Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/349

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331
Changing Standards

fiction, features, and pictures, had gradually found a place, especially during and after the Civil War, when seven issues a week were deemed a necessity. But the old-fashioned journalists were unfriendly to the idea. Greeley in the later fifties had no sympathy with the proposal of Dana, then his managing editor, to issue a Sunday "picture paper." The essence of the modern Sunday supplement is that it is made of pictures, light or sensational fiction, accounts of the strange, mysterious, or queer, gossip about persons of interest or notoriety the frothiest part of the journalism of sensation. Its popularity has been due in great measure not merely to the lightness of tone but to the "comics" and the coloured pages, which interest the uneducated and the very young without making any demand on the intelligence. Only a small number of papers have been able to sustain, against the demand for the sensational, a Sunday supplement of real literary or pictorial worth.

Although sensationalism has contributed much of value to journalism, much that is undesirable must be charged against it. One of its staple commodities is gossip, scandal, crime, the whole miserable calendar of misery and ugliness of life, served with a flavor of sentimentalism. This aspect of life was kept to the fore in the leading mongers of sensation, and, although the worst of them have gradually modified their tone since the closing decade of the last century, and a relatively small number of papers went to extremes at any time, the effect has been general and lasting. The demand for gossip led to ruthless trespassing on the right of privacy; the taste for exciting details led to distortion of facts or deliberate falsification; the appetite for the personal and concrete induced rank abuses of the otherwise admirable development of the interview. The inevitable effect of this emphasizing of the superficial and meretricious was a decline in the more substantial content of the papers. Instead of what a speaker said, appeared light-hearted chatter about his appearance, the audience, an interruption. Instead of the substance of discussions on public questions, in Congress or elsewhere, brief, inconsequential resumes were provided by writers of no authority. Against this tendency the most substantial press associations have exerted a constant and helpful influence, and a growing number of papers, great and small, have steadily maintained and improved many of the