Free News in a Linked World
We usually classify communication media in three categories: published media, broadcast media and what Chris Chesher calls “invocational media”.1 The published media include newspapers, magazines and books. Radio and television are broadcast media — I would add speech as a nontechnological broadcast medium also. Invocational media represent communication tools used on interactive and networked digital computers.2 News delivery is present on every communication medium. I will look at the difference in value of the content between the media. And I will explain how the World Wide Web — as a new invocational medium — will bring back a public discourse based on logic and reason. And how it will re-democratize the libertarian press.
In published media — the oldest technological news distribution method — news is provided on a physical support on which alphabetical characters and images are printed. The support — a newspaper for example — must be distributed, and the user must acquire it. There is a sense of possession, of ownership evoked by the object. The content is made of texts, photographs and illustrations. It is self contained and can be consulted anywhere, at any time and in any way.
Broadcast media are part of late nineteenth and twentieth century’s technological innovation. The technology behind broadcast news is based on linear streams of communicative content emitted from a base and transmitted through different means — copper cable or wave for example. To be able to view or hear the news, the user must acquire a receiving machine. Content is sent in real time and has no physical representation. News can be transmitted as it happens, but the user must be available when the newscast is emitted, or else there is no communication and the information is lost. Content of radio broadcast is essentially audible: music, sound and voice; television adds the moving picture to audio.
In the last three decades, a new type of media emerged: invocational media. Its basis of news delivery is the willingness of the user to request — or invoke — the provider’s content. The same sense of possession as of the published media exists, but instead of acquiring the physical object containing the news, one acquires the bits of the news, as Nicholas Negroponte 3 would say. Invocational media are similar to broadcast media in the sense that the user must possess a machine to request and receive the content. But there is no time restriction, the bits are waiting for the user to request them. Bits are interpreted, so there is almost no limitation of language: translation programs are getting quite suitable; and there is no accessibility issue: the content can be presented through speech synthesis machines, on computers screens, it can be printed on paper, on Braille printers, and so on. They can be made available as it happens and can easily be kept in archives. Invocational media can contain...