The Telegraph and Globalization of Information

In a previous reading by Baldasty (1992) we learned that news is a social construct, carefully engineered to supply the market demand.  Given this, we can conclude that the natural biases of news writers shape and distort the perceptions of news audiences. Historically, due to the confines of time and space, news was controlled by a central (urban) hub that shaped and controlled the perceptions of the (rural) recipients.  Our readings this week focus on how the telegraph overcame the traditional barriers of time and space to globalize knowledge and power.

Carey (1989) attempts a revisionist history exploring the often overlooked role of the telegraph in shaping news culture in the nineteenth century.  In the same way that Ong demonstrates how the invention of print permanently changed language, Carey contends that the telegraph permanently altered communication and knowledge.  He explores how the telegraph allowed, for the first time in history, the separation of communication from transportation and this permanently transformed western cultural orientation away from the local, and replaced it with the global.

Carey and Blondheim (1994) explain that the telegraph necessitated short communications and so any non-factual information was stripped out of newswire reports.  This caused the news to become more objective and less regionally biased so that geographical location no longer determined power.  However, while Innis and McLuhan contend that the telegraph destroyed the traditional knowledge monopoly of the urban news centres, Blondheim argues that the telegraph only reinforced the knowledge monopoly. In his analysis news was still controlled by a central entity, the star player had just changed from print news outlets to telegraph companies.

Both Rantanen (1997) and Allen (2006) explore the imbalances and dependencies between global and national news agencies. Similar to Carey, Rantanen contends that the telegraph’s historical significance has been overlooked by media scholars and she presents a detailed study of its significance to the process of globalization and in the formation of information monopolies by global news agencies.  Rantanen maintains that news is only valuable if it is recent.  Global news agencies realized this and leveraged their massive reach to supply more news faster.  News became a global commodity sold to businesses, governments and smaller national news agencies and since only global news agencies could maintain the supply, they held an information monopoly.  Allen reinforces Rantanen’s arguements with a detailed analysis of how global news organizations held power over smaller national agencies and uses the relationship between the Associated Press and Canadian Press as a case study.  Even though the CP knew that AP news was potentially biased, more expensive, and came with strict subsidiary rights, they had to meet their consumers demands by supporting AP’s monopoly.

Together these studies provide insight into how the telegraph permanently changed modern culture in the areas of religion, language, and ideology.  However perhaps the most significant effect of the telegraph is its role in creating and reinforcing capitalist monopolies by irreversibly shifting power away from local agencies, and towards large multinational conglomerates.


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