Source Book For Social Psychology

The Organs of Public Opinion

Kimball Young

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The present chapter deals with the organs of public opinion, especially the newspaper. In the simple, primary group, opinion was carried from mouth-to-mouth and from face-to-face in a direct way of gossip, folklore and legend. Today with the complexity of groups and modes of living, other organs or carriers of opinion have come into action. Notable among these, of course, is the newspaper. There are also, the weekly and monthly periodicals, there are books and some pamphlets. The movie and the radio also furnish us a novel means of communication and play a part in the formation and extension of public opinion.

Shepard describes some of the more common organs of public opinion. With the increase in literacy in our country the newspaper has played a very great rôle in the formation of opinion. Wilcox in 1899 made an analysis of the content of a large number of newspapers. A part of his published report is given in this chapter. In 1924 another analysis of a similar nature was made. Certain changes in content were evident, especially, however, the increased space given to advertisements and the decrease in space given over to editorial and readers' opinions. The business department of the newspaper has come to overshadow all other aspects of it. It is today more and more a great commercial concern interested in profits and organized with an eye single to stock dividends.

Lloyd's analysis of the lack of professional conscience in newspaper circles is given in brief summary. One should consult his full discussion of this matter.

Lord Bryce's statement of the non-moral nature of the newspaper is excellent. Its impersonality, its lack of compunction and of responsibility make it at once a powerful and at times a dangerous or-

( 757) -gan in molding opinions. Nowhere is this more easily seen than in the United States. The prestige and yet irresponsibility of the newspapers in our country is simply enormous.

Many suggestions have been made for the correction of the difficulties of the present-day press. Jenks and others have advocated the philanthropic endowment of the press in order to take it out of the hands of pecuniary interests. So far, little has come of this method. We have seen endowed weekly periodicals come and go within the past two decades, and newspapers could scarcely exist without conformity to the standards of business laid down by their confreres. In fact, as Wilcox points out in his article, we already have certain types of endowments of some newspapers, witness Mr. Hearst. And if the government should take over this function, as Wilcox further suggests, would such a press be free from propaganda and materials favorable to the administration at the time? The danger from either private or public endowment of the press is too great to offer us much help at the moment. Any betterment in newspaper control, in dissemination of news and in editorial expression is more likely come in part, at least, through the profession of journalism itself rather than through any external scheme worked out by legislative reformers and over-zealous guardians of the public welfare.

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