Hot-metal printing was finally killed off in the mid-1980s. Its demise had been a long time coming, as it was superseded by other cleaner, faster, cheaper technologies. London’s print unions were some of the last in the world to hold out, in the Wapping Dispute with Rupert Murdoch’s News International. When they caved in February 1987, it was the end.
Imagine though, a composing room, in 1983 or even 1883. Lead type melts, is moulded, banged into place on the composing stones with wooden mallets by the compositor. On one side of the stone, the compositor; on the other, the editor: jobs strictly delineated. Editors make last minute changes to make text fit— getting rid of the “widows” and “orphans”, changing a word in a headline — but they are never allowed to touch the composing stone. The room is hot, loud, dirty — a printing factory. And every day a newspaper is born out of the heat and sweat and argument and teamwork.
Thousands of print workers lost their jobs in the 1980s, as desktop publishing took over. Fleet Street — the home of print journalism in Britain for a couple of centuries — was finished as newspapers moved to shiny new offices in other parts of London.
The death of hot-metal took place when Saturn, the Grim Reaper himself, was in Sagittarius, the sign of publishing. Uranus, the planet of revolution, was also in Sagittarius, and indeed a 200-year-old method of production (with a few improvements in between) was overturned almost overnight. Also significantly, Jupiter was in Pisces in 1986-87. Pisces is not often associated with publishing, but the sign of the fishes does seem to have something to do with dissemination, and, of course, traditionally with gossip, slander and untruth. It’s no coincidence that the master of modern media Rupert Murdoch has his Sun in Pisces.
It’s from this point though that we start to get the decline of journalism — as in news stories — and the rise of life-style sections, entertainment news and opinion columns.
Since the 1980s, of course, we have had the birth of the internet, which revolutionised publishing again. This was a Uranus (revolution) in Aquarius (technology). When Uranus went into Pisces during the noughties, and Neptune into Aquarius, we saw the rapid dissemination of information through the net. How we got our information changed — forever. But during that time, newspapers and magazines soldiered on. Most are online now, of course, but most are also still failing to make money or break even.
The other phenomenon of the internet age is, of course, the citizen journalist. Since Uranus moved into Aries this has become a phenomenon.
In 1985, a printer was one job, an production editor was another, a sub-editor was another, so was a writer. These four jobs have been rolled into one. But journalism is about going out and finding a story, not about sitting at a desk and rewriting something you’ve read on HuffPo, or collating a bunch of tweets. That’s a sub’s job, or a columnist’s. It’s also a lot cheaper than having a correspondent in Afghanistan or Mali.
All news outlets are trying to survive in the internet economy. And old-fashioned news has suffered. Mix that with widespread suspicion of the MSM (mainstream media) and you’ve got a poisononous cocktail which may see off the big news providers in surprisingly short order. They need to evolve faster to survive. Even The New York Times looks shaky.
Which brings us to the point really. We are back with Saturn in Sagittarius, and this time Neptune, dissolver of boundaries, is in Pisces. These two planets are, of course, squaring each other this year. Mainstream news seems to be dissolving. It’s noticeable, for example, how patchy the reporting of the crisis in Turkey has been by broadsheet papers. This is a hugely important story, with a NATO ally carrying out Stalinist style purges. Thousands of people have been arrested and disappeared in the past few weeks. And in the summer dozens of newspapers, magazines, publishers, radio stations and TV channels were shut down.
I wrote this piece a while ago. Today, Turkey’s leading secular newspaper offices and 14 other media outlets were shut down. The editor of Cumhuriyet has been arrested.
Good journalism is important.