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Halberstam argued that between the nineteen-thirties and the nineteen-seventies radio and television brought a new immediacy to reporting, while the resources provided by corporate owners and the demands made by an increasingly sophisticated national audience led to harder-hitting, investigative, adversarial reporting, the kind that could end a war and bring down a President.Richard Rovere summed it up best: “What The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Time and CBS have in common is that, under pressures generated internally and externally, they moved from venality or parochialism or mediocrity or all three to something approaching journalistic excellence and responsibility.” That move came at a price.
The view of the new journalism held by people like my father escaped Halberstam’s notice.
In 1969, Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, delivered a speech drafted by the Nixon aide Pat Buchanan accusing the press of liberal bias.
Reporters pledged themselves to “facts, facts, and more facts,” and, as the press got less partisan and more ad-based, newspapers sorted themselves out not by their readers’ political leanings but by their incomes.
If you had a lot of money to spend, you read the St. Unsurprisingly, critics soon began writing big books, usually indictments, about the relationship between business and journalism.
“When you read your daily paper, are you reading facts or propaganda?
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” Upton Sinclair asked on the jacket of “The Brass Check,” in 1919.
The newspaper mortality rate is old news, and nostalgia for dead papers is itself pitiful at this point, even though, I still say, there’s a principle involved.
” As the car crept along, never stopping, we’d each grab a paper and dash in the dark across icy driveways or dew-drunk grass, crashing, seasonally, into unexpected snowmen. Its pages rolled off giant, thrumming presses in a four-story building that overlooked City Hall the way every city paper used to look out over every city hall, the Bat-Signal over Gotham. Between 19, the year the American Society of News Editors quit counting, five hundred or so dailies went out of business; the rest cut news coverage, or shrank the paper’s size, or stopped producing a print edition, or did all of that, and it still wasn’t enough.
“We are, for the first time in modern history, facing the prospect of how societies would exist without reliable news,” Alan Rusbridger, for twenty years the editor-in-chief of the , writes in “Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now.” “There are not that many places left that do quality news well or even aim to do it at all,” Jill Abramson, a former executive editor of the New York , writes in “Merchants of Truth: The Business of News and the Fight for Facts.” Like most big-paper reporters and editors who write about the crisis of journalism, Rusbridger and Abramson are interested in national and international news organizations. Newspaper circulation rose between 19, but likely only because more people were reading fewer papers, and, as A. Liebling once observed, nothing is crummier than a one-paper town.
In 1949, after yet another New York daily closed its doors, Liebling predicted, “If the trend continues, New York will be a one- or two-paper town by about 1975.” He wasn’t that far off.