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American Newspaper
by [?]

Akin to the false notion that the newspaper is a sort of open channel that the public may use as it chooses, is the conception of it as a charitable institution. The newspaper, which is the property of a private person as much as a drug-shop is, is expected to perform for nothing services which would be asked of no other private person. There is scarcely a charitable enterprise to which it is not asked to contribute of its space, which is money, ten times more than other persons in the community, who are ten times as able as the owner of the newspaper, contribute. The journal is considered “mean” if it will not surrender its columns freely to notices and announcements of this sort. If a manager has a new hen-coop or a new singer he wishes to introduce to the public, he comes to the newspaper, expecting to have his enterprise extolled for nothing, and probably never thinks that it would be just as proper for him to go to one of the regular advertisers in the paper and ask him to give up his space. Anything, from a church picnic to a brass-band concert for the benefit of the widow of the triangles, asks the newspaper to contribute. The party in politics, whose principles the editor advocates, has no doubt of its rightful claim upon him, not only upon the editorial columns, but upon the whole newspaper. It asks without hesitation that the newspaper should take up its valuable space by printing hundreds and often thousands of dollars’ worth of political announcements in the course of a protracted campaign, when it never would think of getting its halls, its speakers, and its brass bands, free of expense. Churches, as well as parties, expect this sort of charity. I have known rich churches, to whose members it was a convenience to have their Sunday and other services announced, withdraw the announcements when the editor declined any longer to contribute a weekly fifty-cents’ worth of space. No private persons contribute so much to charity, in proportion to ability, as the newspaper. Perhaps it will get credit for this in the next world: it certainly never does in this.

The chief function of the newspaper is to collect and print the news. Upon the kind of news that should be gathered and published, we shall remark farther on. The second function is to elucidate the news, and comment on it, and show its relations. A third function is to furnish reading-matter to the general public.

Nothing is so difficult for the manager as to know what news is: the instinct for it is a sort of sixth sense. To discern out of the mass of materials collected not only what is most likely to interest the public, but what phase and aspect of it will attract most attention, and the relative importance of it; to tell the day before or at midnight what the world will be talking about in the morning, and what it will want the fullest details of, and to meet that want in advance,–requires a peculiar talent. There is always some topic on which the public wants instant information. It is easy enough when the news is developed, and everybody is discussing it, for the editor to fall in; but the success of the news printed depends upon a pre-apprehension of all this. Some papers, which nevertheless print all the news, are always a day behind, do not appreciate the popular drift till it has gone to something else, and err as much by clinging to a subject after it is dead as by not taking it up before it was fairly born. The public craves eagerly for only one thing at a time, and soon wearies of that; and it is to the newspaper’s profit to seize the exact point of a debate, the thrilling moment of an accident, the pith of an important discourse; to throw itself into it as if life depended on it, and for the hour to flood the popular curiosity with it as an engine deluges a fire.