Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers

By Michael Schudson | Go to book overview

times. They loathed and feared the bourgeoisie, not the poor: "The whole romantic movement in America,"Charvat concludes, "may be considered in part as a protest against the new bourgeoisie."100

In this context, it is clear that the "Moral War" on the New York Herald, while a matter of business competition, was not simply that. Why should competition take this peculiar form? Why didn't the six-penny papers lower their prices, increase their reporting of news, expand their coverage of the stock market, make their writing more lively, change their mode of distribution, and take advantage of their ties to the business community to increase advertising revenue? Some of them, in time, did do many of these things. But their first response came not as a matter of shrewd calculation in a competitive market. The six-penny editors did not understand their roles or responsibilities in narrowly economic terms. Their moral wars were not so much business competition as deadly serious social conflict, a class conflict in which they were on the defensive against a new way of being in the world which we awkwardly summarize as "middle class" and which was symbolized and strengthened by the rise of the penny press.


Conclusion

Modern journalism, which is customarily and appropriately traced to the penny papers, had its origins in the emergence of a democratic market society. What "democratic market society" means has already been indicated, but needs to be restated and amplified. By "democratic," I refer to the replacement of a political culture of gentry rule by the ideal and the institutional fact of mass democracy. After the 1830s,

-57-

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