Nobody in Rome told Pope Sixtus IVth to mobilize his forces to prevent Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (1398-1468) in far-away Mainz from inventing the printing press. Of all those who threatened the old order, Gutenberg was by far the most dangerous. The Pope did not know it, nor did Gutenberg. Neither could be expected to understand the connection between communications and power.
But we do. We who are witnessing the agonizing decline of the great North American newspapers, and the death of some of them, understand that the muck-raking function of the traditional press is essential to democracy. The power of governments, corporations and unions would be unchecked if the kind of investigative journalism that only the traditional large institutions could afford was abandoned.
Could it be true that thanks to the cyberworld it will not be abandoned? That mysterious processes are at work to transfer this function by degrees from the old order to the new?
Yes, it is true. In the old order it was institutions that were doing the work. In the new order it is individual journalists, many of them trained by the traditional media, who are attracting funding to create their own websites. These activities are described in great detail in an article by Michael Massing in the New York Review of Books on August 13.
If we can be assured by an article appearing in an orthodox organ of the old culture that the democratic instinct will prevail in the long run, we can sleep soundly again.