Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/350

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Newspapers Since 1860

better characteristics of journalism ; but these have not altered the general drift. The quality of editorial discussion has declined along with that of the news. Discussion and criticism of literature, drama, and art has almost disappeared in a flood of gossip about writers, actors, and artists. These important matters, which were once a leading occupation of the daily press, have been driven to find other journalistic lodgment.

The period embraced in the first twenty years of the present century may not inappropriately be characterized as one of transition and specialization. The older journalism has passed away and the newer has not yet found a medium of control satisfactory to the press itself and to society. The decay of old political and social definitions in society itself has aggravated and prolonged the process. As additional sources of news have been developed and the machinery for gathering and distributing the product has been improved, the problem of what to do with the available material has become increasingly difficult and important. In so far as a solution has been found, it has been in the selection of news and in the growth of innumerable papers having special interests. The all-round newspaper has become so huge an undertaking, entirely dependent on the more or less uncertain whim of popular favour, that the organs of special interests have usually taken some other form.

The necessity of selecting for publication only a small part of the available wealth of daily news has made of the news editor the judge of what aspect of the world s activity should be presented to the readers, who must see the world through his eyes, if at all, and has placed in his hands incalculable power in moulding public opinion, in establishing in countless ways the levels and proportions of daily thought and life. This has always been true in some measure of course, and so long as newspapers were predominantly political the bias of the editor was understood and discounted. When they were no longer mainly concerned with politics, and the lines of cleavage in public affairs became uncertain, shifting from the political to the social and economic, the point of view of the editor became not only increasingly important to the reader who sought the light of truth but also increasingly difficult to ascertain. In such measure as the line of cleavage has been established between the two chief economic elements in society, self-interest, if nothing else, would naturally