Journalism in the Next Society

More tentative thoughts on journalism as a function system.

In the Next Society (see Dirk Baecker) information is abundant and is therefore shared. Those who have enough share with those who do not have enough. Information is not a scarce commodity managed by the money economy (the economic system). Journalism began establishing its autonomy (roughly in the 17th century) by separating itself from the political and religious systems. It furthers this movement by distancing itself from the economy as news becomes abundant and is shared.

System autonomy does not mean that systems exist in their own universe, isolated from everything else. Clearly, journalism could not have established itself without a money-based economy; money was needed to fund the production of newspapers.  Human beings were needed to write, distribute, and read the news. Printing presses were needed to print it. But all of these elements are excluded from the news/non-news communication system which is journalism. Journalism is a special kind of communication, and its boundaries are communication boundaries, or meaning boundaries.

Systems are not objects in the old ontological sense; they are differences–system/environment differences. For journalism, autonomy means that news is made from news. One news event, which is publication of information, serves as the premise for subsequent news.

Journalism exists within an environment that includes everything that can possibly influence, perturb, or even destroy journalism. The economy, human journalists, news organizations, governments, and material technologies all exist in journalism’s environment. Journalism is simultaneously dependent on and independent of its environment. Journal can and must be influence by its environment; however, journalism selects the environmental irritations it is influenced by and builds structures to process those irritations into meaningful communication. Nothing in the environment can force journalism to interpret environmental irritations in a particular way. For instance, journalism can stop selecting printing presses as an element it can be influenced by. It can also de-select governmental and religious censors. It simply no longer recognizes these censors, as these censors do not make a relevant difference.

Increasing system autonomy means that environmental elements such as printing presses and the whole infrastructure of transporting the news to the public can gradually be dispensed with—printing plants, trucks to carry the newspapers, newspaper carriers to sell or to toss the papers onto doorsteps, etc.

With the ICT revolution, news can be shared among readers, and advertisers pay for most of the cost as they always have. Sophisticated, expensive databases can be supported by universities and governments, which ultimately means the public through taxes, tuition fees, philanthropic grants, etc. But these costs will likely come down as the technology develops.

The public belongs to the journalism system (not its environment), insofar as it closes the communication loop by sharing news, which turns news into non-news. Journalistic communication thus crosses the boundary between news and non-news.


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