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American Newspaper
by [?]

The recognition of the fact that the newspaper is a private and purely business enterprise will help to define the mutual relations of the editor and the public. His claim upon the public is exactly that of any manufacturer or dealer. It is that of the man who makes cloth, or the grocer who opens a shop–neither has a right to complain if the public does not buy of him. If the buyer does not like a cloth half shoddy, or coffee half-chicory, he will go elsewhere. If the subscriber does not like one newspaper, he takes another, or none. The appeal for newspaper support on the ground that such a journal ought to be sustained by an enlightened community, or on any other ground than that it is a good article that people want,–or would want if they knew its value,–is purely childish in this age of the world. If any person wants to start a periodical devoted to decorated teapots, with the noble view of inducing the people to live up to his idea of a teapot, very good; but he has no right to complain if he fails.

On the other hand, the public has no rights in the newspaper except what it pays for; even the “old subscriber” has none, except to drop the paper if it ceases to please him. The notion that the subscriber has a right to interfere in the conduct of the paper, or the reader to direct its opinions, is based on a misconception of what the newspaper is. The claim of the public to have its communications printed in the paper is equally baseless. Whether they shall be printed or not rests in the discretion of the editor, having reference to his own private interest, and to his apprehension of the public good. Nor is he bound to give any reason for his refusal. It is purely in his discretion whether he will admit a reply to any thing that has appeared in his columns. No one has a right to demand it. Courtesy and policy may grant it; but the right to it does not exist. If any one is injured, he may seek his remedy at law; and I should like to see the law of libel such and so administered that any person injured by a libel in the newspaper, as well as by slander out of it, could be sure of prompt redress. While the subscribes acquires no right to dictate to the newspaper, we can imagine an extreme case when he should have his money back which had been paid in advance, if the newspaper totally changed its character. If he had contracted with a dealer to supply him with hard coal during the winter, he might have a remedy if the dealer delivered only charcoal in the coldest weather; and so if he paid for a Roman Catholic journal which suddenly became an organ of the spiritists.

The advertiser acquires no more rights in the newspaper than the subscriber. He is entitled to use the space for which he pays by the insertion of such material as is approved by the editor. He gains no interest in any other part of the paper, and has no more claim to any space in the editorial columns, than any other one of the public. To give him such space would be unbusiness-like, and the extension of a preference which would be unjust to the rest of the public. Nothing more quickly destroys the character of a journal, begets distrust of it, and so reduces its value, than the well-founded suspicion that its editorial columns are the property of advertisers. Even a religious journal will, after a while, be injured by this.

Yet it must be confessed that here is one of the greatest difficulties of modern journalism. The newspaper must be cheap. It is, considering the immense cost to produce it, the cheapest product ever offered to man. Most newspapers cost more than they sell for; they could not live by subscriptions; for any profits, they certainly depend upon advertisements. The advertisements depend upon the circulation; the circulation is likely to dwindle if too much space is occupied by advertisements, or if it is evident that the paper belongs to its favored advertisers. The counting-room desires to conciliate the advertisers; the editor looks to making a paper satisfactory to his readers. Between this see-saw of the necessary subscriber and the necessary advertiser, a good many newspapers go down. This difficulty would be measurably removed by the admission of the truth that the newspaper is a strictly business enterprise, depending for success upon a ‘quid pro quo’ between all parties connected with it, and upon integrity in its management.