Without exception, all communication encounters a surprising degree of resistance, with the result that new information and inventive thought only penetrates very slowly into any public discourse. This is not wholly regrettable, since it puts a prudent brake on over rapid enthusiasm for intellectual material that is more novel than valuable; but the causes are of this friction are interesting, and reflection on them can go some way to blunting the feelings of frustration that will overwhelm even the most patient swimmers in media treacle.

We talk, carelessly enough, about 'newspapers', and the television or radio 'News'; we inquire for 'What's New?', and are excited if 'This' turns out to be 'The New That'; we subscribe to 'Newsletters' and 'Newsfeeds', and we neurotically reload our web newszines every five minutes to observe the latest changes.

But, in practice, while information cannot be too fresh, it must not be too surprising. Doubtless there has been Natural Selection for minds that reject or suspend judgment on propositions and data that call into question too large a body of currently accepted knowledge. Furthermore, because time is precious, and it is all that organisms really have, communications cannot ever require much commitment of effort from the recipient, particularly if they come from a source that is impersonal or unknown, such as broadcast and print publication.

Consequently, a story in the press, an item on the news, must be both brief and compatible with what is already accepted in the mental environment of the audience. These dual constraints result in material that is first and foremost a stripped down stimulus from which the recipient can recollect a story already existing in their repertoire or mental library. This is part of the explanation for the strangely abbreviated form of journalistic presentations, which appear strangely underdetermined and lacking in information. On examination, we find that very little is actually encoded in the semantics of the piece, which can be regarded more as a cue or a handful of cues to the recipient to retrieve a collection of preformed elements.

Thus it is that in conversation with a journalist you will be told that the material to which you are drawing their attention is one or another "kind of story". Naturally, you will have hoped it might be more interesting than that, but after years of working with the media you come to accept their premises, however wearily. The fact is that in any communicative medium there are a relatively small number of generic stories at any one time, and this constrains the originality of discourse. It is also true that the range and character of what is possible changes over time, but this evolution is slow, and attempts to force the pace tend to fail.

Indeed, so great is the risk of excessive innovation in a story that journalists will sometimes surprise those bringing material for publication by specifically avoiding exactly those parts which for those involved appear to be most surprising and worthy of publication.

The majority of any 'news' story is, in reality, very old, and cannot be anything different, otherwise we would reject it. However, a skilful communicator, whether a journalist or an academic, will and must attach fragments of genuinely unfamiliar information to the conventional hints that will provoke their story, and if they did not the recipient would be disappointed. Variation in the tolerance of the end-reader to the unfamiliar is one of the gradients on which we array our discourse types, from tabloid prejudice to scholarly article. However, viewed from a distance, the differences between them are not only mere shades of a continuum, they are also slight.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not think we can hope to change this situation. Indeed, it is not clear that we should allow ourselves to entertain such a desire. Rock climbers make only slow progress, never moving a limb to find a new point of purchase until they are confident that they have a secure hold with the other three. No other method can contain the risk of falling to an acceptable level, and the snail's pace is the price of safety.