The Press

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By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

Martha Kelly is a Memphis, Tennessee artist who has been showing her art work in galleries since 1999. She maintains a home gallery of her paintings and prints in Midtown Memphis. She creates woodblocks and linoleum block prints by hand.

She also paints in oil, and her paintings include farmscapes. In the 1960s her grandfather bought a farm outside of Arlington, Tennessee, and it was a favorite weekend getaway for her family. Some of her earliest drawings are of this place, and she keeps returning to it with her oil paintings year after year, season after season. “All of my paintings contain an implicit call not only to revel in the landscape around us, but to preserve it as well,” she writes.

But she fell in love with printmaking and has been honing her skills at that art form. She has a 1909 printing press, and its accompanying type cabinet, that came from the old Somerville, Tennessee newspaper “and it’s such fun to see in motion!” she says. Kelly held an open house at her midtown gallery on Saturday December 22 to demonstrate the press and print some note cards of her own design. For those who attended, from a 3-year-old boy and an 8-year-old boy to adults, all were fascinated with how it operated and several folks got the run the press themselves – with Martha’s close supervision, of course. See more at

The antique printing press is especially meaningful to me. In the small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia where I grew up, my across-the-street neighbor, Charlie Compton, owned one of the two local weekly newspapers in town. That, in itself, is interesting: that a small town of 2,500 people can have two weekly newspapers. I used to go to Charlie Compton’s newspaper shop often and watch him put the type pieces in the machine – upside down and backwards – and then watch him run the press to print the weekly newspaper. As an elementary school age child, I was fascinated by the process. Never did I imagine that in my late adulthood I would be assembling a monthly newspaper, but doing it the modern way on a computer.

The modern press in the digital age
The press has been under attack lately, with five journalists killed in Washington, DC and another U.S. journalist murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The President of the U.S. has condemned the press as the “enemy of the people.”

But the Founding Fathers recognized the importance of a free and independent press and gave it protection in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The former editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, believes that journalism should be among the leading providers of truth. “Societies depend on good journalism to distinguish fact from fiction, to form a realistic view of their problems and futures,” said Rusbridger, as quoted by Ian Jack.  (Review of “Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger: the remaking of journalism and why it matters now,” by Ian Jack, The Guardian, Sept. 2018.) Further in this review, Jack points out that “establishing the truth costs money…” for paying journalists, photographers, printing, distribution, and every other cost involved in disseminating information to the public. He also points that “advertising has always subsidized reporting,” and he quotes American historian Paul Starr: “For the past 300 years, newspapers have been able to develop and flourish partly because their readers have almost never paid the full cost of production.”

Jack continues: “The digital revolution overwhelmed the traditions of newspaper publishing in all kinds of ways… But the most crucial question was financial. …Belief in the future of printed newspapers persisted despite all the evidence pointing to their short-to-medium term demise.” Yet The Guardian “eschewed paywalls,” Jack writes, allowing readers all over the world to read The Guardian online for free. “The Guardian’s strategy in essence was to create such a large audience through free access that online advertising would meet the bills for everything. What nobody foresaw –at least, outside California – was that most of the growth in digital advertising would be captured by Facebook and Google, which had developed software that could identify the tastes and purchasing histories of every consumer online,” Jack writes.

While not as prominent a publication as The Guardian, the Mid-South Horse Review (MSHR) still faces many of the same challenges as The Guardian and other newspapers. Access to the MSHR remains free – both in print and online – with the costs of publication and distribution funded by advertising revenues. Increasingly, online digital sources deprive the MSHR of valuable advertising funds.

But there is also a strong downside to digital online media. Social media companies “harvest” all kinds of personal data from users and sell it, or “weaponize it,” as Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook warned. In October 2018, speaking at an international conference in Brussels on data privacy, Cook called for a federal privacy law in the US to protect against voracious internet companies collecting and hoarding – and selling – so much personal information about citizens.

In mid-December, a report prepared for the U.S. Senate revealed the most sweeping analysis of disinformation published on every major social media platform. The report to the Senate Intelligence Committee, prepared by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm, is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms. The data sets used by the researchers were provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google and covered several years up to mid-2017.

In August 2018, Internet of Business (IOB) published a report on “propaganda chatbots and manipulative AI.” IOB writes that “the newsfeeds of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the rest, are largely populated with images, articles, and memes based on a user’s engagement history. … social media platforms enable this form of manipulation in order to target advertising.”

The University of Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project has studied countless examples of social media manipulation, recently publishing a report arguing that “the manipulation of public opinion over social media platforms has emerged as a critical threat to public life.”

In an article for MIT Technology Review, a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and researcher with the Computational Propaganda Project reveals the increasing sophistication of social media bot accounts – automated, AI-powered feeds that masquerade as real people.

With people having constant access to social media, and often having the inability to ascertain what is truth and fact and what is propaganda, the importance of a free press with the rigors to investigate and corroborate information before it is disseminated is more important now than ever.

An interesting fact about print vs. digital comes from author, historian, and biographer Walter Isaacson. He finds in his experience as a researcher that if you want something to last – put it on paper – as opposed to digital on a computer, on the cloud, a phone, or some other electronic device. He was talking about research for his latest biography on Leonardo Da Vinci. What remnants of Leonardo’s journals that are extant are on paper and have lasted over 500 years! He compares the availability of information on Leonardo to that for his earlier biography of Steve Jobs. Although written and stored in recent times, there was much information that Jobs was no longer able to retrieve from his computers. The lesson is that electronic postings, e.g., on a computer, on facebook or twitter, are transitory and impermanent.

So while the MSHR is also online and available all over the world, the print version is not dead yet. Advertising continues to pay the bills and also helps promote other small businesses in our readership community. While folks are constantly urged to buy online and through the $1 trillion valued company Amazon, a personal visit to local businesses helps folks in the community and develops social relationships.

In 1887 sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies categorized two types of social relationships: Gemeinschaft (communal society) and the Gesellschaft (associational society). Gemeinschaft defines personal relationships that are based on traditional social rules. People have simple and direct face-to-face relations with each other that produce emotions and expressions of sentiment. In Gesellschaft, rational self-interest and calculating conduct act to weaken the traditional bonds of family, kinship, and religion that permeate the Gemeinschaft’s structure. In the Gesellschaft, human relations are more impersonal and indirect, being rationally constructed in the interest of economic and political considerations. This dichotomy still accurately describes our social relations today: personal relations with our friends and neighbors vs. dealings with large, impersonal companies whose goal is mainly profit.

At the Mid-South Horse Review, we develop personal relationships with our advertisers and with those who we cover and photograph in our editorial content. We support small businesses in our community and encourage others to do so. Social media definitely has its value in connecting friends and acquaintances over distances. But for factual news and information, reputable newsmedia that corroborate and verify information before it is published are more reliable sources.
Amanpour & Co. PBS. December 18, 2018. Interview with Alan Rusbridger about the state of journalism.
Jack, Ian. “Breaking News by Alan Rusbridger review.” September 2018. The Guardian, books.
Kelly, Martha. Martha Kelly
Murison, Malek. “Propaganda chatbots and manipulative AI.” Internet of Business. August 2018.
Timberg, Craig and Tony Romm. “New report on Russian disinformation, prepared for the Senate, shows the operation’s scale and sweep” Washington Post. December 17, 2018.
Tönnies, Ferdinand. 1887. Community and Society.
Virginia Star newspaper. History.

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