In any circle it is very easy to recognize a journalist: he is the one who is speaking badly about journalism. It wasn’t always like this. Machado de Assis wrote on October 23, 1859 a laudatory chronicle about the press. It’s called “The Reform through the Newspaper”. It starts like this: “There was something that made the aristocracies tremble more than the popular movements; it was the newspaper”.
The chronicle of Machado, at the time a journalist in his early 20s, celebrated the expansion of the domain of the word: “The press, which embodied the idea in the book, (…) still felt trapped by some obstacle; ( …) opened a dam that prevented it, and launched itself (…) to the new open bed: the parchment will be the submerged Atlantis”.
Almost 164 years later, the word has broken boundaries that did not fit even in the imagination of a writer like Machado de Assis. The text broke the dependency relationship it maintained with the paper of books and newspapers. As if radio and television were not enough, the verb began to compete for space in the internet’s electron clouds with memes and tricks.
Faced with so many means of propagation, the press itself became news. Communication vehicles began to live in a foggy season, shaken by an atmosphere that mixed contestation and hypercompetition. Vitaminized by the algorithm, the stuffing disguised itself as information.
Accustomed to nourishing itself from other people’s crises, the thin press, in the middle of the Media Age, talks about its own crisis. If the author of “Dom Casmurro” could rewrite the 1859 chronicle, he might change the title. Instead of “The Newspaper Reform”, he would write: “The Newspaper Reform”. Or, even better: “The Destruction by the Nets”.
The American linguist Noam Chomsky once wrote that the press operates under the effects of the economic system. According to his reasoning, the media are nothing more than “huge companies, which are part of even bigger conglomerates”. Such conglomerates are, in turn, “integrated with the state-private nexus that dominates economic and political life”.
That’s when the digital superconglomerates emerged. Operating above the state and outside the law, they became supranational enterprises. Barely comparing, the big tech platforms have become parallel and self-sufficient monarchies. In them, monetization reigns. If the illicit activity is profitable, it passes as lawful through the hypothetical network monitoring filter.
The networks liars lie in are more important than their lies. Platforms hacked by criminals are more relevant than their crimes. Likewise, the Internet’s illegitimate children are much more journalistic than its legitimate children.
If it weren’t for the stench, nobody would value the perfume. Smelly, social networks highlighted, by contrast, the aromatic emanations that exude from journalism. The news produced by professionals in the field became the ideal place for the emergence of an entirely new environment. Chaos abounds.
Before the social media boom, French sociologist Alain Touraine was one of the few voices to temper criticism of the press with a reminder that served as a counterpoint to Noam Chomsky’s acidity. He highlighted the importance of the media as “an indispensable and increasingly important locus of public life”.
Today, journalism is becoming a genre of prime importance. It is so necessary that the big techs pirate the news without paying them. In addition to scrutinizing the truth, the press dismantles untruths. It does this on multiple platforms.
Already in his time, Machado de Assis mentioned the importance of freedom to inform. He disdained risks: “The parchments are no longer the wings of Icarus.” In the 1859 chronicle, Machado foresaw difficulties for the press. He called them “phases to go through”. He sounded optimistic at the end: “One must win the road at all costs; in the end there is always a tent to rest on, and a grass to sleep on”.
The hyperdisinformation of the networks revitalized the role of the press. But there are no tents or grass on the horizon. A huge trench appears. The war has barely begun.
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