News surrounds us. We take part in it, create it, write it and, ultimately, consume it. However. it is a term that is remarkably hard to pin down. What is news? At its broadest, it can be defined as information about current events, about things going on in our world. From the small and mundane issues, like being updated about an air traffic controller strike at an airport from where you are due to get a flight, to the major issues affecting a nation and which have far-reaching consequences, such as an election or political scandal, news plays a central role in everyone’s lives. While technology has enabled people to consume news to a far greater degree than at any time in the past, there has always been a curiosity and need for people to get new information about the world around them.
The history of journalism
Before widespread literacy and the invention of news media, like newspapers, travellers were questioned, as a matter of urgency, about developments in parts of the world they have journeyed from or through. It is an innate part of human curiosity to know what is going on.
With the development of centralised states, many rulers issued codes of law so that they would become well known by the public. Figures like Hammurabi and Draco feature as near mythical archetypes of the lawgiver. It was important that citizens knew the laws so that they would not break them. From there it was a relatively short step to governments issuing updates on what they were doing, with new laws and court decisions featuring heavily. This was the beginning of the gazette, with the Acta Diurna of ancient Rome being one of the earliest examples. Made public by Julius Caesar, legislation, judicial rulings as well as high profile births, deaths and marriages were inscribed on metal or stone tablets and put up in the forum of Rome. These proclamations ended with the formula Publicare et propagare, or ‘Make public and propagate’. From these developments it is clear that throughout history it was recognised that It was important that citizens were given information about what was going on.
These sources of information were all controlled by governments though. There were informal means of spreading information and news though, outside the reach of the state, but for most of history this was only possible through word of mouth. That would change in the 15th Century with the invention in Western Europe of the movable type printing press. This enabled the rapid production of a large amount of written material, putting many monks out of business. The rapid spread of new ideas through the printed book caused many ruptures with European society, most notably with the ideas of Martin Luther which led to the Reformation. Due to the revolutionary nature of the printing press many administrations sought to control the printing press. That changed in 1695 when the Licensing Order of 1643, which reintroduced press censorship in England after a brief cessation caused by the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1640, was not renewed by Parliament. Anyone could publish without the preapproval of the authorities.
The printing press and the role of journalism
Many new publications emerged in the 18th century after the lapse of the order, including modern papers such as The Times and The Observer, both in England and its colonies in North America. The free flow of ideas among the emerging middle class sowed the seeds for the triumph of the Thirteen Colonies in the War of Independence. The importance of a free press was underlined by its recognition as a fundamental aspect of a properly functioning democratic society in the US constitution, the only profession protected by that document.
Journalism scrutinised the government and allowed a way for citizens to voice their dissatisfaction with certain policies. The audience newspapers had was enough that a letter campaign by Junius, a pseudonym used by this individual to protect their anonymity, was enough to bring down the Prime Minister of the day. Similarly, Woodward and Bernstein were able to end the Nixon presidency after the Watergate scandal through their reporting in the Washington Post two centuries later.
Without access to this means of communication corruption would continue without being checked. People need to have access to this knowledge if they are to make fully informed decisions about how to act in society. Beyond the basic goings on of the day to day running of a country, and how officials act in their capacities as public agents, analysis and opinion about how this should be done are also vital. Without this, scandals go on uncovered and breaking the law goes unpunished. The ability for people to get accurate news is necessary for a nation to be well run and for its elected powers to be held accountable.
The news media landscape, though, has fragmented. Often people are being given information with a political motive in mind. The issue of fake news has come to the fore during the fallout of recent elections, including the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election of 2016. Manipulation by entrenched powers has become a prominent talking point by media across the globe.
Mogul News is designed to get rid of even the possibility of fake news being hosted on the platform. But an equally important consideration is that news must be accessible to everyone. With the fragmentation of the media market and the move toward a subscription economy, it is becoming harder and more expensive for a person to get all the news they need to make informed decisions. This needs to come from across the political spectrum, so people do not fall into the trap of echo chambers, another major talking point of recent years.
How did echo chambers emerge?
Echo chambers emerge when people select to read only the sources of news which will back up their preconceived notions of how the world is or should be. This is often not a conscious choice, but one driven by the rise of social media where stories are shared by friends and acquaintances who share the same political leanings. With people consuming more and more news through social media, echo chambers are part of the problem of an increasingly polarised electorate. The inconvenience and cost of scouring multiple sites to get a full picture of how the world works will be alleviated by Mogul News. By gathering reports and opinion from a diverse range of established publishers, as well as allowing independent journalists and passionate individuals an audience to share and spread their insight and analysis to, Mogul News will make it easy for people to get the full picture. Intellectual mining will allow even those unable to pay the low subscription cost the opportunity to consume this important content.
News is a public good. It is vital to a properly working society. We are working hard to overcome some of the issues which the rise of the internet has had on news media. While it has challenged how things are done in the past, the web also offers many ways to fix things. Just as the printing press sparked a revolution in how people learnt about new happenings in the world, the internet is the next technological step. And while there were many struggles sparked by what the printing press made possible, the same can be seen during the short history of the internet, there were also many new possibilities. Our app is aimed at fixing those problems and taking advantage of those possibilities.
We would love to hear what you think about this and what we are doing with the platform.