Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Typewriters, 60 Minutes, and the citizen media

New York University professor Jay Rosen has a post -- and hosts an extensive debate in his comments -- about the CBS documents scandal.

He makes four interesting predictions:
  • Dan Rather's staking his authority on the claim -- or staking the claim on his authority -- will raise the issue to the level of "cultural theatre."

  • The timing of the documents' release will become part of the issue.

  • "Right inside the door of the CBS scandal there is a Dirty Tricks scandal waiting to come to light." Who released the "documents" to CBS? Why now?

  • Ordinary citizens "in pajamas" now have the ability to fact check the mainstream media.

I like type, and I've been fascinated at the "History of Typewriting" I've been learning from this. I was a typist in the mid-'70s, later learning word processing, later learning typesetting and now living in a font-intensive world. I don't claim to be an expert, but I've seen how fonts changed over the years. The overlay of the Times New Roman with the "30-year-old memo" persuades me that it's a forgery.

But even more significant than the development of Times New Roman is the development of the citizen media. Dan Rather can say, "You must trust me, because I'm Dan Rather," but people have other alternatives to "Trust [Dan Rather] and Obey." The elitist media say that the citizens have no ethics, no standards and no training, but the situation seems largely to be the opposite. The ethics are the basic ones of honesty and balance, and the standards are the logical fallacies that used to be part of Freshman Composition classes. As for the training, what does Dan Rather know about fonts? About Air National Guard formats? About the history of typewriters and typesetting?

The Internet-based citizen media gives freedom of the press to the one who can't afford one -- and even to people who don't have time to do more than drop a comment into someone else's "press." That's more different than Dan Rather could ever have imagined, and it couldn't have risen up to bite a more appropriate subject.

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