Wick Communications

Blood and Ink

In Innovation on September 30, 2011 at 7:47 am

War was raging, the economy was in shambles, new technology had revolutionized journalism and troubled newspapers were failing right and left. The year? No, not 2011… try 1864.

A new exhibit at the Newseum in Washington D.C. will highlight one of the most important episodes in American journalism. Called, “Blood and Ink: Front Pages from the Civil War,” the exhibit will open Oct. 1. (It’s unclear whether any of the pages will be accessible on the website, but I’m certainly hopeful.)

The exhibit will highlight the rapid growth of breaking-news reporting brought by something new – the telegraph machine. Suddenly, far-flung reporters were able to convey information to news desks far removed from the battle. The blurb announcing the exhibit notes that the rush to be first led to a lot of erroneous reporting. It also says that roughly half of the newspapers in the South didn’t live to tell the ultimate resolution of the war.

Any of this sounding familiar?

Technology breeds both opportunity and regret for those who can’t manage it. That didn’t begin in the Internet age. …

Virginia Tech has done something similar with its own Civil War newspaper project. Historians have scanned editions of the Macon Daily Telegraph and some of the reports are breathtaking. If you have a moment, conjure this on your computer and browse the topics. You’ll find stuff like this, a speech by the principal of the Sumpterville Academy following a devastating tornado in March 1865:

“While the ruler of all things has made a transcendent display of his majesty and power, we feel grateful that the lives of students have been spared and none wounded beyond recovery…”

These newspapers contain thousands of letters from soldiers and eyewitnesses to history. It’s … amazing. And a reminder that change is constant in our business.

– Clay

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