Structures: Hard, Soft and Firm

Each news space can be examined in terms of its hard, soft and firm structures. Bolter (1990) defines a hard structure as the "tangible qualities of the materials of writing", its physical manifestation or presence, and soft structures as "those visually determined units and relationships that are written on or in the hard structures." (p. 41) He uses the example of a book. Its hard structure is the physical characteristic of the language technology (printing): the book itself, as an object, as well as the pages within, the individual units of the structure. Its hard structure determines the physical and sequential nature of the book, alongside any limitations it may have, and determines our position as a reader with it. Within this space, any discourse can take place. The technological shifts and subsequent creation of new language technologies created new writing spaces, new hard and soft structures and with that, new systems of news dissemination and presentation: new news-spaces.

The notions of hard and soft structures can be expanded. If we consider current methods of news dissemination as `secondary technologies' brought about by the creation of new writing spaces via new language technologies then identifiable variations of hard and soft structures emerge. Bolter (1990) identifies hard structures as being tangible units, `hard to change', and soft structures as methods of `organising and visualising' information. Both are technology-based, soft structures are applied to or on the hard structure. In terms of common systems of new dissemination, the pages of a newspaper or the television screen are recognisable hard structures.

News-spaces are determined by their respective hard structures, the hard structures are the physical space, the medium if we take its definition to mean `the agency or means' through which news (information) is disseminated and presented: the physical qualities of the technology. The screen or the page are constants, fixed while all that is presented on or in them constantly changes. New developments in information technology have a direct influence and effect on news technology, both in terms of presentation and dissemination.

Soft structures, by their nature are plastic, transparent and malleable, yielding to change and capable of being moulded. Through application and repeated use on a specific hard structure, for a specific purpose (rather than remaining individual or separate methods of `organising and visualising') they become systems for this purpose. These systems can be called firm structures. These firm structures are accepted as being `solid', as sets or networks of connected soft structures, organised as a complex whole.

Copyright 1997 Paul Wilson