The advancements made due to the creation of a trans-Atlantic telegraph mirror those at the later advent of the internet. For the first time, messages were able to travel at what was then considered to be a reasonable pace. Messages of peace, war, triumph, and defeat could be transmitted in a matter of hours, rather than months and a world community could finally be established. The telegraph allowed news to be covered in real time while interested parties waited breathlessly around the globe for the latest updates. Many in the news industry saw this as a death knell. If people could get the latest news at the telegraph office, why would they pay for it in print form? More entrepreneurial editors found ways to take advantage of developments and change the industry. When a major story was breaking, multiple editions of the paper would be published throughout the day, capitalizing on new developments as they became available, and interested piqued as the day went on. Some readers would even buy multiple editions throughout the day to keep up with the breaking story. The telegraph could easily have provided a “filter bubble” of its own, with individuals receiving conflicting information depending upon which sources they relied upon, but the invention ended up facilitating mass media, bringing news to a more engaged audience.
Many arguments against the filter bubble of the internet follow a similar line of reasoning: If everyone is posting the news on their Facebook pages or their Twitter feeds, why would anyone pay for a newspaper? Perhaps the internet does provide a singular turning moment in history, where individuals need only rely upon first hand accounts of the news to “get the full story.” I believe it is more likely that the news media will find ways to adapt to this new era of technology. Already we see the LA and New York Times setting up paywalls and limiting access to some content to subscribers. These systems may not currently be increasing the newspaper readership, but as outlets like the New York Times create more inventive infographics and documentaries, they have a great opportunity to argue why paid media still holds such an important place in our society. The internet, like the telegraph before it also allows news to be easily disseminated to those who can’t or won’t pay for a paper. Even if one doesn’t have the time or will to sit and watch CNN or the nightly news, a quick skim of their Facebook newsfeed will get them caught up with the most popular headlines.
The telegraph provided both obstacles and lifelines for the news industry. The internet could provide similar opportunities to inform citizens and find money-making opportunities for the press.