Updated: Dec 20, 2020
While Donald Trump may want to believe that he invented the term ‘fake news,’ in fact it first appeared in the 1890’s, which also happens to be when newspaper publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer tried to capture the emerging, mass-market tabloid business.
The difference between then and now, however, is that the word ‘news,’ which used to apply only to print journalism, now refers to an enormous range of digital content whose audience is much greater than the number of people who purchase print media and read it to learn what’s going on around them.
There are currently 250 million adults alive today in the United States. Roughly 7 out of 10 access Facebook at least once a day. That’s 175 million people. While Facebook and other popular websites are referred to as ‘social media’ rather than as news, much of the content on Facebook is informational and often links to other, more conventional digital news outlets.
There are also roughly 70 million American adults with access to Twitter on a regular basis, many of these Twitter users are also looking at Facebook feeds. Again, Twitter content often links directly to content on digital platforms that feature both reportage and opinion pieces covering news events.
Back in the day (i.e., before the internet) we got our news from printed newspapers, radio and TV. Many local newspapers were shoppers, some of the newspapers in larger cities were tabloids, a few major cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C.) had readerships large enough to support real news-gathering papers like The New York Times or The Washington Post. The other newspapers relied on news-gathering by the various news agencies like AP and UPI.
Television news was for the most part a half-hour from the three national networks - CBS, ABC and NBC - and another half hour of local news which was basically the weather and the local high school sports scores. Radio news was also a few headlines every hour and as the population moved from central cities to suburbs what was really important on AM radio was the morning and evening traffic report.
And that was it. You could subscribe to or purchase weekly news magazines but by the time they were published each week the stories they carried were usually old news. My parents were Democrats so they read Newsweek, they never read Time. They also were suspicious of any newspaper published by the Hearst chain. And until the 1980's, nobody in America had ever heard of a guy named Murdoch or a news network called Fox.
The man pictured above was a foreign correspondent during World War II, then came back to the United States and began writing a monthly column for The New Yorker Magazine, 'The Wayward Press,' until just before he died in 1963. The column was usually a review of content from daily newspapers in New York City, the amount of reportage, as Liebling once put it, primarily determined by the size of the ads for a mattress sale at Macy's Department Store.
What Liebling understood about how news content was driven by commercial considerations is much more true now then when he wrote for The New Yorker Magazine. And although I would never hold myself up to be anywhere near the brilliance or insight of A. J. Liebling when it comes to understanding news media, I hope this blog and its contents will advance such knowledge at least a little bit.
Be advised, however, that you, the reader, will find scant commentary on this blog about the sins and/or omissions of the conservative, right-wing media either in digital, visual or print form. Those platforms are much too easy a target, and despite how Fox claims to be 'fair and balanced,' this is simply not true.
On the other hand, the liberal media in all its manifestations, always tries to present itself as based on well-researched facts and opinions which conform to what is considered to be valid and true. All the more reason why such content needs to be examined from a critical point of view.
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