The power of Newspapers?


The years between 1900 and 1939 were seen as the ‘golden age’ of the newspaper. One of the reasons for this was the working class’ struggles for education, and especially to read and to write. Before, readership was limited to the middle classes but the expansion of readership to include working people created more demand. Newspapers were more accessible than books and cheaper to produce. The demand for newspapers influenced improvements in technology and the development and widespread distribution of newspapers. The competition for readers influenced the diversity of newspaper content to include literature (poetry, short stories and serializing novels), debates and letters to the editor. Thus newspapers because significant ‘entertainment packages’ in a time when television and movies had not yet taken off. While the newspaper was a product of modern society, it also helped to reproduce modernity, promoting art forms such as literature (serializing stories) and support for movies and movie stars, theatre, opera and contemporary artists and writers.

Newspapers provided the basis for people to know what was happening in their local communities and brought ‘national news’ into homes and workplaces. This ‘explosion’ of information affected all aspects of life, and the growth of a mass culture and mass movements. It meant that people in different parts of the country could read serialized stories and this developed amongst others, debate, common identities and perspectives. This also promoted social issues and struggles. For example, workers could keep abreast of labour strikes and outcomes in other sectors and other parts of the country.

While the newspapers enabled increased access to information and self-expression for people across all classes, the newspapers, especially the editors, also became very powerful. They developed enormous powers to potentially create and control public opinion and thought.

Given that many newspapers were privately owned, this placed enormous power in the hands of individual owners, and later share-holders who ran the newspapers for a profit. Today, most newspapers are owned by shareholders, and together with editors, they determine what is ‘news’ and ‘how’ the news and information is presented. Increasingly shareholders shape and determine public opinion, whereas the views of ordinary citizens, communities and those without their own newspapers, have no voice.

What do you think? Air your views in short articles or letters.

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