the others are
copying it from the one that made the story about
the prince’s dog. Which is exactly what
you, Will, work on, the fact that newspapers
do exactly this, repeating news from others. And we had David
Copeland here last week who gave us a long
talk in the morning about a fake news
article about Lunarians from the 19th century that
The Sun ran a article, astronomer had gotten
detailed images of people living on the moon. And here they are and
here are pictures of them, and here’s their society, and
they have a utopian society, and they have these laws, and they have these
weird animals, and there are unicorns there. And The Sun is the
only source of this ’cause they made it up, but every newspaper
in the world ran it, and it ran in Italy,
and it ran everywhere, and nobody could deny that
they had copied it from The Sun ’cause it later turned
out to be a complete hoax. But nonetheless, if you
were trying to concredit in that way, you would have to do a lot of meticulous work
to trace it back and realize, oh, this is pinpoint one
source, not multiple sources. So that’s just a
constant challenge with the question
of concreditation and you have to look into
where the sources come from in effect.
– Yeah, it’s about, it becomes a kind
of forensic skill. But this is Will’s
world, of the– – Yeah.
– Well, no, I mean, I think, just to react a little
bit to what’s being said, I mean, I think absolutely. Just knowing that a
newspaper was published or how many copies were
printed doesn’t tell us much. We need to know how people
interacted with them and how the different
forms of media were weighed against each other. And for almost every period,
we see evidence of this, that people do read skeptically, that they do compare
sources and so on, and it’s not always easy, but the fact that they are
engaging in the process. So people do this
today too, right? And the question is are there
certain built-in features of the media system that make
this harder or easier to do, are there certain new
inertias that form that even if people
are skeptical, they have to work harder to
compare the different sources and to get out of
their filter bubbles. So I think absolutely. The history of news
is the history of the way people interact
with each other ’cause news doesn’t mean much outside of the
interactions that generated and the discussions
that follow from it. So we absolutely need to
have the history of reception at the center of this, and we need to think about
the way people interact with news today
and whether or not there are certain modifications
that we could make that would– – [Ada] Facilitate
concreditation. – Yeah.
– Facilitate other forms of critical thinking. – Yeah. – [Cory] One of the elements
there that’s come up that maybe we can connect is
the way that concreditation cuts against paywalls
and also exclusive rights to control links that, and I
had this debate once on stage with a very high-ranking member of the Democratic
Party, a politician, who was arguing for the public
good of The New York Times and why therefore they
should have a paywall so they can sustain themselves. And I reminded this politician
that The Times had also lied about the cause of
going into Iraq, and that if The Times controlled
our ability to link to it, then our ability to
criticize it the next time it did something so unworthy would be compromised by
our ability to pay to see what was behind
there in the archive and that this goes
several levels deep. It would also be
compromised by our right to make an archival
copy and display it, and compromised by our right
to link to them in this European Copyright
Directive perspective. And if we expect people to
do truth investigations, but in the service
of maintaining truth-seeking organizations, we limit their ability to do
those truth investigations, then we arrive at an impasse. – Yeah, I think, I mean, I think one of the
most troubling things
about Article 11 that you’re referring
to is that it… The publishers know that
if they stayed in the realm of normal copyright law,
they would not be able to get internet platforms to pay them. They would not be
able to use the law to get internet platforms
to pay for the use of short snippets or
headlines of news. There’s too many exceptions
that have grown up, and for good reasons. And often it’s been
cases involving news that have created these
distinctions and exceptions. But for example,
the Berne Convention that most countries are members
of has a quotation right, so there’s an
exception to copyright that you can quote from works, and in particular,
there’s the quotation in the form of press summaries. And this is very important
for a pluralistic press for people to be able to report what other news
organizations are reporting, and to perform a
kind of aggregation so that we can see what
the different versions of the story are and so on. And the other thing
is the exception for short phrases and titles, which have almost always
been excluded from copyright. It would be very difficult to, if you want to claim a
copyright on a title, that means nobody can cite
the title in exchange, in an investigation and
a critical commentary. So they know this. And they also know that
under European law, a lot of short phrases
wouldn’t rise to the level of intellectual
effort of an author in order to generate copyright. So they’re creating
this separate right, which is a neighboring right, based on the investment
of publishers. And aside from the fact
that we don’t think it’s actually going to
work, it does indeed pose this danger
that it cuts against the important
exceptions that we need to be able to cite
other people’s work, to be able to link to it, to be able to use short
extracts and so on to be able to search
for things that we need and comment on them. – You’re reminding me of
some of the discussions we had about fair use
and the trickiness of fair use as a metric. There is fair use policy and
fair use country by country, but within the U.S.,
there are circumstances where just reproducing
this without modification would violate copyright, but
reproducing this work of art and discussing it is fair use, and so you’re allowed to
have the image, maybe. But the edges of what is
fair use and what isn’t are very fuzzy, how
long a quotation are
you allowed to have before it stops being fair
use or not is very fuzzy. And often the practical reality
is that it depends entirely on the litigiousness of
the copyright holder. Whether they will come
after you and sue you for doing the thing or not, which is actually what
usually determines whether you practically
can do this, buffered to some extent by
your own financial position and power and whether
you are part of a group that affords to have
a lawyer on staff whose job it is to defend
you from a litigious company versus whether
you’re an individual. But it’s very well-known
among people who do reporting, who do the making
of fan music videos, who do all sorts of things, which companies are
and aren’t pushier and more litigious, and
therefore difficult to work it. So for example,
anime music videos are a large fan-produced thing. Fans take footage out
of their favorite anime, they set it to a piece of music, and they make a new thing. And some producers
and licensors of anime consider this an
excellent practice ’cause it’s basically
free advertising. Instead of them putting
together a trailer, someone else has put
together a trailer, and it circulates, and it
makes people interested in the success of the show. And there have been
series that have been made into bestsellers, Princess
Tutu, for example, which contrary to what
the title, Princess Tutu, might imply, is an incredibly
dark, gritty, grim fantasy, and was an absolute flop when
it first came out in the U.S. because it was
called Princess Tutu. But then a major fan-made
video circulated, and it became a
success as a result. But there are other
companies, notably Disney, which holds the licenses
for the Miyazaki movies, which will come after
you in an instant if you circulate any fan-made
material that features them. To the degree that at one point, when I was working
with Anime Boston, an anime convention in Boston, we had an event called
the Anime Dating Game where people dressed
up as anime characters would do the Dating
Game and it was funny, and people filmed it
and put it on YouTube. And they got a cease
or desist order whenever the person
was doing a costume from something that
Disney had the rights to. Now, this is
absolutely fair use, and if there had been a lawsuit, the person who made the costume would almost certainly have won. But there is no way that
this 15-year-old cosplayer who enthusiastically
hand-stitched her beautiful Ursula outfit would be able to spend
the man hours and money on a lawsuit to
defend this video, so the video goes
down simply because of the litigiousness
of the rights holder, having nothing to do with
whether it falls under fair use or doesn’t fall under fair use. So when that happens, you
have a situation where fair use is more robustly useful for someone who works
for a larger company that has a team of lawyers
ready to defend you, again privileging the
ability to speak of larger organizations
against individuals in smaller organizations. – Yeah, I mean, the strength
and the weakness of fair use is the flexibility and the fact that it has to be interpreted, so if you don’t,
if you aren’t sure, chances are, you won’t do it. You’ll self-censor,
and that’s the problem. There was a study about, oh,
about six or seven years ago of journalists
and whether or not journalists understood fair use and the extent to which they
used it to do their work, because journalists
have to all the time be reproducing text or images that belongs to a rights holder, but there are certain
exceptions that they can use for the purposes of
reporting a current event. But it turned out in this survey that journalists
weren’t fully aware of what the limits of
what they could do, and in fact, the way
they did their job was mostly based on
whatever in-house traditions had been set up, what were
things we need to avoid, what are things that we
should and should not do. And based on this survey, Peter Jaszi and
Patricia Aufderheide, who’ve worked a lot on creating
codes of best practices for fair use, they’ve done this
with documentary filmmakers, they’ve done it with educators, they’ve done it with
journalists, and so on, trying to actually
educate people and show them what they can
and cannot do with fair use. Because otherwise, people
will indeed self-censor and not take advantage of it. – ‘Cause you want to err on
the side of protecting yourself from a life-destroying
legal problem most of the time.
– Yeah, as Larry Lessig says, fair use is the right
to hire a lawyer. – [Ada] Yeah. – [Cory] Guys, I
have to go as well. It’s my 10th
wedding anniversary. (Ada chuckles) (audience clapping) Thank you. All credit to my wife. (Ada chuckles)
But I have to go get ready. – All right, thank you for joining us.
– We’re going to Disneyland. All right, talk to you later. – Do we have other questions? I’m sure we do. Are there questions
people would like, yes? So the question is about
benefactor funding models, when you have a wealthy
person who gives money to fund a chunk of journalism or a university
or an equivalent, and whether, how
that is affected by, or affect the degree to
which there’ll be an agenda, or a particular bias,
or a particular focus, whether it’s a political one or serving the economic
interests of that benefactor, et cetera, and how
those feature in. – I mean, the problem
with this as a model is it all depends on how benign or how committed the
person is to the product. So at the moment, this has sort
of given a new lease on life to the Washington Post, and everything seems
to be going okay, and they’ve got access to
greater funds, and so on. But is that sustainable, I
mean, what happens afterwards? That’s why I think something
like a foundation model is sort of more
interesting as a long-term, something where the community
that’s invested in it can actually sustain it
and you’re not dependent on the whims of a single person. So the whims of a single person can end up with a
very positive product, but it could also end up
with something quite toxic. I mean, that’s sort of
the problem with that. And I certainly agree that
the old advertising model was not perfect either, and that we need to sort
of think beyond that. – To expand on that, I think
one of the big differences, there are different ways
that benefactor-based funding of anything can happen. And one is the relationship
with the benefactor continues. The benefactor writes
a new check every year. The benefactor continues
to be involved. The other is the
benefactor sets it up and steps away.
– As a trust, or something, yeah.
– And has no future power over that thing. And those two are very, very
different from each other, because you can have a
person who sets it up, provides the endowment
or whatever it is, and says, you are the people
I wanna put in charge, go, and then steps back and
has no future capacity to interfere with that process. And that creates a much
freer and opener space than when there is a
continued relationship, whether that continued
relationship is a
check every year or even when that
continued relationship is the hope of another
check from that donor. And if you talk, for example, to the fundraising
branches of this university and other universities,
they’ve observed over time that when they’re
dealing with donors, donors are getting
much less willing to just give a chunk of money, and much more desirous
of giving a bit, and then a bit more,
and then a bit more, and earmarking exactly what
the donations are gonna be for. This donation is gonna be
specifically for financial aid, specifically in this field, specifically for
this type of student. That it becomes nearly
impossible to get people to just
give money and say, I trust you to decide
how to use this money. And if Cory were here,
he talks delightfully about something he
called a Ulysses compact. So the reference
is in the Odyssey, there’s the moment where Ulysses wants to hear the
song of the sirens. And so he tells his
men, tie me to the mast, and no matter what you do,
don’t untie me from the mast. And his men tie him to the mast, and as they’re going
past the sirens, he’s begging them, untie
me, untie me, untie me, but he made that compact and
they won’t, and so he can’t. And in the Odyssey,
it saves his life. Cory uses this to
talk about code and making code open access
because you’ll develop a thing and you’ll support the
principles of open access and you’ll support
the principles of making this
available to everyone. And then at some point,
someone will come and say, we will give you a
life-changing amount of money if you let us license the thing. And it’s very different
at that moment to look at that
life-changing amount of money and look at what it
would mean for you, and what it’d mean for your
power to help your friends, to help political movements, you support to help
dozens of different things that you realize
you could do good at if you didn’t
release that thing. But if when you first
made it you released it and it’s out there,
you’re tied to the mast. You can’t change it. And it creates a situation
in which you have armored your current principles
against your future self, against your future
self’s weakness, and your future self’s
capacity to be swayed by perceiving how
much you could do if you changed your mind. So in that sense, when
we’re talking about creating a foundation
to support the news, if it’s a foundation
where the donor is gonna come back every
year and at any moment they could decide
they didn’t like what that news foundation
was doing and stop, then you’re gonna have,
even if that person never actually demands
a particular bias, you’re gonna have the fear on the part of the journalist
of wanting to please the interests of that figure. But if it were done
with a Ulysses compact, if it were here is the
money, select a board, I cannot affect this
further, I am stepping aside, that’s how you can
have a foundation that nonetheless is
armored against bias based on at least the
funding source as a threat. But the other thing I would
wanna say on that topic is just every funding
source is hackable, just as every way of setting
up a government is hackable. And they all have failure modes, and democracy is hackable
and has a failure mode. And monarchy is hackable
and has a failure mode. And aristocracy is hackable
and has a failure mode. And the insane Florentine
Renaissance system of picking citizens
at random out of a bag and making them be in
charge of the state for two to three months
at a time arbitrarily while locked in a
tower (chuckles), I kid you not, was hackable. All systems are hackable. But if you diversify the
number of different things, they aren’t all hackable by
the same failing condition. So if you have your journalism
all be funded by advertising, then something that makes
the advertising revenue be undermined will undermine
your whole journal. But if your journal has
subscribers and advertising, and people who pay
a dollar a week to have the crossword
puzzle one day in advance, and sells anthologies of
the cartoons that it runs and gets some of
the money from that, and has two or three
other funding models, and has a donor who
makes it be a foundation, then even when the donor
becomes corrupt and terrible, the other revenue
streams are still there. So following the same principle that the founders of
the American experiment took from Montesquieu’s
spirit of the laws of the idea of having
division of government so that there are
different branches, and the different branches
have different hackabilities, different failure modes. So similarly as we think about
funding something important, whether that thing
is a university, or whether that
thing is journalism, if we can diversify
the funding streams, it becomes buffered against the different
historical circumstances and political pressures that can trigger the
failure mode of any one of those funding streams. So the question is
about sponsored content, when the show, Orange
is the New Black, funds, pays for a newspaper
to run a series on prisons, it’s journalism, it’s
also advertising, what is it, how does it mesh
with news and news history. – There’s a long
history of this. You look at the rise
of advertising agencies in the 19th century,
this is one thing that they figured
out very early on. They had a power very early on. They said, we’ll give you
X number of advertisements and we’ll pay for them, but you’ve also gotta
run it next to a story which drops references
to this product, or more discreetly,
as you’re suggesting, is on a topic that is
related to a thing. So newspapers have had to deal
with this for a long time. It’s always been there, and I think that is
one of the problems of the advertising model. – Who wrote that
great work on bread? There was a great
book on sliced bread, which we have this expression, the greatest thing
since sliced bread, which really means it’s the
greatest thing since 1912. But it’s a book on
the dissemination of the practice of buying
your bread in a grocery store as opposed to buying your bread, baking your bread at home. And that up until,
through the 1910s, something like 70 or
80% of America’s bread was baked in the home. And by 1925 or so,
it had reversed, and 80% of it is being
bought in stores, and one of the things that
happened in that transition is that huge marketing campaigns for store-bought bread,
for scientific bread with pictures of men
in white lab coats producing bread which
looks like a rocket ship, or at least it’s long and thin and it’s next to a
picture of a rocket ship. The idea that it was
carefully balanced by scientists who
knew more than you about what was healthy for
your family, et cetera. And the advertisements
for the bread were run alongside these exposes that the bread
companies paid for about the bad
hygiene of bakeries. And part of it was
a xenophobia thing, these bakeries being
run by immigrants, and you don’t know
what they’re allowing to be near the bread. That was using
sponsorship of articles in conjunction with
sponsorship of advertisements to create a market for a product that had not been a
marketed product before. So this is a very old problem within advertising-oriented
journalism. – Could I change the subject a little bit?
– Yeah, please do. – Because this class is about
the history of censorship and information control, and this week is particularly
about copyright and news, so I wanted to just
maybe make explicit some of the connections here. And I know that in one
of the earlier sessions, Adrian Johns talked about
how copyright has its origins in state censorship practices. That, in fact, the
licensing regimes, or the privileged regimes
of early modern Europe were you give
permission to a printer to print a particular book, so you’re authorizing
it as a censor, and you give them
that exclusively so that they are the only person who can print that
particular book. And you can also do it with
different kinds of works, so that’s where that comes from. The crucial distinction
is when the censorship and copyright are separated
in the 18th century, and that’s when you start
to get thinking about there’s gonna be some
other purpose to it besides just controlling
who does what. And as early as
the 18th century, people were starting to worry
about the idea that copyright could be used as a
tool of censorship. So there was a debate at
the end of the 18th century and the example
that was given was, well, what if a political figure does something corrupt
or something dangerous, and somebody writes
a pamphlet about it, and then that political
figure, administer of state, or whatever, buys up
the whole print run and buys the copyright so that nobody can
produce it anymore. He would therefore restrict
and use censorship, you use copyright as
a means of censorship. In other words, using
the monopoly right to not allow information
or whatever to circulate. – [Ada] Well, and this
is certainly done– – Seems like something
that we’ve moved beyond, but I just wanted to
say that just yesterday, I read that in Germany, there’s a case going
through the courts where there was a
leak of documents. So every week, the German
military produces a report of what the military is doing. And this is given to certain
members of the legislature, it’s given to certain
members of the government. Some of them decided to
leak this to the media. A newspaper ran with it,
started printing excerpts from these military reports
and commenting on them. And the German
government decided, well, if we try to censor this, if
we try to say this is about state national security,
we’re gonna be acting in a censorship way, and this
is gonna create a backlash and a public outcry. So we’re not gonna do this. Instead, we’re gonna sue them
for copyright infringement because they didn’t
have the right to reproduce these
military reports. So this is now in the courts, and the German court has asked
the European Court of Justice to determine a point of a law. Two points, actually. Can a military report
of just brute facts be subject to copyright? And two, if it can, can a
government use copyright to limit reporting
on current events? And we don’t know what the
European Court of Justice is gonna say, but yesterday, the advocate general, who
is an independent lawyer who’s appointed to give an
opinion to the Court of Justice, in other words, I
have studied the issue and I think this is how the
point of law should be decided, said that first of
all, he doesn’t think that a military report, which
is just times and places, and names, and
dates, and movements, can be copyrighted
’cause it doesn’t arise to the level of
intellectual effort. And secondly, even
if it could be, that would be a restriction
on freedom of expression, and freedom of expression is
a fundamental human right, and although it has to be
subject to other rights like property right
and copyright, a state can’t use its
property right in a text to limit discussion
and expression, of freedom of expression. So this tension between
censorship and copyright is playing out right now even though we don’t think
a state would do that. It’s surprising that
they ran this way, but they were doing it again ’cause they didn’t wanna look
like they were censoring. And yet, the copyright
can be used that way. – Well, it’s very parallel
to what I talked about with New Zealand’s early
enforcement of obscenity law through the postal system. That New Zealand didn’t
have a censor’s office in the 1890s yet, but they
did have a postal system, and so they could empower
their postal system to open all packages
arriving in New Zealand and to confiscate
– Sure. – goods that they considered
to be against a particular law. It’s a government using
a different branch that was developed
for a different reason to attempt to circumscribe
the movement of information. And that’s why this
project always tries to use the phrase censorship and
information control together. Because they can’t ever be
separated from each other. Because things
such as copyright, which we think of as, yes,
it’s information control, but it doesn’t aim to silence, can always be used to silence, or at least attempt
to be used to silence in different circumstances. And it’s very difficult,
if not impossible, to create any system
of information control, which cannot be reused
to silence strategically by someone who’s sitting
down in a clever way to figure that out. So just as we looked
at the 1951 case where the budgeting
of school clubs here at the
University of Chicago was used to shut down The Maroon because they had a
communist editor, the budgeting system
for school clubs is in no way designed to
be a mode of censorship. But it could operate as one. And because systems
of information control are indeed oriented
around information and about circumscribing
the movement of information, it’s even easier for
those to be repurposed for purposes of
silencing and censoring than most other
parallel structures which have and can be
repurposed for this end. I don’t think we touched
quite as much as I’d hoped, so I’ll use our
remaining minutes to poke at this a little bit, about the importance
of thinking about elite versus
non-elite consumption of these kinds of materials, particularly for the
pre-modern world, and this is a
funny thing to say. But over and over, I
see us underestimating the literacy of
illiterate people. Because we look at these
numbers about earlier centuries, and we see it has
a 30% literacy rate or it’s a 50% literacy
rate, et cetera, and we sort of act
as if that means there’s this large
slice of the population that is unaffected by
what’s happening in print. That doesn’t hear about
and doesn’t care about the debates that are
happening in print. So there’s a scene in
Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in which a balladmonger
comes to the rural farm. And there are the farmers
who gather around, and this is a balladmonger
and he’s an itinerant peddler, the kind who goes around
selling little ribbons, and little icons of
saints, and little things, and part of what he’s selling
are little printed pamphlets that are a ballad, and
it’ll have a new tune, and it’ll have lyrics,
or it’ll have lyrics to sing to an old tune, and some of them will be
political and will be news. It’ll be about the
marriage of the prince, or it’ll be about the siege
that just happened somewhere. And others will be a love
story or a scandal rag, but these ballads are a
form of news dissemination and in this scene in
Shakespeare’s play, the shepherds all gather
around him and say, tell me what this one says,
tell me what this one says, what are they about,
asking the balladmonger to tell them, who cannot read, what the ballads are about, and they then buy
all of his ballads. Because there is
this large market among illiterate consumers
for buying literary material because they’re going to
take it to a literate friend, often to the pastor,
or the local priest, and have it read aloud
to them, and memorize it, and have it and
have access to it through that secondary medium. And there’s a practice
of people going to pubs and reading aloud the news
in those public spaces. And a number that always
blows people’s minds, book historians who’ve looked
at quantitative material, looking at the publication of
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which is this formative,
inflammatory pamphlet that is a big part of the
intellectual discourse around the American Revolution. More copies of Common
Sense were printed than there were people
living in the colonies, and yet the literacy
rate is well below 50%. So what does this mean,
it means the market for Common Sense isn’t
about reading it. The market for Common
Sense is about having it, about participating,
about feeling that you’re part of this community. So these illiterate
people care very deeply about elite debates over whether
John Locke or Thomas Hobbes is correct about their readings
of human nature, which, filtered through Thomas Paine, turn into the political
foundations of the U.S. So there’s a vast participation
in what we would think of as the unlearned slice
of the population in what we think of as
the most learned things that are going on in a society through these interpenetrations. And I think we tend to exclude
that from the way we imagine the consumption of
information in the past, and thus I think we probably
also do so in the present. And when we’re talking
about the graffiti wall next to Adrian Johns’ house, we’re talking about an
indispensable component of what transmits
and shapes our ideas just as Thomas Paine’s Common
Sense did in the 1770s. And then the comment, we have
a librarian in the audience, and it’s always valuable
to call on librarians in any circumstance, but
the general observation that lack of formal
education doesn’t mean that a person is stupid, nor in the broader
sense does it mean that the person is disengaged
from major debates. People are deeply
engaged in major debates and access them through
innumerable channels, which are all part of
this network we call news. And on that front, we will
see you next week for more. Thank you, all. (audience clapping)

2 thoughts on “4: News, Politics and the Ownership of Information

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