The Gilded Age Press, 1865-1900

By Ted Curtis Smythe | Go to book overview

2

Partisanship under Attack, 1865-1872

Partisan journalism was well understood by the public and by journalists. It had a history going back to the founding of the nation, and it underwent change slowly. It was well established, since the vast majority of papers were partisan even after the war. It was economically viable, because a vast political patronage system supported the press and other party faithful, and it was personally satisfying to those editors who were actively involved in party decisions. They felt they were performing a public service and helping the nation. Partisanship met the needs of editors, party leaders, and party faithful.

Partisan newspapers usually were not started just to make money. Some politicians founded or bought newspapers to protect themselves from attack by the opposition, or to express their views on issues and promote their candidacies for office. When local partisanship got too rough it was necessary to have a vehicle in which to defend oneself. 1 Partisan editors had one objective: Protect the candidate and espouse the party's views in news, editorials, and comment. Unless the editor was a member of the founding group, or could buy into ownership, he was imported, like a hired gun, to run the paper. Such editors were not to have independent views, or, at least, they were not to express them. In exchange for the paper's support, party leaders promised to provide financial support, either directly through investment, subscriptions, and political advertising or indirectly through government advertising, printing, and public office. The partisan press had been supported this way since the founding of the nation.

Editors expected to be rewarded when their candidates won office, whether local or national. Local v ictories resulted in printing and a dvertising contracts from city and county. When an editor's candidate became president, the spoils he might receive included a postmastership. The Chicago Inter-Ocean reaped the benefits of political connections when it published a 154-page paper, which included a 136-page city tax list. Thirty compositors w orked ten and one-half hours a day for thirty-six days to set the list. 2 It paid to have friends in high government places.

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