"O, Fortuna. Velut Luna, statu variabilis," may sound like a phrase few in the audience have heard. But most television viewers have.

It's the opening line to Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" and gets trotted out for commercials and trailers requiring dramatic music accompaniment, armies clashing, events swirling on a cataclysmic level. It means "Oh, fortune, ever changing like the moon."  And in the word of print journalism, it seems very appropriate right now.

But what print does has not been static. The modern standard, objective journalism, is very out of the ordinary in historical terms. In the 1800s, newspapers were largely an outgrowth of legal publishing and political party propaganda. Small towns had their fiercely partisan Whig and Democratic, later Republican and Democratic papers. In the Midwest, many towns have a company that owns both nominally partisan publication, and one usually has only minimal circulation, to attract legal advertising no matter which party controlled the purse.

Even the smallest newspaper carried national and international news and until the Civil War, there was little local news. Most people knew what was going on in their own areas. The pipeline was to hear from the outside world. Newspapers carried fiction, often serialized fiction, filling the role that magazines now play.

About the 1890s, news became increasingly sensational. Papers would reprint stories from remotely communities and go into great detail about grisly deaths in a way that doesn't occur today, even in supermarket tabloids.

Styles changed and the ability to print black and white photographs made their way into the set of tools. In the mid 1900s, television began killing off afternoon city dailies. But the model stayed fairly intact and the tone, what I call the journalist-in-a-bubble, the observer who simply reports and does not affect events, remained the gold standard for reporting. Of course, pockets of advocacy and partisan journalism remained (Think New York Post).

The Web changes all that. We don't know quite how yet. It seems clear that the Internet has elements of broadcast journalism and greater requirement for entertainment (news has always been partly entertainment).  Despite the talk of disintermediation, there is probably a greater need for those to sort through and interpret the swarm of data.


Personality counts, think of Matt Drudge, an early example of somebody punching through the traditional media.

There will be more Drudges. But about the only things we know for sure is that print is greatly diminished.

 And that things change. And always have.

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