Why the “golden age” of newspapers was the exception, not the rule

Journalists pride themselves on knowing their history when it comes to politics and economics, but they are notoriously ahistorical about their own profession. They treat the idea of fair, fact-based journalism — what some call objectivity — the way the College of Cardinals treated the virgin birth, a miracle that sprang from the purest of intentions. In fact, this type of journalism was a good business decision by newspaper owners. Balanced reporting brought in more readers and more advertisers who wanted to reach those readers at the same time that it happened to better inform the public. Historical perspective has been strikingly absent from discussions of the troubles afflicting news media today. While enlightening in its own right, such a perspective may also help us find cures. This is not to minimize the problems. A recent article in The Washington Post lamented that “newspapers have been dying in slow motion
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