A feast for both goats and sheep

April 14, 2000

In January, the Economic and Social Research Council's Media Culture and Media Economics programme closed with a final discussion on "The future of media research and the future of the media". Participants included media workers and managers, media regulators and policy-makers as well as the programme's core constituency - its own researchers, among whom the sociologists were most prominent. The meeting saw several lively debates - not least between "sheep" and "goats" (as John Eldridge put it). In this context, sheep were those who cherished the autonomy of the academy and their own activities. In contrast, goats propounded (and sometimes even practised) a menagerie of profane and messy relationships - a world of tainted embraces between academics and such exotic beasts as the "think-tankerati", consultants and other blasphemers in the academic temple.

info reeks unmistakably of the goaty world. Not only does one article tease readers with the story of the great "Victoria's Secret" website crash, but one of info's first articles is titled: "The billy goats gruff: a fairy tale for the third anniversary of the 1996 telecommunications act", implicitly celebrating the tainted practices and challenging couplings that put sheep in a tizzy. Couplings that make you laugh and make you think. Such profane and felicitous yokings of heterogeneous ideas make an old goat's pulse race.

info , which was first published in February 1999, appears six times a year. It is edited and published by Colin Blackman, who was formerly editor of Telecommunications Policy . Each issue has six to eight articles, an editorial worth reading (how many of those are there?), reviews, conference listings, feedback (the Tony Rutkowski/Dan Schiller spat is all that public-service broadcasting is supposed to be - entertaining, enlightening and informative), statistical indices and summaries of goat news (those whose heart stops when they read "Telecoms regulator requires unbundled access to the local loop" will know what I mean). info's contributors come from the academy, regulatory agencies, communications-sector businesses and consultancies, government agencies and non-governmental organisations. Readers will find in info exciting evidence of the vigorous intellectual life that subsists within and between this loose and porous community of boundary crossers. A life characterised by a distinctive cast of mind: empirical, inquiring, transgressive and preoccupied by concrete problems.

info 's most salient themes thus far have been competition and regulation, the internet, mobile telephony, changes to employment patterns in the information sector, development issues and the like. It is a dream for a policy wonk; not only a valuable data mine (for illuminating both published and online material), but a source of thoughtful synthesis across and between hitherto separate domains of academic inquiry, business sectors and regulatory jurisdictions. info is a journal of, for and about convergence - in subject matter and substance. For it is both a web journal and a paper journal. The printed and the virtual versions are complementary, and subscribers get both.

info thus constitutes a practical experiment in investigation of themes that its authors, notably Eli M. Noam and Bill Hibbert, have considered the future of print. info testifies not to a dim future for the book, as Noam would have it, but rather to a new future for the book. Far from the virtual, web-delivered info making redundant the version you can touch and feel, the two formats enhance each other. The virtual version provides keyword searchable text and more information (such as biographies of the editorial board) than the printed one. Whereas the paper info has all the familiar merits of print - notably portability, "skim-ability" and, for some at least, aesthetic quality. Reviewing info provided a good practical basis for inquiry into the two versions' merits. Each excels in different respects, and each could be improved. For my taste, the typography of the hard copy is over-fussy. Text is cramped and mixes serif and sanserif type. Perversely, reviews in info do not form part of the searchable corpus on the database. And keyword searching for references can take you out of the bounded database of info and into the whole database of info 's host, "CatchWord". Postmodernists may value the consolidation of references from info with those from a host of scientific journals, but my mentality is too linear and Gutenbergian.

So much for what goats might like in info . Why should sheep read it? Well, they might learn not only how interesting is a goat's life but also how valuable are info 's authors' reflections on the extent to which established heuristic and conceptual paradigms retain their power in new, contemporary circumstances. Andrew Calabrese's "Communication and the end of sovereignty"; Stana B. Martin's sceptical interrogation (with loads of new data) of Fritz Machlup, Marc Uri Porat and Daniel Bell's "information economy" theses; Klaus W. Grewlich's reflections on governance and trust are cases in point. And wonderfully representative of the enabling perspective that peregrination between academy and the world of regulation and practical policy confers on itinerant scholars are Noam's reflections on the demise of the book, some related themes of which are differently parsed by Hibbert.

info is a new journal. In consequence, it has some raw edges. Almost by definition, a new journal cannot and does not consistently feature a slate of the most highly reputed scholars in the field. But not only is info doing something new and important, it is printing some great stuff. Few established journals in any year, let alone their first, print work of comparable quality and authority to that fielded in info . Comparisons are odious, and so, too, must be any selection from info 's 600 published pages. But Sam Paltridge's detailed inquiry into web content, Sophie Louveaux et al's descriptive and normative analysis of user interests in cybercommerce, Thomas Kiessling and Yves Blondeel's deep empirical comparison between European Union and North American practices in telecoms competition and regulation, from which cogent conclusions are drawn, and much more, make enduring claims on readers' attention. info is a must-read for both sheep and goats.

Richard Collins is deputy director and head of education, British Film Institute.

info: The Journal of Policy, Regulation and Strategy for Telecommunications, Information and Media

Editor - Colin Blackman
ISBN - ISSN 1463 6697
Publisher - Camford
Price - £50.00 (individuals); £250.00 (institutions)
Pages - -

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