Social Psychology: An Analysis of Social Behavior

Chapter 25: The Organs of Public Opinion

Kimball Young

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We shall now examine the various organs of public opinion in modern complex society. Naturally we shall concern ourselves largely with the present-day newspaper; but we must mention other products of the press, the motion picture, and the radio.

A. The Newspaper.

As we have seen, the source of news and interpretations has shifted from the gossip and conversation of the primary village group to that of the metropolitan and international area. This shift has been accompanied by the growth of the modern newspaper and other media of information and opinion.

1. The Nature of News.— News is not merely printed reports of events. It implies communication. Before they become news in any socio-psychological sense, the reports must have readers. News, then, is really a form of social interaction and is not merely printed matter of a special kind. Journalists start on this assumption. Johnson defines news as follows: "News is anything selected for treatment by a newspaper that is so treated that it interests a number of persons." [1] The selection of material is as important as the interest of readers. Yet this element of interest is fundamental to our understanding of the nature of news. It implies our attention to something out of the ordinary, something related to crises, large or small, to things which appeal to us personally in terms of our social and cultural apperceptions. Thus Ivy Lee comments:

News is that which is interesting to the public today. That does not necessarily mean that it is an event that happened today, the event might have happened a thousand years ago; but if it is interesting to the people who read it today, it is news.[2]


News in this sense has existed wherever and whenever men turned their attention to events, situations, or personalities, and whenever their responses to these have been communicated to others of their group or even to strangers. Much myth- and legend-making doubtless began with the narration of events, impressions, and interpretations. The history of the newspaper itself reflects this. In order to get a picture of the cultural setting of the most important single organ of public opinion, we may sketch briefly the story of the newspaper.

2. The History of the Newspaper.— In both Greece and Rome placards were posted in public places to announce events, public meetings, and so on. About 40 B.C. Julius Caesar established in Rome the Acta Diurna ("Daily Events") which lasted until 309 A.D. They contained short announcements of games, fires, and religious rites, and the official reports of battles made by specially appointed officials. They were posted in conspicuous places, and kept as public records 3 Aside from these semi-official organs, there were perhaps even privately circulated bulletins or newspapers in Rome, at least in the time of Juvenal.

During the Middle Ages the church dispensed official news. Individuals occasionally posted up their reactions to contemporary events for common gaze, as did Aretino when he made public his vilifications of the Popes. Such cases merely show that earlier societies had some formalized method of dispensing news. With the rise of cities, universities, and guilds, certain types of news were circulated through various classes. Then increased mobility widened people's interests, and special newsmongers came into being. For a long time other agencies than true newspapers were principally employed to circulate news. About 1652 the coffee houses of London began to be important sources of news. Each house catered to certain professional groups— literary, medical, and political. These resorts became so important in the formation and crystallization of public opinion that in 1676 the Earl of Danby attempted to suppress the circulation of news in the coffee houses. Throughout the period also the poster, the circular, and the handbill were employed.

As printing became more common, the whole question of its control became a factor in the matter of public interest in current affairs. The Tudors in England, for instance, controlled printing as a royal monopoly

(601) and made grants to certain printers only. During the reign of Elizabeth numerous ordinances were passed in an effort to control unlicensed printing. But in all this the problem was to control not the printing of news, but the expression of opinion. Milton's Areopogitica was really a defense of freedom to express one's opinion, not of freedom to print news, in our present-day sense.

The evolution of the newspaper was gradual. The invention of printing was of course an important step. The newspaper arose from the pamphlet of opinion, from the verbal newsmonger, and especially from the privately circulated news letters which were sent out regularly by correspondents to their clients outside of London. In the 16th century various kinds of pamphlets containing news circulated in Holland and Germany. In 1566 the Notizie Schritte was established in Venice. The first newspaper in our present sense was perhaps the Frankfurter Journal, a weekly paper started by Egenolph Emmel in 1615. Antwerp had a similar newspaper the year following. In 1622 the Weekly News was founded in London, by Archer and Bourne. As following the Revolution the government of England shifted from the Crown to Parliament, Parliament naturally assumed the right to control the printing of news. In 1702 the first successful daily was established in London. Although the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are filled with controversy over freedom of newspapers and printed opinions generally, and though stamp taxes of various sorts were an effective means of retarding the growth of a free press, there was a gradual growth toward the present-day newspaper. Despite imprisonment, fines, and other means of control the British press finally attained to some degree of freedom. The reign of George III, especially, was marked by attempts to restrain the press. John Wilkes, in fact, is a kind of British martyr to the freedom of the press. On the continent the newspaper in the American or British sense is largely the product of the last century.

In America the earliest newspaper was the Boston News-Letter (1704). The New Hampshire Gazette (1756) is the oldest living newspaper. Throughout early American history the newspapers were much like those of England; that is to say, newspapers represented various political or other special-interest groups. In 1831 Garrison founded his Liberator, the medium of much of the abolitionist propaganda. In 1833 Benjamin Day began to publish the New York Sun, to be sold for a penny a copy. This was the first attempt at a genuinely popular newspaper. He supported no

( 602) political party and wished his journal to provide only news. In 1835 James Gordon Bennett founded the New York Herald. He followed Day's lead and sold his papers for a penny a copy. He violated all of the then established principles of journalism. He secured news wherever he could find it— on Wall Street, in criminal courts, off ships arriving from abroad, from the Mexican War, and elsewhere. He established the Pony Express to the Pacific Coast, and made extensive use of the telegraph as soon as it was commercially available. Altogether he had a profound effect upon the technique and theory of American newspaper journalism. Yet throughout the last century there was much of what is called "personal" journalism in which certain leaders dominated their newspapers in the interest of particular principles. Such papers as the New York Tribune of Horace Greeley exerted great political influence for a long time.

Individual influence in journalism was not to last. In the latter part of the nineteenth century began the so-called "yellow" journalism. William Randolph Hearst in the '90's, first on the Pacific Coast, and later in New York, published newspapers which appealed directly to the literate masses with striking headlines and cartoons, and with sensational news that constantly played upon the most primitive mass prejudices. His influence has been steady and always the same. Today even the more conservative press has adopted many of his methods. The tabloid with its sensationalism, its pictures, and its appeal to the most rudimentary interests and emotions is the latest thing in American journalism.

As modern life has become more mobile and more complex, as our range of interest or stimulation has extended, the newspaper has for millions of people become the medium of gossip and news about remote events and situations and about personalities whom they never know directly but in whom they are interested. Then, too, the newspaper has become a corporate business conducted to bring profits to stockholders. In truth, a newspaper can be understood only as a business enterprise. To consider it as a personal journal providing its readers with elevating moral interpretations of contemporary life is to misconceive its development and its present place in our society. The pamphlet, the journals of opinion, and other organs may continue to furnish this sort of matter to their respective publics, but for the most part the present American newspaper has passed from a personal to an impersonal basis. Sometimes, as in the support given to particular presidential candidates, something remains of personal

( 603) journalism. Even then this support does not prevent the genuine news sections of the paper from presenting relatively unbiased news of other candidates. In some rural newspapers the sense of personal editorial responsibility persists. Still, in most of its general news, in many of the editorials, in the material on fashions, the comic strips, and the stories, the rural press is even more standardized than are the metropolitan papers.

B. The Organization of News.

We may now look at the contemporary newspaper to see how its make-up and nature reflect the social organization of our society. If the newspaper is no longer an agency of moral uplift and an interpreter of life, we ought to consider realistically the nature of the present newspaper. In order to understand the psychology of the newspaper, we must review its relationship to the social order.

The appeal of the newspaper can not be separated from the attitude of the paper toward its public. The stimuli in the newspaper are first, the printed word, and second, the picture. In place of the voice and the direct visual stimulation which we have in the crowd, the newspaper arouses our interest through the printed word and lately by illustrations. Just what the differences between the spoken and the printed word are emotionally, and in the realm of association, we do not know. It is evident from the make-up of newspapers that the printed words used are those of distinctly stereotyped sort. The stereotypes of the front page materials, particularly, have an emotional connotation, vague perhaps, but nevertheless significant. The very intellectual vagueness itself is a virtue, for it leaves each reader to interpret the meaning in terms of his own "emotional logic" rather than in terms of the specific meaning carried in closely delimited intellectual concepts. Short, commonly-known words, carrying much emotional freight, are most employed in the sensational news of the day. The appeal of other sections of the paper may be of a very different kind. We must consider together, then, the arrangement of the newspaper and the appeal to the reader, because the one can not he understood — without the other.

1. The Newspaper Reflects Human Interests and Behavior.— The modern newspaper is designed to interest all types of publics. Its appeals include the unusual, sensational sort which affect most of us, and the special interest groups of sport, business, or polite society. Its clientele is

( 604) varied and full of the individual differences of a complex social life and social stratification. The newspaper reflects, for the most part, these diversities.

First of all, the newspaper is organized around current gossip of the more unusual sort. This we call "front page" news. It is sensational. It deals with moral, political, and economic crises, with disasters and conflicts, and finally with personalities. There are other sections of current gossip, such as the sports section. This section includes statistical materials such as baseball scores and averages and a good deal of "human interest" material on personalities. There is a section devoted to business. Another division describes contemporary events in polite society. Another presents the editorials. Then, there are literary, dramatic, and musical columns, and always something about religious activities. A large number of papers have special material on the automobile and the radio. Finally there are the advertisements— the large displays of the retail and wholesale merchants, those of amusements, and the classified advertisement section.

Each of these sections attracts a certain public. Each public has its own universe of discourse, its own vocabulary and set of stereotypes. Some of these vocabularies are those of common, every-day speech. The vocabularies of sports and of stock market reports are usually very special. Thus in its make-up the newspaper is just as heterogeneous as is the social world in which it exists.

a. The Front Page.— The front page contains the emotionally appealing news of the day. Although the most ephemeral, it is the most immediately enticing part of the paper. In a sense, the front page material is like the ballyhoo man of a circus who attempts by his shouting to get people into the tent. As noted above, it deals with the more distinct crises: conflict, disaster, rare events and dominant personalities related to these. Conflicts may be incidents of industrial, political, legal, religious, or other social struggles. Under disaster we include catastrophes of nature, homicide, suicide, accidents, and so on. The unusual or "rare" news is usually a story of the strong, the old, the successful. It maybe the report of the man who looped the loop 515 times and set a record, or of the man who went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball. Personalities of public interest are people prominent in political, economic, religious or other circles, who are often related to the conflict situations or who otherwise give rise to human interest stories. The presence in ,a city of a famous woman evangelist, Edi-

(605) -son's birthday celebration, the death of a prominent political leader, are obvious illustrations. The following table is a summary of the column inches devoted to these four types of appeal in four newspapers for March 15, 1928:

Table 18: Giving Front Page News in Four Newspapers on the Same Day[4]
Column Inches in Various Classes of News
Newspaper Disaster Conflict "Rare" Personalities
Capital Times (Madison) 96 4 52
Chicago Daily News 28 30 3/4 56
Journal of Commerce (Chicago) 8 48 1/4 21 8
New York Times 50 60 2 45

These figures show marked divergencies in the sort of material which appears on the front page of various newspapers. Some give more attention to certain things than others. This is partly due to differences in locality. Two of these papers are metropolitan dailies, one is a rather specialized type of organ, and the fourth is distinctly of more local character. An examination of two labor dailies, one from Duluth, one from Washington, D. C., of two days later, showed that all of the front page material was given over to conflict. Since labor organs represent a special-interest group which is particularly concerned with conflict situations, this fact is not surprising. As we shall see, all newspapers select their news, and the editorial selection is naturally determined with reference to the editor's judgment of what will sell the newspaper.

Some front page news is "spot" news; that is, it must be timely. Reports of disasters and conflicts are "spot" news. They can not wait, as their value deteriorates rapidly with lapse of time. Hence the importance of the "scoops" which the various papers attempt to secure in their reports of disastrous conflicts. To be the first with the news is to catch the public interest. Sales are increased, and with them, profits and prestige. "Rare" and personality stories can often wait, and may be used for fill ups when other front page news is scanty.

The appeal of the front page is the appeal of any crisis to the man on the street. Murders, divorces, robberies, graft, floods, fires, religious and political quarrels— and, most exciting of all, war— these are the situations in

( 606) which man is always interested in preference to more intellectual and perhaps more institutionalized phases of his behavior. The prepotent tendencies in man: hunger, sex, rage, fear, and those basic habit patterns built around his ego-desire for new experience, desire for security, desire for power and prestige, desire to get something for nothing, and so onthese account for our interest in reports of disaster, conflict, the unusual and noteworthy personalities. Our vicarious satisfactions in tales of adventure, the fantasies which we satisfy by participating, in imagination, with the heroes who fly the Atlantic, who conquer the frozen South, who win football games, or who rescue dying women and children— all this we must remember in order to understand the psychology of the front page story. We should all like to be heroes or heroines, to take part in stirring adventures, to witness marvelous events; yet we also like to feel secure and safe from dangers. Hence in reading of disasters we have a sense of emotional participation in danger and still retain the sense of security and orderliness of things about us at home. We have an adventure with no trouble and inconvenience. Through our imaginary participation we get something for nothing; we get emotional thrill and excitement without any actual danger. In our feeling of present security we may even have a sense of superiority associated with it all. To say it more abstractly, our ambivalent emotional trends are integrated into a complete act. We are secure, safe, and comfortable, and yet we are also, in our mind's eye, in the land of new adventure.

The make-up of the front page story itself reveals some basic psycho, logical factors. The headline is obviously arranged to catch the reader's attention. The very limitation of space makes it necessary to use short but powerful words. The sensational features of the incident are thus put in the foreground. The banner headline, running across the entire eight columns of the ordinary paper, gives us a clue to what the newspaper force considers the predominantly attention-getting story of the day. The minor heads bring out other features of the story, while the still smaller ones give some notion of the continuity of the account to follow. The story itself is a narrative interspersed with pertinent descriptive matter. The center of the presentation, however, is a narration of the event. Often the story is repeated two or three times, first in a brief, snappy summary, followed by more details in the second part, and finally in considerable detail in the

( 607) third part. Thus, one reader may see only the headlines, another may glance over the first paragraph and pass on to the next story. Others may read the complete account. The essential thing the report does is to focus our attention through the headline and then carry us into the heart of the incident by a striking description.

The narrative form is important psychologically because it fits perfectly into the psychology of legend- and myth-making which we have already discussed. American newspapers, at least, replace the face-to-face narration of events and gossip of the primary group. Nevertheless their technique is much the same. As the wandering teller of fabulous tales told of wars, disasters, and foreign places to open-mouthed listeners in the Middle Ages or even in the last two or three centuries, so, now, the newspaper performs much the same function for millions of readers. These stories become the foundation of modern mythology and legend. They thus function in the creation of the world of social reality in which their readers live. Curiously, just as centuries ago the credulity of the listeners was not disturbed by critical attitudes, so today the reverence for the printed word prevents most people from doubting the story as it is set before them in the newspaper. In the age of almost universal education the rationalistic critic of society is often amazed that the masses follow so blindly what they read. The critic forgets that what the reader has before him fits into the fantasy world and the social reality in which he has been brought up from childhood. Learning the three R's and a smattering of history, geography, and science in school does not free us from these basic patterns of behavior. It only extends the range of stimulation by bringing us into contact with the wider world outside our immediate circle of action.

An examination of the vocabulary of front page news will further confirm the nature of the appeals made by the press. Printed speech reactions are, like spoken ones, indicative of the reality in which we live. The subject matter of the front page demands that the words and phrases should be powerful, inflammatory, and suggestive of strongly emotional associations. The following lists were made up from front page stories of two papers of approximately the same publication date and dealing with much the same news. The first is from a paper in a city of 50,000; the other from a metropolitan daily with nearly a million circulation. The figures after some words indicate the number of times the word was used:

( 608)

From a Newspaper in town of 50,000 for March 2, 1928

Disaster Stories

disaster (3)
ruins (2)
bodies (4)
death (2)
dead (4)
wrecked (2)
crushed (2)
emergency (3)
penitentiary (2)
avalanche (2)
killed (3)
shot (3)

Conflict Stories

wins (3)
fight (2)
withdrew (2)
candidates (4)
courts (10)
election (4)
reconcile (4)
campaign (2)
attack (2)
imposes (2)
speed (3)
foreclosure (2)
delinquent (3)
suit (2)
receiver (2)

From a Metropolitan daily for March 13, 1928:
Three Disaster Stories

death (5)
strychnine (4)
will (3)
killed (2)
trace (2)


Four Conflict Stories
record (4)
trust buster
Three Stories of the Rare or Unusual

The following list gives some of the more or less stereotyped phrase appearing in all of these stories:

new and mysterious
investigation of accounts
senate inquiry
discovery of the fund
sensational disclosures
scandal to be disclosed
refused to name
mystery witnesses
severely attacked
deny publicity
severe grilling
crooked deal
leading sensation
carnival of buying
new record for all time
wildest schemes
shouts and groans
desperate shorts
tidal proportions
waves of buying
bewildered traders
excited cries
badly trapped
sensational losses
suffered serious reverses
frenzied scene
boiled and bubbled
puzzled traders
gambling spirit
civic cleansing
aroused voter
whole country
awaits moral menace

A good many of these phrases occurred in the day's stories of violent buying and selling on the New York Stock Exchange, important news at the moment.

The following selection from the so-called human interest story of the

(610) flood disaster in the Little Santa Clara Valley near Newhall, California, indicates the sort of narrative which catches the reader's attention by striking and colorful language:


Ed Locke saves 47 lives, then loses
his own; pathetic stories told.

Newhall, Cal. March 14 (A.P.) —  A sixty-five mile slash through the very heart of a beautiful valley!

Two Associated Press reporters followed that still bleeding wound from the spot where the torrent spewed its brownish flood to sully the white surf of the sea. Thence to where the water giant burst from its narrow canton lair, exulting in its first gulp of human lives.

They twice staggered and stumbled through the rushing waters of the Little Santa Clara river, red with mud and rainbow tinted with oil. They rode the highway patches, walked and ran through the heavy
mud; they stalked through the slippery slime.

All for a prize more precious than a pot of gold. For they found that men could chuckle at their own deeds of valor and women could carry on dry-eyed, although hearts were breaking. They heard the sagas of a dozen heroes.

And the greatest of these was that of Ed Locke.

Tells of Locke's Heroism

Guard of the Southern California Edison Company construction camp at Blue Bend, Ed Locke, saved the lives of at least fortyseven then and died with his boots on and his belt and gun about his waist . . . .

In short, the front page cuts across all social classes to appeal to the most fundamental and universal features of human personality— the patterns of man's behavior in hunger, sex, rage, and fear. These have ever been the source of man's legends, the delight both of the teller of tales and of his listeners. The deep satisfaction which men secure from such news is simply another reflection of the fact that their worlds are colored by emotional patterns. As in the primary village group, so in the great metropolitan centers of population, men are still moved to the depths by stories of disaster, conflict, the unusual or strange and the narrative of contemporary heroes and their deeds. To say that this function has passed to the newspaper is merely to say that our range of stimulation has so spread that we need these media to keep us conscious of crises in the. world about us— a world no longer limited to the arena of our face-to-face contacts, but by the reaches of rapid communication, reflecting the wide extent of all our interests.

An interesting recent development of front page appeal is the increasing use of illustrations to supplement the current news stories. Disasters, conflicts, unusual events, prominent personalities, and the like are freely presented. In fact, the tabloids make very extensive use of illustrations and

(611) the practice is growing in all urban newspapers. Even the rural press is using syndicate picture material in large quantities.

b. Sports Section.— In America the news of sports, next to the front page, probably has the most universal interest. It has a very intense appeal to certain classes of readers. In general, the sports section is separated into reports of athletic events, and "dope" stories on approaching events, discussions of personalities, horses, automobiles, and so on. Finally there is what we may call editorial comment on the current athletic situations. There is a wide range of material in this section. As professional and amateur athletics assume greater place in our society, there is a never-ending procession of sporting events chronicled in the daily press. Though the majority of readers are men, women are reading sporting sections more and more.

The sports material is filled with the element of conflict. Although it is recreational, it nevertheless takes on the characteristics of conflict narratives. In this respect its appeal is like that of the front page. Athletics, in fact, is a kind of make-believe war. Such terms as "opposing camp," "hostilities," "defense," "victorious," give a clue to the militant features of these activities. The language is colorful and racy. Slang is permitted as it is in the actual speech of athletics and managers. The associations of the language employed are largely emotional and arouse attitudes of opposition toward some teams, cities, or groups and sympathy for others. Sport is so highly organized in this country that our allegiance to both amateur and professional teams of our cities makes the play war all the more real. The techniques of war propaganda are employed. Local papers do not hesitate to color the sports articles with their own bias and wishes. Before college contests, publicity departments wage newspaper battles in their "dope" stories. They attempt to increase the confidence of their own teams and student bodies and to undermine that of their opponents. The condition of the players, the strategy of attack, the preparation for the forthcoming "battles"— all these things are described to enhance the morale of their own group and destroy that of the opponents. In professional sports, such as prize-fighting, the sports directors attempt to provide newspapers with stories which will arouse public interest and thus increase the gate receipts. Cities often compete with each other for a great fight. A good deal of civic pride is developed in the process, at least among that part of the public which is interested in the fight.

(612) As in the case of the front page, the make-up of the sports page is correlated with the type of appeal. Pictures, personalities, and "inside dope" are presented. But unlike the front page stories and more like the business-industrial and society stories, sports stories are written in a special vernacular. The casual reader unfamiliar with the sports vocabulary would have difficulty in understanding it. This description of a baseball game is typical:


Winter Haven, Fla., March 10-The Philadelphia Nationals defeated their old rivals the Athletics, 5 to 2, . . . [They] will resume hostilities in Philadelphia, March 31.

The Phils won by consistent hitting. Cy Williams had two hits in two trips to the plate. Al Simmins, for the Athletics, got a triple, a single, and a long sacrifice fly.

The vernacular of baseball, which is meaningless to the uninitiated, is illustrated in the following words and phrases:
sacrifice fly
hit and run
home run
double play
picked off his shoestring
warming up
knocked out of the box
south paw
A B; H; E.
spit ball
hole in the bat
found for a hit
shut out

In football, similarly, a special set of terms is used in the sports stories. They almost constitute a technical vocabulary. Such are:
kick off
line buck
forward pass
thrown for a loss
mass formation
clipping from behind
open plays
lateral pass
end run

In racing there also is a special vocabulary. Following is a racing report taken at random from the daily press:

New Orleans, La., March 16 (Special)-Long shots were marching past the finish line one after another at Jefferson Park this afternoon . . . .

The parade of longshots started in the first race, when Royal Ruby, ridden by

(613) Jocky Bowden, showed her heels to a band of 2 year old maiden fillies. Her price in the mutuels was $72.60.

Transfer, paying $46.60, with Leonard in the saddle, got up in the last strides and beat Fire Dog in the fourth race. Then along came Sister Zoe at $56.80 for two to win in the six furlong sixth event . . . .

In the same way prize-fighting, basketball, la crosse, polo, tennis, golf, and all other sports have highly specialized vocabularies, known and enjoyed by the various devotees. As in all vocabularies, particularly in technical ones, a kind of mysticism surrounds the words. To the initiates, the vocabulary is sacred. Only scorn and ridicule are given the ignorant person who misuses the vernacular, or worse than this, who attempts to describe in ordinary phrases what he sees and hears. He exposes his lack of understanding; he shows himself to be an outsider, not one of the in-group of sports, just as by his faulty pronunciation, the barbarian betrayed himself to the true Greek.

Some material of the sports section, such as the scores of games, is highly objective; yet much is emotionally toned to interest the readers so that they will attend the games. Thus the sports section is a stimulus to the formation of audiences at athletic contests. However, numerous people get a vicarious satisfaction from merely reading about sporting events. These persons are something like those who are thrilled by the front page dispatches of adventure, tragedy, and conflict in the world at large, but who avoid these situations in actuality whenever they can.

The sports section of the newspaper is related to adult play-life. The play of an adult is much more dissociated from the balance of his life than is the child's, and the specialization of recreation shows this separation. Sport, like business or industry, is a technical, specialized affair. It is recreative, but it is also a phase of the general division of labor. This is particularly true of professional athletics, but it is becoming largely true of amateur sports as well.

c. Business Section.— The business and industrial sections of newspapers represent an even greater specialization of content and reader interest than do the pages given to sports. The business-industrial material does not reach the wide group that the sports columns do. It appeals almost exclusively to the possessors of capital, large or small. It has a vocational, not a recreational, appeal. The market reports which comprise the bulk of the section largely reflect the competition of our various industrial

(614) groups. We find the prices and sales of the hundreds of industrial and commercial stocks and bonds; reports of the movements of agricultural and industrial commodities; shipping news; and so on. The significance of these prices and movements is analyzed by special writers and described editorially. Statistics of production, past and present, statistics of money prices, and other objective data find a place in this section.

Again the differences in appeal and purpose are reflected in differences in style, make-up, and vocabulary. There is a characteristic manner of presentation, very different from that of the sports page. This is no play world; this is the world of huge economic activities and it is correspondingly serious. The style of financial pages is usually conventionalized. It seems to reflect a man who is dispassionate and objective and, above all, who has authority. The vocabulary of the financial world is of course as specialized as that of any other of the various publics reflected in the daily press. Much of the editorial comment is to inspire confidence or to produce caution in times of crisis. Many of the articles try to predict economic changes. Thus in his syndicated column B. C. Forbes often becomes a prophet. His prophecies are usually and sensibly very general; he is fondest of expressions like "future prosperity" and "better times," phrases which carry a pleasant emotional toning but no specific promises.

The following excerpt illustrates the type of special writing found in the market columns. While the opening sentence has a front page phrase, the rest of the paragraph is technical:


Expected fireworks in fresh gathered February eggs failed to materialize on the Chicago mercantile exchange. Long eggs came out freely and the price dropped 4c from the finish of Tuesday to a low of 351/4 c, with the finish at 36 1/2 c, showing a net loss of 31/4 c. March closed 1/8 c lower at 26 7/8 c, while April storage, old, finished unchanged at a 28 1/4 c and November refrigerators, old, were 1/4 c higher at 31 1/4 c. Receipts were liberal and weather more favorable, which had considerable influence on the February future. Sales were 185 cars, with receipts 18,119 cases.[5]

The following words were culled from a longer list made from one market page of a metropolitan daily. They show certain specific features of the stock market and business vocabulary:


purchasing power
preferred stock
common stock
cumulative preferred
authorized common
treasury stock

In spite of the intellectual and objective nature of the business-industrial section of the newspaper, it inevitably produces in most of us a tendency to act on hunches, to gamble on the future. The speculation manias which we have already discussed are partially mass reactions incited by the discussions of writers on business and industry. Economic activity in the profit-seeking age of capitalism is based upon our estimates of the future. It is only natural that prophetic hunches should appear in this material. Thus, while the make-up of the page tends to appeal to our intellectual capacities and not to our emotions, while it officially attempts to promote confidence and conservative action, as a matter of fact market reports and a discussion of them may arouse us emotionally. Our desire to make money by speculation, to get something for nothing, is so strong that merely to warn us not to lose our balance in the presence of a possibility of getting rich without delay or trouble may cause us to do that very thing.

Associated with the business-industrial section are the recent special sections on the automobile and the radio. These are really a part of the business-industrial set-up, except that they appeal to the users as well as to the buyers and sellers of automobiles and radios. There is much informational material about operation of cars or radios. There are announcements of radio programs, notes on the automobile industry, on good roads, and so on.

d. Society News and Women's Pages.— The section on polite society is conducted largely for feminine readers. In metropolitan papers the bulk of the news is about the personalities of the upper social classes— their engagements, marriages, dinners, coming-out parties, dances, sporting

(616) activities, etc. Photographs of the members of society are usually printed in great numbers.

Again, the appeal made by the society page controls the style of its make-up and presentation. The form of some news items is highly standardized: announcements of engagements and weddings are usually made in set ways.

The psychology of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure is readily apparent. Tales of the amounts of money spent on gowns, presents, preparations for a wedding, and the like, along with rich descriptions of the events and personalities, make up a considerable part of these stories. Here, as in the sports section, there is a somewhat technical vocabulary. Not merely are such words as "smart," "chic," "gorgeous" in common use, but costumes and decorations are described in special terms which only the initiated understand.

The doings of the leisure class, their sports, travels, teas, dances, dinners, divorces, weddings, births and deaths, are naturally interesting to themselves .[6] But this is not enough to warrant the space given to the matter in many newspapers. Only because the hot polloi like this news does it have such a place. The vicarious satisfaction of the shop girl, the maid, the poverty-stricken charwoman, and the wives and daughters of the white-collared classes is self-evident. They love to day-dream of a life of unlimited leisure, wealth, and social position. A news story of society events furnishes them with the material out of which their day-dreams may be built. More than that, it convinces them that this Cinderella world is after all just around the corner— as it often actually is— and this fact confirms their hope that by some miracle they may some day acquire a place in this fairyland. Thus by furnishing them with a fantasy built out of real people who after all are not so different from themselves, the newspaper helps them to get through the daily routine.

In the smaller cities and towns the society columns of the papers touch a much wider circle of persons, largely of the small bourgeoisie. Having one's name in print as attending some social function is highly satisfying. As William James said, we should all be pleased to be seen on Piccadilly Circus with a duke on either arm, but in the absence of dukes we like to be known as members of The Magnolia Garden Club or as a guest of a wealthy banker of our city, or to be on the entertainment committee to

( 617) meet some important political or religious figure. To be mentioned as "among those present" expands our ego, even if we are present at nothing more than a church supper or a small neighborhood card club.

With the society section proper there is developing a section dealing with woman's world in vocational and professional circles. Here we find household hints— recipes, patterns for clothing, advice on the care of children, etc. It probably appeals to the lower income groups, but it also contains special matter on professional work for women also. It reflects the emancipation of women from mere drudgery into a world of wider activities.

e. Special Feature Section.— There may also be a section on current literature and drama. Sometimes this does not extend beyond press notices and reviews of current plays, both of motion pictures and the stage drama. On certain days there may be special sections devoted to book reviews and literary discussions; and a few of the large metropolitan papers carry extensive literary and magazine sections in their Sunday editions. In some newspapers that are not so professedly intellectual the Sunday magazine section contains light literature and romantic accounts of the lives of wealthy people. These accounts of the leisure classes furnish a distinct vicarious thrill for the readers. They picture another dream world to which they may escape from their own commonplace life.

f. Comic Section.— Another division of the newspaper, although not always separated off from other matter, is that given over to comic strips. The comic strip is an American development. At first it was apparently a continuous cartoon, like the doings of the "Yellow Kid"— a name which gave rise to the term "Yellow Journalism." An analysis of the contemporary comic strips shows that they reflect every phase of life. They have an appeal to various reader audiences. Just as the vaudeville ranges from the sort that more or less polite and well-bred people attend to the ribald and obscene burlesque, so the comics reflect the humorous, pathetic, and tragic elements of life for divergent classes. There are low-brow comics in which the humor is crass and even ribald. Others are of sentimental late adolescence, like "Harold Teen." There are pathetic-sentimental types like "Orphan Annie." Some are the collegiate sort; some reflect the flapper, or the adventures of the stenographer class— from "Tillie the Toiler" to "Winnie Winkle." Others touch human interest, like "Gasoline Alley." "Krazy Kat" and "Skippy" are mildly philosophical. Those of the nouveau riche, like "Polly and her Pals" and "Bringing up Father" are popular.

( 618) All of these comics reflect interesting phases of current life. In them we see ourselves and our neighbors. They are a kind of continued comedy drama made up for our entertainment. Many of them are single sketches out of daily life and often expose our contemporary interests in aviation, or the troubles of a dub golfer. Others are based on more universal aspects of pathos and humor— the lost child, the orphan and adopted child, the mother-in-law joke, the rivalry of sentimental lovers, the faithful but disappointed suitor, like "Mack," the eternal jester like "Salesman Sam" and loud-spoken "Andy Gump"— the latter a paricularly popular figure because he reflects so perfectly the blatancy of many males.

A survey of one day's batch of papers revealed the following type of characters portrayed: Jew, negro, English lord, the nouveau riche, the orphan, the cripple, the widow, the "grass widow" boarding-house keeper, the hobo, the rich uncle, the scheming widow, the heart-broken young man, the flapper, the late adolescent youth, the philosophic lad of ten, the kidnapper, the rural wit, and others.

Within the past two or three years some of the comic strips have developed an additional feature based on the principle of the continued newspaper or magazine story. Instead of building up the comic around a particular isolated incident every day, the comics run in series, depicting the life, habits, and adventures of the subjects. Thus through months of hardship and near-success "Winnie Winkle" tries to place herself in the movies, and finally returns home. "Orphan Annie" is kidnapped and freed, and finds herself alternately in luxury or hardship so often that we can almost predict the seasonal fluctuations of her positions. The "Gumps" run through a series of adventures, and the "Alger" and "Ella Cinders" pictures are definitely built on romantic adventure story form. Other series like "Moon Mullins," "Harold Teen," and "Tillie the Toiler," usually depict shorter episodes.

g. Editorial Page.— In the days when newspapers often reflected the particular views of one man, like the abolitionist papers of Garrison or the New York Tribune of Greeley, the editorial page was an important part of the newspaper and was doubtless a factor in its circulation. The evidence seems conclusive that the editorial page is losing in the proportionate space given it. The opinion prevails that its influence in the molding of public opinion is also waning. It still has a reading public, although probably a much smaller one than many other special sections or divisions of the 

(619) newspaper. The content of the editorial page is obvious. It carries interpretations of contemporary events and personalities. Partisan papers normally carry editorials favorable to the party politics with which they are aligned. While some of the editorials may at times be merely vigorous and emotional in nature, generally they employ argument, analysis, and interpretation; and hence the editorial page has a distinctly intellectual tone. The subject-matter is, as a rule, provided by current critical situations. For that reason some emotionalism and bias can scarcely be avoided. On the editorial page there are often quotations from other newspaper editorials, and, in many cases, a section devoted to letters from readers. This correspondence section seems also to be losing ground, but it still has a place in many newspapers. It is a splendid source of material on the opinions of the more outspoken readers. While many of those who write have a secret wish to see their names and ideas in print, most of the correspondents seem to be genuinely concerned in the situations they discuss. Just how much selection the newspaper makes among the thousands of letters received, no one knows. Perhaps not even the newspaper men themselves realize the extent and meaning of the selection. Our observation of the type of letters printed in various newspapers leads us to believe that the letters which are printed are selected largely from those favorable to the newspaper and its policies. But some newspapers do regularly print unfavorable comment.

h. Advertising Division.— Finally, the newspaper is an important advertising medium. In some ways, in fact, the advertisements seem to be more important than the, reading matter. The display advertising in the business and industrial sections is always financial and industrial. Bond and trust companies, banks, makers of office equipment. usually place their advertisements in the financial sections of the newspaper. Retail advertising often constitutes the greater part of the entire paper. With the society sections are often advertisements of travel tours, household furnishings, clothes, and so on. In the dramatic and literary sections, theater announcements, magazine and book advertisements are commonest. The close correspondence between the advertising and the subject-matter of the specialized reading sections is obvious at a glance. The two factors no doubt interact on each other. Placing the specialized advertisements with the special reading matter probably increases the attention given to both.

We may say that the metropolitan newspaper, and, to a less degree, all

(620) newspapers, appeal, first, to our universal emotional interest in current crises: conflicts, disasters, unusual events or situations, and noteworthy personalities. Besides this news of interest to everyone, other sections make special appeals to more limited publics. Humor, sports, society, and business-industrial news probably follow in that order in the extent of their appeal. Dramatic and literary news and editorials seem of least general interest. The first pages present their material in flashy, emotional terms which appeal to everyone. The specialized sections are directed at the stabler interests of smaller publics. The sectionized paper, therefore, is a reflection of a community. It first makes a vertical appeal to all classes, and then it makes a number of horizontal appeals to special-interest groups. We may employ a graph to indicate the distribution of a newspaper's appeals.

Figure 10 showing relationship of various sections of the Newspaper to each other. Amount of Space in each section Shown by respective areas

The front page reaches all classes of society. The special sections reach much more restricted clientele. The dotted lines in Figure io on the left of the figure indicate how news which is customarily special may get on the front page. A prize-fight, an exceptional run on a bank, unusual speculation on Wall Street, the wedding of very prominent society people, and, more rarely, even editorials may get into the front page. In some newspapers the comics, in the form of cartoons, are also found on the first page. A great deal of the advertising matter is addressed, like the front page

(621) news, to the wider public. Nevertheless, much of it is very special. This fact is shown by the dotted lines extending from special fields into the advertizing area.

The newspaper, then, is a reflection of the society to which it belongs. It is just as heterogeneous in its make-up and appeal as are the social groups which it reaches. It furnishes a cross-section of the world in which it exists. It is a kind of microcosmos of our larger social world.

Just as communities and institutions have continuity, so have the newspaper materials. This continuity varies with the different sections which we have been discussing. For example, the business public which the newspaper reaches is much more stabilized than is the shifting public reached by the sensational, emotional appeals of the front page. In other words, the newspaper's make-up reflects the institutionalization of our social life. This fact is evident in the timeliness, vocabulary, and nature of the printed reports. Institutionalized life activities, such as business and industry, are written up by the journalist in an abstract, standardized, and specialized vocabulary, in contrast with the reports of conflicts and disasters which are interesting to everyone. The general reading public is thus much like an emotional crowd. The journalist accordingly employs common words of emotional significance in his reports of generally interesting crises and personal gossip.

Still there is a kind of continuity even in the sensationalism of the front page. Many serious people worry over the possible immoral influences of news stories about our numerous murder cases. Or they regret the possible evil effects of news reports of society scandal. As a matter of fact, the newspapers serve the function of public discussion and gossip. Johnson wrote:

The newspaper that fails to give any account whatever of the crimes and follies of the day is giving to its readers a biased and misleading account of the human spectacle. Insofar as it covers up discreditable happenings, it deprives the world of the prophylactic effect of sunlight in shadowed places. [7]

In primary groups such events would give rise to violent discussions and actions. In our complex society composed of secondary groups and publics, the newspaper is the chief medium of gossip. The area of discussion is widened, but it is nonsense to believe that these sensational materials do not give rise to opinions in primary groups. Much that was in the mores is

(622) now open to discussion. Apparently Awe are modifying our moral codes. These news reports indicate those parts of the mores which are undergoing-change. These newspaper discussions, with their inevitable reverberations on personal face-to-face conversation, remind us that public opinion is made by personal contact as much as by the general mores; and that they thus produce changes in our common attitudes. Changes in our attitudes, in turn, mean new forms of action. Since attitudes are largely incompleted acts, the sensationalism of the newspaper in focusing our attention upon divorce, murder, political corruption, and speculation manias is actually helping to alter the nature of our social reactions in these fields.

Therefore, the front page is as significant a revelation of the public as the more stabilized sections. It reflects the very heart of our social life. In crises any phase of our more stabilized activities becomes front page news, and attracts the interest and emotion of the mass of general readers. Anything may become current gossip and discussion for the whole wider reading public whenever it sufficiently arouses our general interest.

2. The Selection of News.— The proportion of space devoted by all newspapers to various classes of news matter differs from day to day and from season to season. The particular clientele of the newspaper also controls its selection of news. Labor papers play up one sort of news, metropolitan dailies another, and organs of the special business public still another. Both labor and commercial papers give unusual space to reports of industrial conflict, and the reports are always presented to please the special reading clientele. In any one day, no paper prints all of the material which reaches it. By omission or deletion of stories or parts of them, the managing editor of a newspaper changes the character of the dispatches which reach him just as truly as he does by "playing up" certain stories. He may omit or include crime news. He may put more emphasis upon local than on national or international political news. In an analysis of one. paper in a city of 50,000 it was found that the telegraph editor omitted a considerable amount of news received from the outside press service. International news, unless it had an emotional appeal, was likely to be omitted. Dispatches about federal enforcement of prohibition were neglected. Often in what might seem significant stories, details were omitted and generalities were substituted. Practically all reports bearing on the controversy between the Mexican State and the Catholic Church were omitted. Details damaging to its political party were left out; and news favorable to its party was

( 623) usually printed. "Lessons in crime" were deleted from crime stories, and Chicago gun fights, gang wars, riots, and robberies were cut out. Sensational details were cut from divorce suits. Stories favorable to large corporations were cut, as was propaganda material about so controversial an activity as the Ku Klux Klan. Minor political debates and other petty details of politics were not printed.

The total amount of material from the dispatches which goes into the waste-paper basket varies over the week. In the early part of the week, when local news is usually not scarce, less outside news is used. Toward the end of the week, when local news is less abundant, outside news is increased. This occurred not merely in front page news but in all departments of the paper. On Monday, the paper used 41 per cent of the material offered, and on Friday 57 per cent. On an average, this particular daily paper printed only 47 per cent of the material received through the national press service. The table below gives details as to the amount of material deleted and the number of words of that used which appeared on the first page.

It is evident that consciously and unconsciously the newspaper selects the material which it presents to its readers. Thus it furnishes them only with a limited amount of the news which is available. Just as the village gossip gives out only what she wishes, so the newspaper officials have some control over what they present to the public. The newspaper goes even farther, for the stories sent over the wire are those of particular reporters or feature writers. Then in the hands of the "rewrite" men, the headline writer, and the editors, the news may be further changed.

This particular process of the gathering and presentation of material has much to do with the front page news as it finally reaches us. Any story appearing in the daily press has come through the hands of a considerable number of people. The actual witnesses of the events, as we know, are liable to errors of perception and memory. The report of the events is sent out to various press bureaus in as compact form as possible. Many details must he omitted. This means that someone makes a further selection. When the dispatches reach the newspaper office, not only are they, as we noted, selected as entire reports to be printed or not, but printed reports will have details omitted. Then, too, the story may be rewritten for local presentation. Still another person writes the headlines. Headlines are controlled by the amount of space available, by the editor's estimate of the im-

( 624)

Table 19: Showing Classification of Subject-Matter of Wire News Received from the X Press Service and Printed in a Certain Newspaper for a Period of Ten Days. Amounts on First Page are given (This covers only "significant" or front page news.) [8]

Received Used On First Page Pct. of
total used
on first
Kind of News Words Pct. Words Pct. Words
1. Accidents, fires

2. Crime, criminal courts

3. Divorce

4. Scandal, vice

5. Civil courts

6. Government

7. Politics

8. Business, Commerce

9. Agriculture

10. Labor, Strikes

11. Education

12. Religion

13. Health

14. Charity, Uplift

15. Science, etc.

16. Arts, Music, etc .

17. Society

18. Deaths

19. Weather

20. Human Interest

21. Miscellaneous

22. War

23. International

24. Aviation, Lindy













































































































































-portance of the story, and finally, by the capacity and attitude of the headline writer who labels the story with what seem to him its significant aspects. The result is that front page news is largely gossip and legend, if not myth. Hence, our opinion based on a news report may be very different from what it might have been if we had ourselves witnessed the reported event.

We must remember, however, that person-to-person narrative in earlier primary groups also introduced errors and added legendary details to news. Our modern newspaper stories, especially those based on stenographic reports, are probably more reliable than a great deal of news in the pre-

( 625) industrial period of village and town life. No one knows whether, on the whole, newspapers are better or worse in the dissemination of news than were the personal gossips and town criers of old; but probably they are better.

C. Other Types of Printed Opinion.

Although it is the most significant in our time, the newspaper is not the only printed organ of news and opinion. Weekly periodicals furnish us with summaries of news and much opinion— editorial and otherwise— on contemporary life. Some weeklies, such as the Literary Digest and Time, essay to furnish synopses and quotations from the daily press, from interesting magazine and news articles about inventions, art, religion, politics, and economics. Others, such as the New York Nation and the New Republic, are directed to a more restricted reading public of liberal economic and political views. Then, too, the various special publics represented in the daily press have their own weekly, if not daily, organs. The journals of business and commerce, of course, are definitely directed toward the industrial-business public, as are the daily racing papers toward their group. Weeklies are common for various special publics. The specialization of monthly magazines is further evident.

The magazines, in general, repeat the same classification of matter that we find in the daily metropolitan newspaper. Some run to sensationalism, to legendary materials which stir the emotions and give the vicarious satisfactions of new adventure. Others carry stories of romantic love-making; still others specialize in humor— Rabelaisian and otherwise. Some magazines interest the intelligent minorities in their discussion of economic, political, and social problems. Others reach largely sporting circles. Some appeal to women and their needs. Again, there are a large number of trade journals and technical periodicals which report the latest developments in industry, business, and scientific research. The art and literary publics are well supplied with media of publication.

Many of the emotional-story magazines appear weekly or hi-monthly. Others are monthly, and many of the most technical and scholarly journals appear quarterly or even at less frequent intervals. Yet in all these, as in the newspaper, there is a continuity of both form and content. The stories of adventure and love-making have a certain pattern as have the front page stories of the daily newspaper. The special business and industrial periodi-

(626) -cals follow a certain form, as do all the rest. Even professedly unbiased journals of opinion do not print news which too obviously contradicts their own creeds. The range of magazines is so great that anyone may find a medium to express his ideas if he can present them in a form satisfactory to the editors.

Magazine advertising varies with the type of readers who support the various journals. A perusal of advertisements will reveal contemporary human interests quite as readily as a reading of the stories and articles in which the advertisements are imbedded. The cheap nostrums of the sensational weekly magazine stand in contrast with the expensive luxuries portrayed in smart periodicals such as the New Yorker. The advertising matter in trade journals reflects their readers' interests and wants as exactly as the book and apparatus advertisements in a scientific journal reflect the concern of the research expert.

Pamphleteering appears to have lost much of its effectiveness. But special interest groups still distribute pamphlets designed to influence public opinion on all sorts of questions. Many pamphlets, obviously propaganda, are circulated by public utilities companies, moral agencies of all sorts, philanthropic groups, and political parties. This fugitive literature is particularly evident in political campaigns.

Books also have a part in forming public opinion. Those which deal with contemporary social, religious, economic, and political problems and the personalities connected with them, are occasionally very powerful influences. While the reading public influenced by these books is not generally so large as the publics of the daily press or even the periodicals, an amazing number of copies of some of these books are sold. Such books as Robinson's The Mind in the Making and Dorsey's Why We Behave Like Human Beings have sold in tens of thousands of copies in the few years since they appeared. Books on religious issues, political questions, prohibition, and other current problems are sold in large quantities.

Novels have their inevitable effects upon opinion. They frequently deal with present-day problems, and certainly they profoundly influence the social reality of our time. Just how extensive is their effect, no one knows; but we can hardly exaggerate the influence of Lewis' Babbitt, for instance. Novels create myths and legends, foster prejudices, and provoke discussion. The novel, like the newspaper and periodical, has a varied range of readers. On the one hand we have the sophisticated, "smart" clientele,

( 627) or the serious intellectual. On the other hand, we have those who wish their romance and adventure done in the manner of Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, or Ethel M. Dell. The range of books, like the materials of the newspapers, reflects the variety of our contemporary society.

D. The Press and Public Opinion.

All of these printed forms of material-newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and books, have a two-fold character. They bring information of some sort to the reader. Correct or not, this information furnishes to the reader a body of facts, rationalizations and interpretations upon which he may further construct his own opinions. Yet these organs do not make opinion altogether. They have the second characteristic of reflecting public opinion. Thus, like the leader of a crowd they may help to crystallize opinion already vaguely felt. 1 he press does not uninterruptedly create opinion in a completely passive public. Opinion is, as we have seen, the verbalization of attitudes, usually in terms of acceptable rationalizations. Whatever effect the printed page may have upon the reader, it can influence him only in terms of his apperceptive mass, of his previous habits and conditionings. That it can entirely remake his attitudes is doubtful. To recast attitudes demands time, and usually a crisis in which the individual himself feels that his old values and attitudes are not adequate.

Furthermore, our present opinion, we must remember, is made by conversation as it was in the primary group. What we read we discuss with others. Their reactions may distinctly influence our own, especially if these others are prestige-bearers of any importance.

Opinion is formed in particular interest groups. Various groups— labor, employer, banker, and so on— are constantly interacting on each other through their media of opinion and information. So, too, political parties, religious organizations, and all our special groups foster or oppose particular social reforms. Even advertising affects opinions. We do not distinguish sharply between articles or stories and the advertisements printed beside them. Advertisements thus create the myths and legends of our social reality quite as effectively as any other part of the printed pages. Just how much advertisements do this may be difficult as yet to measure, but the influence is there. The use of historical materials, the appeal to technical interests, to arouse fear, anger or sympathy through advertising— all this is too well known to need much comment. Certainly it is a purblind person

(628) who can not recognize these factors in the opinion-making process. The interplay of advertising and changes in the mores is illustrated in the recent growth of cigarette smoking among women. As after the war women in numbers began to smoke more and more openly, cigarette advertising began to capitalize this new habit of women. The earlier pictorial advertisements showed women enjoying the company of men who were smoking. Later advertisements pictured a woman holding a lighted match for a man. In 1927 one brand of cigarettes was openly endorsed in advertisements by prominent actresses and singers. In 1928 various companies began to picture women in the act of smoking. It is interesting to note that for several years previous to this cartoons had shown women smoking. Even rotogravure sections occasionally pictured some prominent woman holding a lighted cigarette. In short, before open advertising began, it was well recognized that smoking was common among women. Advertising here, as in other ways, followed changes in the mores. And yet many people have protested against the ill effects of such advertisements. Some communities have actually attempted to legislate against such advertising. Once more there has been an organized opposition to changes in the mores; and the opponents of change have mistaken cause for effect.

E. Other Organs of Public Opinion and their Appeals.

The printed page is not the only medium of reaching the wider publics in our day. We must also consider the motion picture and the radio.

1. The Motion Picture.— We have already discussed some of the psychological aspects of the motion picture. Here we wish only to call attention to the fact that motion pictures now portray current events from all over the world. Because they have been announced and can be prepared for, public ceremonials and the public appearances of notable people are very easily photographed; and hence such photographs are most frequent in the news reels of the cinema. Now, with an airplane always ready to carry him to the scene of conflict or disaster, the cinema photographer makes his pictures of the most varied events as they occur; and quite at our ease we shortly see a moving picture of the latest fire or food or riot or even war.

Thus within an incredibly short time millions of people are given a visual portrayal of events from all parts of the world. With the talking motion picture we may not only see but listen to current happenings. It is difficult to measure the effect of these news films on opinion. Obviously

( 629) films of disaster arouse sympathetic responses; of the army, patriotic associations, and so on. Thus our stereotypes are fed and our opinions are confirmed or altered or given new directions by seeing and hearing what is going on outside our immediate circles. The selection of news is as easy here as elsewhere. Producers and distributors show only what they wish to the public.

Motion picture dramas inevitably affect our opinions. Like the newspaper they create and feed stereotypes of all sorts. The possible influence of crime pictures on the habits of our youth, the effect of pictures of sexual adventures upon our own sexual conduct— these have been subjects of dispute since the very beginning of the motion picture. Boys in juvenile courts have asserted that they learned the techniques of theft from the movies. Still, we find it difficult to evaluate such remarks accurately. Juvenile delinquency was known before the days of the movie, and blaming the movie is an easy way of shifting responsibility.

As we have already noted, the movies have profoundly influenced our national stereotypes. The cowboys, desperadoes, and Indians of "Western" pictures have definitely colored foreign opinions about the United States. These films may, of course, create a picture of American life which will affect the attitudes of the European and Asiatic masses toward us. The films also create and feed legends about the leisure class, about romantic love-making, about the poor, the successful, the villainous, just as surely as do news stories and novels.

By and large we either do not or can not discriminate between genuine news stories and these creations of the imagination. For most of us the imaginative and the real are fused to make our picture of social reality. Most people are simply incapable of making fine distinctions between consciously created myths and the actualities presented in the press and film.

2. The Radio.— The latest addition to opinion-forming agencies is the radio. Like the motion picture its exact influences may be difficult to measure, but no one doubts its effect. In the absence of quantitative data, a few observations on the psychology of the radio may help ins to evaluate its place.

In contrast with the press and the silent motion picture, the radio reaches its audience through the ear rather than the eye. We know that sound stirs the emotions very quickly; and our early, fundamental conditioning makes the human voice peculiarly effective in arousing emotion. As entertain-

( 630) -ment, the radio is a continuous phonograph. We know the powerful emotional appeal of music, of course; but the appeal is so entirely emotional that we can disregard its possible effect on public opinion. We can, however, indicate several factors in the psychology of speeches over the radio.

In the first place, the listeners are not necessarily congregated. Even on special occasions when people gather to hear the radio, the listeners are more passive than those in most crowds. The psychological effects are less emotional, less violent, simply because there are not present the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimulations which are so important in the configuration of the crowd. For this reason, as one student noted, the radio can never compete with the theater, the concert, the church, or the motion picture. The radio auditors are isolated or at best gather in small clusters. They can hardly have the sense of common enjoyment and of a common share in the performance so satisfactory in the theater. Still the radio as well as the press may furnish our stereotypes and ideas and arouse emotions which affect our opinions.

We may mention two facts in our consideration of the radio as an agency in social control. The broadcasting stations have the listeners more or less at their mercy; but the listeners may and do make their wishes known, at least their preferences in entertainment. But in programs definitely aimed at forming opinions, it is difficult for the public to exercise much direct positive control over the material. The control of broadcasting raises the question of the influence of the radio in the making of public opinion.

The auditor, of course, need not listen to the radio. We do not know how much our prejudices control our attention to political or religious speeches over the radio. Apparently the same attitudes control us here as control our adherence to a political party or a church creed. We listen to those whom we like and whose stereotypes we already accept, and we ignore speeches from sources against which we are prejudiced. We are .no different here than in our attendance or non-attendance at a political rally or at a religious revival. Similarly, most of us read the newspapers with which we already agree and avoid those with which we do not agree. In this respect the radio is like and' other medium of news and opinion.


A. Further Reading: Source Book for Social Psychology, Chapter XXVI, pp. 756-78.


B. Questions and Exercises.

1. Discuss questions and exercises in assignment, Source Book, Chapter XXVI, p, 779.

2. List in the order of their importance the organs of public opinion which most influence your own point of view on: prohibition, birth control, control of public utilities, distribution of wealth, child labor, international relations, war. (Add other topics of current interest.)

3. What makes an event news? Why is communication necessary before we have news?

4. Why does Cooley say that newspapers are "organized gossip"?"

5. Discuss the relation of the newspaper to moral control in the community. Has the newspaper any influence today as a moral leader?

6. Trace the course of the local metropolitan news story from its occurrence till it is printed in the newspaper. Do the same for the story of international event. How is the story affected by the whole range of people and institutions which deal with it in this course from its origin to printing?

C. Topics for Class Reports and Longer Written Papers.

1. See assignments for reports and longer papers in Source Book, Chapter XXVI, pp. 779-80.

2. Review Lippmann's The Phantom Public. Compare his view on the nature and control of public opinion in this volume with his views in his earlier book, Public Opinion.

3. Review Dewey's The Public and Its Problems. How does Dewey deal with the subject of public opinion and social control?

4. Report on Lundberg, "Newspaper and Public Opinion," Social Forces, 1926, vol. IV, pp. 709-15, on relation of newspaper to opinion.

4a.Review Willey's Country Newspaper; a Study of Socialization and Newspaper Content, 1926.

5. Review Graves' Readings in Public Opinion, Chapters IX, X, XI, XV.

5a. Review Mitchell's Children and Movies, 1929, on influence of motion pictures on children.

6. Analyze the words used in headlines in various newspapers in order to discover the kinds of association, emotional and other, which they make.

7. Analyze the vocabulary of the various sections of a metropolitan daily to discover the relation of words used to matter presented.

8. Analyze the make-up and content of a series of metropolitan papers for the same day to discover how they treat the news, differences in emphasis, in editorial comment, etc.

9. Make a study of the readers of adventure-story magazines, as to sex, age, occupation, education, and other types of recreation.

10 Do the same for readers of romantic and love-story periodicals.


  1. G. W. Johnson, What Is News? 1926, p. 49. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
  2. Ivy- Lee Publicity, Some Things It Is and Is Not, 1925, p. 12-13. Courtesy of Industries Publishing Company.
  3. So, too, in China, the Peking Gazette contained official decrees and official news. It first appeared in the Tang dynasty in the seventh century and has continued down to the present.
  4. I am indebted to Mr. Lowry Nelson for the compilation of these figures.
  5. Chicago Tribune, February 28, 1929.
  6. The leisure classes often maintain their own society newspapers, circulated. only among themselves.
  7. Op. cit., p. 60.
  8. Tabulations made by Mr. Elmer F. Beth, School of Journalism University of Wisconsin, 1928-29. Period covered five days each during first week of February and first week of March, 1928

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