By Walter Lippmann. Wednesday, February 11th, 1931
The American press has, I believe, become freer from hidden control than any in the world. This is the great service performed by what I have called the popular commercial press, otherwise known as yellow journalism, and in its latest and perhaps last manifestation as tabloid journalism. It is the first politically independent press which the world has known. The liberating effect of this type of journalism can be appreciated only by remembering that on the greater part of the surface of the globe where it has not yet appeared there is no real freedom to publish. When you have drawn a line around that part of continental Europe north of the Alps and east of Poland, added the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, the British Dominions, the United States, and a few spots in South America, you have roughly indicated about all the territory in which there is substantial freedom of the press. I do not mean to say that the popular commercial press has won the battle of freedom, but rather that as the frontiers of freedom advance, it is this popular press which first effectively occupies the new territory and consolidates the ground that has been won. Without its massive power new constitutional liberties are difficult to hold when the fervor of the emancipation has passed.
This type of journalism is not, I believe, enduring. It contains within itself the seeds of its own dissolution. For its actuating principle is to attract daily the most vivid attention of a large mass. Its object, therefore, is not to report events in their due relationships or to interpret them in ways that subsequent events will verify. It selects from the events of the day those aspects which most immediately engage attention, and in place of the effort to see life dramatically, episodically, and from what is called, in the jargon of the craft, the angle of human interest. This is highly effective - for a while. But the method soon exhausts itself. When everything is dramatic, nothing after a while is dramatic; when everything is highly spiced, nothing after a while has much flavor; when everything is new and startling, the human mind just ceases to be startled. But that is not all. As the readers of this press live longer in the world, and as their personal responsibilities increase, they begin to feel the need of being genuinely informed rather than of being merely amused and excited. Gradually they discover that things do not happen as they are made to appear in the human interest stories. The realization begins to dawn upon them that they have not been getting the news but a species of romantic fiction which they can get much better out of the movies and the magazines. I think I am not mistaken in believing that the popular press has a transient circulation, that its readers pass through it on their way to maturity, and that it can continue to prosper on its original pattern only while there is a continuing supply of immature readers who have not yet felt the need of something else.