Guide The Golden Age of the Newspaper

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Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. Amazon Drive Cloud storage from Amazon. Alexa Actionable Analytics for the Web. It cost a huge amount of money to finance foreign bureaus, investigative reporting, state and national news bureaus, standalone Sunday book reviews, and specialized reporting on health, science, and business. American newspaper owners could afford the cost.

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In the second half of the 20th century, their coffers brimmed. During that same period, grocery store profits were in the 2 percent range and department stores around 4 percent. Owning a newspaper was basically a license to print money; news did not conform to the normal rules of business. American mainstream news thrived in the post-war period because of a complex, interlocking set of subsidies. Advertisers subsidized American newspapers to reach the mass market of consumers.

By the midth century, advertisements brought in about 80 percent of newspaper revenue. Readers paid the remaining 20 percent, which roughly equaled the cost of delivery. Readers also subsidized each other. The newspaper offered something for everyone. The reader who disregarded hard news paid for the paper to find out about sports scores, television listings, and job ads. These subsidies were anomalous, however. Newspapers grew more profitable because others failed, allowing the survivors to attract ever-larger audiences.

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In effect, the rich became richer. But this set in motion a self-defeating dynamic. How could a newspaper acquire appreciably more readers when it was the only one in town? This might not have made a lot of difference for family-owned papers, who still enjoyed a decent income. But with increasing public ownership, growth matters. Stockholders wanted to see their value of their holdings appreciate beyond the rate of inflation.

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Cutting expenses for news-gathering was one way to achieve that. Then there was the matter of competition from new media. But the next wave of new media was a different matter. Competition soared with the Internet, because there was now such a low barrier to entry.

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Besides this, the Internet unbundled news. Consumers who wanted sports scores could get all they wanted online, all day, for free. Those consumers no longer subsidized other readers with different interests to the same extent. We all know what happened next: Unbundling content has confronted journalists with a hard truth. Most readers did not care about foreign or political news as much as many journalists had imagined. Or at least, those readers did not care enough about that news to pay for it.

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All these developments are less surprising when we consider the longer history of news. Newspapers have mostly struggled to make money or be the dominant provider of news. In trying to capture audience, their content was sensational, opinionated, irresponsible, and mean.

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  • Depending on ownership, newspapers were sometimes informative. That just happened far less often than the lamenters of bygone days imply.

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    Newspapers were invented in the s but only became the main way to consume news in the late 19th century. In between, American newspapers were elite products or subsidized by political parties. Most of the evidence points to newspapers returning to the status they once held before They will matter — but not to everyone. For the centuries before the post-war golden decades, people gossiped about news, they sang songs, and they spread rumors. There are other ways that news today looks more like the 18th century than the s.

    In Paris, as elsewhere, news was cosmopolitan; cities were hubs of information, just like today. Social media platforms like Twitter are the new Trees of Cracow: People operate independently, without editorial supervision, like English 17th-century chronicler John Aubrey , who combined second-hand information with his own witty observations in vignettes on notables.

    Individual observations can be packaged and repackaged into news whether about cats on morning television news or bombs in Syria. The scope, speed, and scale of this many-to-many diffusion is new; the dynamic itself is not. People have always cared about news. They have just found different modes to gather and consume it.

    The next decades will look more like the times before the golden age, when newspapers competed with many other methods to gather news. This is not to say that American newspapers will not survive. But they will not assert the same dominance as during the midth century.

    The Golden Age of Journalism?

    They will coexist with other models. The blog, an updated Tree of Cracow, and the amateur citizen journalist, toiling solitarily as Aubrey did, exist side-by-side with the school-trained reporter in a large newsroom. What is happening now is not a break in the historical narrative of news. It is a partial return to the world of news that existed for far longer, as we have discussed at greater length in an academic article.

    American journalism is younger than American baseball. To expect this model to become permanent, whatever its virtues, is the equivalent of Athenians in B.