The Romance of the Press

Thursday, July 1, AD 2010

It’s been interesting, though a bit odd, for me, watching the hand-wringing over the “death of the press” as some of the major newspapers struggle to figure out how to make their budgets work in a world in which fewer people read “dead tree” editions and advertisers can take advantage of more targeted advertising online and in specialty publications. There is, it seems, a level of reverence which many people seem to attach to “the press”, which does not seem well born out what it actually is.

Looked at historically and economically — newspapers exist as a delivery system for ads. They seek to provide stories that people want to read (whether “news”, human interest, comics, crosswords or recipes) in order to persuade people it’s worth parting with the artificially low newsstand or subscription price.

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16 Responses to The Romance of the Press

  • Looked at historically and economically — newspapers exist as a delivery system for ads.

    Historically? No. Modern economics? Yes. And this is probably one of the reasons why there is a problem.

  • Historically, yes. If you look at the rise of the major newspapers in the 19th century, they were very explicitly a way to sell ads (and subscription bases in order to gain ad revenue.) Much good and bad (the rise of comics as an art form, the rise of ‘yellow journalism’) can be traced to the race for circulation (and thus profit).

  • Looked at historically and economically — newspapers exist as a delivery system for ads.

    Not really. That was more a product of corporatization of newspapers. Newspapers have historically been low budget affairs sponsered by some ideologue. You can see this in the newspaper names themselves.

    Marketing itself starts in about 1900s. Mass marketing got going in the 1920s.

  • If you doubt that the big, profitable newspapers of the 19th and early 20th century (they became less profitable with the rise of weekly magazines in the 20s and 30s) were not vehicles for partisanship and advertising (even ahead of news gathering), you simply haven’t spent much, if any, time in an archive. Start with Horace Greeley’s Tribune, which ruled some big roosts for nearly forty years.

    We also see this sort of thing when folks want to claim our current political claimate is oh so heated and dangerous. Not by historical standards it ain’t. Start with….well, any presidential election in the 1800s.

    Darwin’s point that newspapers existed in no small part as a delivery system for ads is pretty easy to verify, particularly if you look at the papers that mattered before 1900, shortly before the LA Times got really into crime reporting (Chicago, New York, Boston, Baltimore).

  • There is a difference between a discussion of “big, profitable newspapers” and “newspapers.” The second is a larger group.

  • Newspapers have historically been low budget affairs sponsered by some ideologue.

    You could say that pamplets were low budget affairs sponsored by some ideologue, and that the readings of governor’s declarations and the like were newspapers, but I think the definition of newspaper would have to be stretched too far. (And Franklin, our greatest genius after Washington, had his traveling printing shows…)

    The rise of what we would recognize as a newspaper coincided with advertising and partisanship. Newspapers of importance were by definition big budget and big ads. In the 19th Century, in fact, newspapers not only launched presidential campaigns, they were probably the most necessary form of campaigning.

  • Not really. That was more a product of corporatization of newspapers. Newspapers have historically been low budget affairs sponsered by some ideologue. You can see this in the newspaper names themselves.

    I get that there were newspapers of a sort prior to the rise of the large circulation, advertising-driven newspapers, but I don’t think they adhere very much to what those worried about the death of The Press are worried about.

    After all, the small and plentiful micro newspapers of the 1700s and early 1800s are arguably much more akin to today’s blogs than today’s newspapers. If that sort of small, often one-man press with a lot of opinion and local color, and a little bit of news gleaned from travelers or (later) the telegraph news services, were considered an acceptable manifestation of The Press, people wouldn’t be ringing their hands about the prospect of the big city dailies going out of business.

    Actually, I’d argue that in many ways we’re going back to a more distributed, reader-driven form of “press” such as what we had from the 1700s through the early 1800s, with less (though certainly not an extinction) of the respectable, big city paper ethic while is familiar to us from the 50s through the present.

  • I’m not quite sure where we are going. With bifurcation in this country, I think it is going to increasingly be difficult to fund popular venues through advertising. The products the poor buy increasingly don’t have enough margin in them to try and influence market behavior through advertising. Real news information is increasingly going to be subscriber funded, like international news is with Jane’s and Stratfor.

  • I think this recent post by Matt Yglesias is a propos:

    “[J]ournalistic objectivity” as traditionally practiced by reporters at American newspapers and television stations is a business strategy as well as an ethos. The way it works is that when a market has only a small number of competitors (one or two daily newspapers in a given city, three television networks) the economic incentive is to try to be generic and inoffensive. Attracting passionate fans doesn’t really help you—even if you love the Indianapolis Star you’re not going to buy two copies a day.

    In a more competitive marketplace like the one highbrow magazines and UK newspapers have always operated in things look different. You need to differentiate your product, and it pays to develop an audience of passionate fans.

  • Marketing itself starts in about 1900s. Mass marketing got going in the 1920s.

    The earliest newspaper in my home town was founded in 1818, I believe. The second was founded in 1826. It was called, in the first instance, the Rochester Daily Advertiser. Every iteration of the title from 1826 to 1918 had the word ‘advertiser’ in it. I have examined in microtext issues from the 1860s. If I recall correctly, the front pages were filled not with articles or editorials (though there were plenty throughout the paper, in tiny print), but with ads.

  • Having ads is different from existing for the sake of delivering ads.

  • Anyway, when the progressive, humanist propaganda organs go bankrupt . . . Either, the Obaminstration regime will prop them up like it did GM and Chrysler . . .

    Or, you won’t read errata and fabrications supporting abortion, idiot supreme court nominees, gay marriage, hatred for tea party people, hatred for pro-lifers, America is evil, it’s Bush’s fault, etc.

    How will Big Brother brainwash the masses?

    Public schools!


  • Having ads is different from existing for the sake of delivering ads.

    This is a fair point, and perhaps this is where a difference in approach is putting as at odds more than a disagreement over the facts.

    Newspapers have generally achieved their income from two sources: subscription fees and ads. In their modern incarnation, daily papers have derived most of their income from ads — thus allowing them to maintain numbers or reporters and lengths of physical product which would not otherwise be affordable to most people.

    So when I say they exist as an ad delivery medium, I mean that were it not for advertising revenue, newspapers would find it very difficult to operate as they do while putting their product at a price that people could afford. Take the advertising away, and the newspaper medium becomes totally unsustainable in its current form. Readers may not buy it for the ads, and writers may not be interested in the ads, but the desires of the readers and writers wouldn’t be fullfillable if newspapers did not deliver ads.

  • That strikes me as pretty dead-on, BA.

  • Funny DC and BA. Chesterton made a similar observation about the character of journalism between the US and UK. He was surprised that all the competing papers in the US wanted to interview him and they all reported on the same stories. In the UK, exclusivity reigned supreme and if one paper landed an interview with someone, nobody else wanted anything to do with person.

  • A lot of newspapers have, or used to have, the words “Democrat”, “Republican”, “Independent”, and “Whig” in their names for a reason. When they were founded in the 19th century their political party affiliations were obvious and they made no pretense of objectivity. These affiliations or leanings often changed over time mainly due to the views of the publisher or family which owned the paper.

    Also, up until the last 20 or 30 years many newspapers were family owned (Hearst and Pulitzer were probably the most famous “press dynasties”). A newspaper’s character often depended on the character of the family or individual who published it. If he or she was conscientious and community-minded, you got a quality paper; if he or she was a rabid political partisan or only interested in sucking up to the powers that be in town, you got a rag. Now most papers belong to giant corporate conglomerates interested only in maximizing profits by (usually) cutting staff as much as possible.

How Obama Got Elected

Tuesday, November 18, AD 2008

Thanks to the above video and this wonderful site we now have some answers.  The Zogby poll on the website is pretty scary as to the level of voter knowledge.  However most of the media was so far in the tank for Obama that I find it hard to blame voters for lacking knowledge as to many pieces of negative information about the President-Elect during the campaign.

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15 Responses to How Obama Got Elected

  • Scary, yes, but I’d like to see a similar poll to learn what McCain supporters knew about McCain. I honestly think that most people, regardless of who they support, are well informed. That might be a bias, but it comes from a general apathy I’ve seen from people around me. There’s a few ideals they cling to, a few slogan’s they’ve heard, and that’s it.

  • Shock jock Howard Stern has Obama supporters interviewed and attributes McCain positions to Obama in the interviews.

  • Reminds me of the interviews in which voters said they strongly supported Obama’s choice of Sarah Palin as VP, and thought that Obama was right to be pro-life.

  • Oh. Yeah, what Donald said. 🙂

  • I think the video is amusing/depressing, but the title of the post over-sells it. Sure, the media was in the tank for Obama; 70% of the public acknowledged it in a survey, but he probably still would have won given Bush’s unpopularity and the financial crisis.

  • I honestly think that most people, regardless of who they support, are well informed.

    Sadly, no.

  • I would like to agree with John Henry, but such surveys as typified by Zogby’s do give me pause. Are we reaching a point in this country where education is so poor and ignorance so deep that our election of president is based almost entirely on charisma, especially when a favored candidate is protected by a media which has, in effect, sworn fealty to him? I recall another vignette from this election where a fellow wanted to vote for the pro-life anti-abortion candidate, but lacked knowledge as to the positions of Obama and McCain on the issue. In the face of such jaw-dropping invincible ignorance I am moved both to laughter and tears.

  • Remember boys and girls- the vast majority of our fellow Amurricans are not politics junkies as we. Perfectly content to watch football/shop at supermarket/raise younguns without benefit of political knowledge. Or will reply in matters of controversy Oh They’re All The Same. Consider how the Political Elite has pushed themselves ever further between selves and Most Amurricans. They and their MSM Acolytes. Dismayed by the sight of well-dressed businesspersons trekking to Capitol Hill, tin cups in hand. But hey they may ask if my kid wants to open up a lemonade stand I might given them pitcher pieces of wood and lemonade mix and he’s on his own. And that’s true. But The Elite must feed its own. Not sure when the cycle will end. But some of peeps really are doofuses, to be honest.

  • I honestly think that most people, regardless of who they support, are well informed.

    Sadly, no.

    Dang, dang, dang, dang, dang, dang, dang. My unfortunate tendency to leave out “not” when I write trips me up yet again. I mean to say that most are NOT well-informed. Thanks for calling me on that, blackadderiv.

  • Though the conservative in me would like to imagine that “it’s not the way it used to be” — do you think think is much different from how things were thirty or fifty or a hundred years ago?

    Did people actually have a clear idea of JFK’s abilities and policies, or did he win on charisma?

    Did FDR’s overwhelming majorities actually have a decent idea of how good a job he was doing, or was it image first?

    Heck, even going back to when the voter base was much smaller and presidential voting was less direct: Was Jackson’s victory (the first truly populist campaign in the US) really based on his positions and abilities, or on enthusiasm and “hype”?

    Maybe it’s some of each: modern elections have become even more shallow, but our republican has never been as thoughtful and informed as one might like. Or perhaps it’s ways been like this, just in different ways in different eras.

  • Good points Darwin, although the Lincoln-Douglas debates would be a good argument to the contrary. Flash and charisma are advantages in any era, but I do think our time period, as a result of technology and less attention to public affairs by a growing portion of the public, is especially prone to electoral victories by personality rather than electoral victories by positions.

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  • Speaking of Obama’s election, I just confirmed this evening that I’m attending the inauguration on January 20th.

  • “Was Jackson’s victory (the first truly populist campaign in the US) really based on his positions and abilities, or on enthusiasm and ‘hype’?”

    You’re doubtless correct, Darwin, but don’t forget that his poor suffering wife Rachel got the Sarah Palin treatment squared from the other side. Or maybe I should say that Palin got the 20th-century version of the Rachel Jackson treatment?

The Fourth Estate Finds True Love

Friday, October 24, AD 2008

The fact that most of the Press has been completely in the tank for Senator Obama is obvious to everyone except the most fervent Obama supporters.

ABC News columnist Michael S. Malone has written a column which discusses how such naked advocacy is a betrayal of the most basic principles of journalism.

Update-Joe Biden encounters a journalist who apparently hasn’t been smitten by the love bug.

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7 Responses to The Fourth Estate Finds True Love

  • I found your blog on MSN Search. Nice writing. I will check back to read more.

    Eric Hundin

  • Chuck Baldwin and Raplh Nadar said some pretty interesting things about the media during their debate thursday night, needless to say it wasn’t flattering either.

    > Sarah Palin is invited to meet with the Pope while he is vacationing south
    > of Rome in Venice. The liberal press reluctantly watches the semi-private
    > audience, hoping they will be able to allot minimal coverage, if any.
    > The Pope asks Governor Palin to join him on a Gondola ride through the
    > canals of Venice. They’re admiring the sights and agreeing on moral issues
    > when, all of a sudden, the Pope’s hat (zucchetto) blows off his head and
    > out into the water.
    > The gondolier starts to reach for the Pontiff’s cap with his pole, but
    > this move threatens to overturn the floating craft. Sarah waves the tour
    > guide off, saying, “Wait, wait. I’ll take care of this. Don’t worry.”
    > She steps off the gondola onto the surface of the water and walks out to
    > the Pope’s hat, bends over and picks it up. She walks back across the
    > water to the gondola and steps aboard. She hands the hat to the Pope amid stunned silence.
    > The next morning the topic of conversation among Democrats in Congress, CBS News, NBC News, ABC News, CNN, the New York Times, Hollywood celebrities, and in France and Germany is: “Palin Can’t Swim.”

  • That was a great interview by Ms. West… If the msm wasn’t in the tank for the O-man; we would be ahead by 30 points 🙂

  • That link to Diane West’s interview doesn’t work anymore. Here’s the youtube link:

  • Thanks for the tip Cathy. I’ve embedded the video in the post now.

  • Eric,

    Thanks for stopping by and please come back often. We have some great writers here.