Makers of the Media

The media industry that we now experience has, for the most part, been shaped by teams of people, corporations and government agencies.  But a few individuals stand out as having made a significant contribution.


There are the inventors of a technology like Thomas Edison (phonogram), Gugliemo Marconi (radio) August Lumière (film camera) and Alexander Graham Bell (telephone).   The pioneers of an industry like Adolph Zukor ( the Hollywood studio system),  David Sarnoff (NBC radio and television) and John Reith (BBC).  And the business tycoons Frank Munsey (pulp fiction via Argosy magazine); William Randolph Hearst ( newspapers and magazines) and Lords Rothermere and Northcliffe (newspapers)


In terms of commentators who have analysed and interpreted the media two Canadians started the area of media study: Harold Innes and Marshall McLuhan.  Other major books have been those by Asa Briggs, Paul Starr and Timothy Wu.


In more recent times two people who stand out Steve Jobs for his roles in the development of the personal computer and of video games and more recently for the ipod, iPhone and iPad.  And Rupert Murdoch for reinventing the newspaper industry at the Wapping dispute, pioneering satellite television and creating the new Fox network in the USA


But taking the history as a whole there are two people who really can claim to have laid the foundations of modern media:


Benjamin Franklin (1706 to 1790) and

Daniel Defoe (1660 to 1731).           


Franklin was a polymath who was a writer, publisher and editor. As the first Postmaster General of America he shaped the policies that led to subsidised newspaper and magazine distribution that led to mass advertising. As a scientist his investigations into electricity paved the way for later work that explained electromagnetism and hence led to radio, and television.


Defoe wrote what is widely regarded as the first novel in the English language Robinson Crusoe, he founded what is probably the first magazine in English and was a strong supporter of the concept of copyright which first become law in 1710. He laid the ground for a huge increase in professional writing and publishing.


It is fascinating to speculate if Franklin and Defoe ever met.  In 1723 Franklin came to London where he worked as a typesetter in Smithfield. Defoe at the time was at the height of his fame and living a few hundred yards away near Moorgate. A meeting was possible but unrecorded. Franklin was known to be a great fan of Defoe's work and as a tireless networker it is hard to imagine he did not try to make contact.  But they certainly share a famous sentiment. In 1726, whilst Franklin was still in London, Defoe wrote in The Political History of the Devil:  Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”   In 1789 Franklin coined the now far more famous variant phrase in letter:  In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.