News & Analysis
Man Bites Dog: Columnist Reveals Truth About History of 'Journalism'
Unsolicited advice for Jeff Zucker, CNN's new boss ... As Zucker seeks inspiration for CNN, I can guarantee he won't devote himself to the 300-year history of the American newspaper. But he could do worse than to review the early decades of the 19th century, when most newspapers operated as adjuncts to the political parties, much as Fox and MSNBC have aligned themselves with the Republicans and the Democrats. The newspapers of that era relied on the parties for support and content, transmitted political catechism to the party, and warred with the opposition, much as Fox and MSNBC do today. – Reuters/Jack Shafer
Dominant Social Theme: Reporters, like politicians, are 21st century technocratic priests.
Free-Market Analysis: We've written about the history of newspapering – pamphleteering really – but were nonetheless surprised to find a brief synopsis by Reuters columnist Jack Shafer.
This is unusual. Twenty-first century journalism suffers from the same technocratic piousness that almost every other part of Western society is infected with. Experts abound, caring, passionate and professional – though in reality we know so little about ourselves and our history that "expert" is a silly term.
There are no experts, not really. And the idea that reporters, culturally programmed young men and women just out of journalism school, can somehow take on the role of dispassionate observers is equally silly. Reporting is actually one of the most biased of all activities because it is the methodology whereby Money Power disseminates its memes – dominant social themes of scarcity and fear.
One of the reasons that the alternative 'Net media has been so successful is because many bloggers and writers on the Internet don't pretend that they are unbiased. They have defaulted to what originally passed for journalism – the opinionated ramblings of better or lesser scribes whose prerequisite in this modern is simply an electronic soap box.
What passes for truth on the Internet, to some degree, is simply undisguised opinion – but what's wrong with that? Opinion is good. It's useful. We set our own conclusions against it and occasionally we are enlightened.
What has gotten the mainstream media in so much trouble in this Internet era is not just that people can see what is being left out (unreported) but also that much of what IS reported is quite biased even though there is no acknowledgement that it is.
For this reason, Jack Shafer's advice is startling – not because it is original but because it can be found on Reuters. Like much else in the 21st century, the history of the media has been obscured over time and Reuters is one of the main re-shapers of the Western narrative. Nonetheless, Shafer has managed to write a column that tells some of the truth about the origins of what is today known as journalism. Here's more:
Purely partisan newspapers dominated the news market until the arrival of Benjamin Day's New York Sun in 1833. Day considered readers, not the parties, his customers, writes Christopher B. Daly in Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation's Journalism. "No longer would the newspaper (or at least his newspaper) be dependent on officeholders for subsidies, printing contracts, or other spoils of political victory. Instead the Sun would be independent, handing out praise and criticism to politicians of any party according to merit," Daly writes.
Inspired by Day's success, James Gordon Bennett started the competing New York Herald in 1835, and New York readers switched en masse to these upstarts. These two papers strove to provide something for everyone. They were concise and entertaining, they relied on storytelling to convey the news, they squeezed the police blotter for the most salacious criminal news and gave saturation coverage to the financial beat, and they brought showmanship to the pages. By moving the definition of news outside the limited penumbra cast by the political press, they vastly expanded the newspaper audience, which had been limited to popularity of the parties, Daly observes.
In his debut issue, Bennett wrote: "We shall support no party, be the organ of no faction or coterie, and care nothing for any election or any candidate, from president down to constable. We shall endeavor to record facts on every public and proper subject, stripped of verbiage and coloring, with comments when suitable, just, independent, fearless, and good-tempered."
This is very good. Mr. Shafer knows his pamphleteering – er ... newspapering. We can see here the gradual evolution of modern journalism, though actually Shafer has left out another viewpoint, which is that modern journalism got its start during the Civil War that forced on-the-scene observers to write what they saw.
Of course, our paradigm is a bit more complex. It could be that modern journalism was destined to pay lip-service to objectivity, given the professionalization of the craft. But we have to think that the powers-that-be were satisfied with such a trend.
Let young people believe they ought to be objective and they will gladly report your narrative without comment. Today's journalism too often includes a rigorous determination to hold common sense in abeyance.
Is Shafer's brief historical recitation a hopeful sign that journos are beginning to remember the roots of their calling? No major news organization today admits to "bias" – or at least not as it affects news coverage and yet invariably mainstream news and information are relentlessly dishonest.
Conclusion: Recognizing that bias – and how it operates – is the first step in the rehabilitation process.
Posted by Leviathanfighter on 02/27/13 07:27 PM
You are right; there are no "experts." There never were.
It's fascinating to watch elite information gate-keepers writhe in confusion and pain over their loss of "market share" in the information . That is what serving up a consistent diet of lies to their readers gets them in the long run.
They are trying very hard to hide their pain by endlessly posturing and theorizing serenely over their dilemma, but it is all for nought.
The world cannot remain as they would like it, frozen in a state of suspended animation exclusively for their own convenience.
Economic development is bypassing their efforts and plans and leaving them behind, irrelevant and soon to be forgotten.
They are like crumbling, ancient monuments which can still speak, but can no longer be understood or obeyed. Their proclamations no longer have any force, no longer make sense, and are utterly obsolete, as well as alien to present conditions.
Whenever I see anything in the mainstream press with the words "history of... ," I automatically get suspicious and start to look for the stuff that I know they are leaving out.
In order for the public to understand the history of journalism, many of the histories of it are going to have to be rewritten from a different point of view. In the era of the Internet Reformation, that is not only possible, but is being carried out as we speak.
Reply from The Daily Bell
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 02/27/13 09:20 AM
DB: "This has got to be one of Der Spiegel's best articles yet when it come to enunciating elite memes regarding government and the EU. They are laid out bluntly and without apology"
Hence, you'll love these ...
Europe Frets over Italy: 'Two Clowns Won the Election'
Click to view link
"Stalling for Time: Greek Reform Effort Slows to a Crawl"
Click to view link
"World from Berlin: 'Europe Can't Afford an Ungovernable Italy'
Click to view link
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 02/26/13 03:49 PM
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the local newspapers were mostly family owned (though one was one of many owned by the Hearst family). Some were Democrat biased/owned others were Republican biased/owned. The reporting of non-political events was generally fact based with little noticeable opinion slipping into the reportage. My father, a local politician of the Democrat persuasion, was particularly pleased when "even the ... Times" editorialized in support of his reelection to office.
The advantage was that you could always read an alternate viewpoint in one of the competing papers. (I once had subscriptions to the San Francisco Chronicle (liberal) and the Contra Costa Times (conservative) -- so I could see the contrasting viewpoints quite regularly.)
As the owning families aged and competition, population shifts, and other factors started lowering readership, some papers went out of business -- and many were sold to large newspaper chains. The chains, eventually, sent "professional management" to run all these papers -- and a certain homogenization occurred, where every paper had a moderate leftist bias to its reporting.
I began to see opinion or biased manipulation showing up in the articles. For example, the left viewpoint might be well described, with a "balanced" countering opinion only appearing 20 paragraphs into the article, after it jumps to an inside page. Or unrelated swipes at conservative viewpoints would appear mysteriously in an article -- such as an article describing a multi-vehicle accident might have a negative comment about government road building policy that was totally unrelated to the incident being discussed.
After George Bush was elected, the left's 'Bush Hostility Syndrome' became so pervasive, that I eventually dropped my subscriptions to all newspapers (even after nearly 50 years as a reader) and most magazines. I simply decided that there was no reason to support a leftist "main stream media" that clearly had an agenda that was counter to my way of thinking. I implemented this choice nearly 10 years ago ... and I don't miss those newspapers in the least.
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 02/26/13 03:41 PM
You are DB, and thank you. But your reporting is highly varied, as your focus forces it to be, it is only peripherally about biased reporting, and the number of articles you put out can only expose a small part of it. If the focus of your organization were only biased reporting I think it would be far less valuable.
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 02/26/13 02:27 PM
It might be useful to have sites dedicated to reporting about reporting, that were not themselves biased. Sort of a blending of MRC, and talk radio, and the plethora of similar but left leaning organizations. Difficult to make a go of it though, since most subconciously choose their news sources less to learn what is going on, than to confirm their own biases.
Reply from The Daily Bell
We like to think we ARE that site, Taxes, at least partially. We regularly comment on the intersection of mainstream journalism and the elite memes it is designed to promote ...
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 02/26/13 12:49 PM
Speaking of 'journalism' ... here are some German mouthpieces, foaming at the sight of electoral behavior in Italy.
"If you count the results of the Five Star Movement of the rabid Beppe Grillo, who has been preaching wild hatred of the 'freeloaders up there,' then more than half of Italians voted for some form of populist. This amounts to an almost childlike refusal to acknowledge reality."
Click to view link
Reply from The Daily Bell
This has got to be one of Der Spiegel's best articles yet when it come to enunciating elite memes regarding government and the EU. They are laid out bluntly and without apology. Thanks!