Supporting Evidence

"The very multiplication and the increasing size of newspapers and magazines were incentives. How to produce images that could not be forgotten even if seen only fleetingly as one leefed through the pages."

Daniel Boorstin

The Image

"What newspapers will do has become a key question throughout the communications business. The problem is not technology. The problem is not the potential of cable or the latest ruling of the FCC. The real issue is, what will newspapers do to respond to a communications business subject to rapidly increasing changes?"

David Patten

Newspapers and New Media

Newspapers and Public Perception


Since the conception of the United States printed journalism has played a dramatic role in the shaping of the nation. Thousands of the American literate public read Thomas Paine's pamphlet arguments for declaring independence from Great Britain in the pamphlets Common Sense and The Crisis before the Revolutionary War. An even larger literate population read Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel of the struggles of blacks in the slave society in Uncle Tom's Cabin -- a novel that made many realize the growing conflict in the United States and the increasing cleave running through the nation before the Civil War. Printed material has affected conflicts in the nation for over two centuries as the most basic mass-produced media that runs before the mind's of the people and helps to alter and create the way they see the world and situations around them. Print describes a situation to a mass public and brings them closer to the actual event itself. But it cannot actually create and present a physical image -- the reader still must create an image from the material in his or her own mind. In this sense, print has become the most primitive form of media -- it has the power to influence people and alter events, but often its power to influence pales in the face of other mediums.

During the first half of 19th century, newspapers provided the main tool with which to influence and alter the public's opinions. Major newspapers like the New York Times, New York World with Walter Lippman and the Chicago Tribune became major factors in influencing public opinion. With editorials supporting or refuting major events like World War I, Wilson's Fourteen Points and the Scopes Trial, the newspaper informed readers of events and in the editorials and coverage alike helped to shape public opinion. In this age, historian Daniel Boorstin says, "If you wanted to know what the public thought, you could simply pick up a newspaper. Changes were recorded daily, or twice daily, opinions were vivified by journalese ... they were forced into being by earnest newspapermen trying to make news, they were played against one another." (Boorstin, 233-234) Newspapers not only report the news and retell events, but they influence the way the public creates images of what happens in the world around them.

In their most dominating time in the first half of this century, newspapers were the lifeblood of public opinion. In Public Opinion Walter Lippman described the importance and power of the images the media places into the minds of the people -- "The pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, their purposes, and relationship, are their public opinions." (Lippman, 30) Newspapers created the print versions of events that happened outside of a citizen's immediate sphere of perception. Without outside media like newspapers, American people were confined to their own private spheres -- simply their own homes and communities.

Especially during times of war, when all events take place away from the individual public sphere, newspapers become the creator of images, defining events the public cannot see. News reporters ventured behind the lines in dangerous wartime situations to see the events and record what they saw, In World War II alone 1,646 news correspondents were recognized by the United States War and Navy Departments. (Stein, 94) These papers provided the public with up-to-date information on what was happening daily on the battlefront. Newspapers played active roles along with radio in both World War I and World War II to report the operations on the battlefields -- they put stories before the readers and readers formed their perceptions of the war from the written word. Their words helped to recreate the events that happened in the outside world -- this information contributed to creating images of war; Boorstin agrued how the selection of stories and coverage attitutudes of newspapers in turn alters the image of events like wars in the minds of the public. They offer "a shrewdly selected range of stories -- items of pseudo-events -- each well-suited to the interests of the particular newspaper or magazine" in the process of "image build-up." (Boorstin, 190) Through selective coverage and emphasis on certain events, newspapers create an image in the public mind of events happening around the nation and around the world.

Newspapers can only affect public opinion, however, by as much as their reading audience is willing to commit the time to read through the minute details of the news articles on the war. It is a slower process and it depends upon the amount of time available to and the reading ability of the reader -- the audience is very specific because one must buy a newspaper and actually commit the time to reading through it. Newspapers depend on someone looking at the front page, buying the newspaper (or subscribing to it) and then actually reading the story; following this initial process, the reader must actually open up the paper to follow the information to the inside. This is one of the major challenges of newspaper communication -- newspapers must actively draw a reader in so that the reader can absorb the information and create their own images and interpretations of events. Some researchers say most of this pattern comes from habits learned within the family -- "There is something about flipping through the local paper, like our parents and grandparents before us, that remains a comfortable habit." (Kurtz, 7) People read newspapers out of habit that is learned through generations.

But today, newspapers are facing a crisis with decreased readerships and difficult competition with other medias like the Internet and television news. They simply cannot keep up with the rapid imagery of these other media forms. In war times, newspapers fear becoming obsolete in the face of visual media. In World War I and World War II Americans constantly consulted their newspapers and radios to follow the events of the battlefront. But in modern war, newspapers have simply become too slow. By the time reporters have written, edited, sent and printed the stories, the newspaper itself still has to go to print and be distributed the next day. By this time, events on the battlefront have changed dramatically and the public has already received its information from other sources. The heyday of newspapers as a reporting medium in war has evolved -- while they once were read avidly by the public around the nation in times of war, they have now become only a secondary source to the war media of visual images.