In a post below, I used  quote from Coolidge about “the chief business of the American people is business” and the context of the quote was the intimate relationship between the press and American business, since the press is American business.  This sparked a good comment from Raymond Takashi Swenson,

It is a sad fact that newspapers are being reminded that they are businesses because they are losing business to the internet, especially advertising revenues from classified ads. The papers thought they were exempt from the normal laws of supply and demand, and that they were public utilities that were guaranteed profit and another branch of government that was guaranteed power. They were exempted from the limitations on corporate speech that limited the ability of every other corporation in the country to use its resources to communicate a partisan political message. The natural self interest of newspapers as businesses that Coolidge thought should cause them to use their power on behalf of business was sadly forgotten, and the newspapers in many cases have forgotten their entrepreneurial roots and the free market principles that allowed them to grow their influence in society.

I agree and disagree, because I don’t think the history of newspapers is all that clean of political purpose.  However, I respond from memory without research and decided to open the question for argument.
Yes, but . . . newspapers started out as political broadsheets or pamphlets promoting points of view. Advertising was an innovation that both declared partisanship and supported the political writers.  When newspapers became advertiser driven their popularity necessarily softened their original purpose and news became more important than the editorial content, changing our definition and ideas about what news ought to be.  Radio and then television took on that role of more neutral observer and reporter of news, “liberating” newspapers to partisanship again and initiating their decline.  The Internet usurps all.  We can find our favorite point of view on the news or find news that we have a hope of believing is objective.  Advertisers abound, but this may not be the most effective way of advertising anything.  I guess we’ll see if this medium can become profitable for advertisers.  Adverts by algorithm bombard us with, for which I am grateful as I rarely see an offensive ad anymore; they are targeted to my demographic of lady-like suburbaninity.

I don’t know if newspapers can adapt, but suspect that they ought to become more, not less partisan to keep up; more local, not less local to feed the remaining need for classified ads and local news.  I thought that our small local newspaper was careful to only publish the biggest stories online, we subscribed recently because the subscription caller got my husband, sounded like a sweetie and he felt sorry for her.  The paper is loaded with AP stories I could read anywhere and the reporting staff must have shrunk in the ten years since we last bought a subscription.


Newspapers must publish online, but are trying to figure out how to make that cost-effective.  The Wall Street Journal teases the reader with opening paragraphs.  The New York Times lets me read articles through my college, notifying me of stories daily through email, but has tried various schemes to get me to pay for that information.  The latest is that I may read ten articles a month.  That’s my limit.  They have to tempt me and so far I have not been tempted beyond my limit.  I think if someone offers me a link, I get to read what they are linking to without being blocked.  Pity the NYT , which must bring readers in or perish, but can’t figure out how to keep that investment profitable, which it must.  Young friends tell me that if such newspapers really wanted readers, they would have open content.  I wonder if newspaper advertisers wouldn’t agree.

Then, doing my usual morning Internet news reading, I came across ” Why CNN is a Failure ” by John Hinderaker on Powerline. “CNN’s ratings are in the toilet, and its president resigned last week. The network’s defenders say the problem is that it is an objective, “just the facts” network, in an era when most viewers prefer the partisan approaches they can get from Fox and MSNBC. But no one who actually watches CNN buys that.”  CNN has a decidedly liberal point of view.  “CNN represents the passive-aggressive Left.”  (I liked that.) Claiming to be objective while guiding the viewer/reader to a particular understanding of the news has been a technique of television journalism since Edward R. Murrow.  As Hinderaker says, no one buys it and that is evidently literally true in the case of CNN.

Is it a postmodern phenomenon that people prefer to take in their news with a decided bias as long as they clearly know what that bias is?  Maybe people have come to distrust the idea of objectivity in the news.  Is it possible for a news operation of any kind to afford objectivity?

 

Articles by Kate Pitrone

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