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Commercialization Of Journalism

Journalism, writes Jean Chalaby, emerged in England and the United States, due to the favorable political and economic background of these countries, where the press was independent and newspapers could make profit from advertising and sales, which allowed them to have more pages than European newspapers and send more reporters abroad. Chalaby in “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention”, gives London Times as an example: ”although it was famous for being corrupt in the first half of the nineteenth century, it managed to make enough profit from advertising and no longer needed the government’s financial aid”. Consequently, London Times was able to proclaim its objectivity.

Another factor that facilitated the development of journalism in England and the United States was that in these countries journalists had the right to sit in Parliament and in courts of law note Chalaby J. K. in “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention”..

The government never put pressure on the press, so the journalists could easily declare that they were politically neutral, because they could give the same amount of information – facts, not opinions! – about the parties among which political struggles took place. In the mid-nineteenth century, the American newspapers turned their political independence into a common feature of the press explaines Schudson in ”Discovering the News. A Social History of American Newspapers”. 

It is also in England and the United States those two main discursive practices, the interview and reporting, were invented and developed. In time, this helped journalism become a true profession that used the “fact-centered discursive practices” says Chalaby in “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention”. The Anglo-American news format made a clear distinction between facts as they occurred and the opinions of those who reported them. News reports focused on facts and were organized around them.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the interview was not only common, but also central to the journalist profession we learn from the book “Comparing Media Systems. Three Models of Media and Politics” wrote by Hallin and Mancini. They underline the same idea, adding that the commercial press laid the stress on the news to the detriment of the political commentaries and analyses that characterized the previous papers.

Commercial newspapers were the first to organize the news collection activity and to develop accurate reports based on facts. American and British newspapers published a large amount of recent, reliable and accurate news. Above all, they were information-gathering organizations. Having more permanent correspondents abroad, particularly special and war correspondents, they were also able to provide international information. Such information came from two sources: their employed journalists and correspondents and the news agencies (Reuters in England and Associated Press in the United States).

The advertising market turned quickly into a revenue source for the newspapers. Most of the newspapers published in those days included the words “Advertiser” or “Mercantile” in their titles. Given the profits, the British and American press gained financial autonomy and was free from political influence. As a result, journalism was regarded as depoliticized, neutral and objective. Michael Schudson also underlines the economic autonomy of the American press in the 1830’s, when the newspapers that originated in New York spread to Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and other larger American cities. They sold cheaply and relied heavily on advertisements. Before the 1880’s, the newspapers strongly rejected advertisements because they occupied too much space in the newspaper and this was unfair to smaller advertisers who brought more revenue. This changed in time and the newspapers started selling space to advertisers and also resorted to self-advertisement, boasting with their high circulation and exclusive features.

According to Hallin and Mancini, as a result of commercialization, the press in the Liberal countries no longer needed financial aid from the state. From the financial point of view, it became independent. Nevertheless, it still preserved its political role through its connections with the political parties. Press commercialization marginalized the non-commercial media.

Consequently, all but the commercial press became marginal by the twentieth century. Before commercialization, newspapers lost money and had to depend on grants from the government, politicians, generous rich readers, political parties. After commercialization, they turned into enterprises that made good money, into large profitable press companies. The press thus transformed its political role.

Currently, the market structure of the contemporary press differs in the Liberal countries that Hallin and Mancini analysis. On Britain’s national press market, the reader finds multiple newspapers that target each a different market segment. Britain’s press market is divided into classes and makes a clear distinction between “quality” newspapers, dedicated to middle and upper-class readers, and tabloids, which in turn are separated into “middle market” and “mass-market” newspapers. The tabloid press has a strong political orientation. Tabloids all over the world ignore objective reporting, use a tone of outrage and reject any kind of constraints, but insist on “common sense”, saying that the newspaper belongs to the citizens. The high-quality press is more subtle and employs interpretation in writing.

In the US, the penny press (The Boston Daily Advertiser, The Boston Patriot and Daily Mercantile Advertiser, The Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser, The Baltimore Patriot and Mercantile Advertiser etc.) focused on daily social events, especially the life of the rich families and their scandals. The penny papers tried to interest the middle-class reader, so they wrote about the life of the other social classes. On the one hand, they “inaugurated this democratic attitude toward the happening of the world: any event, no matter how apparently trivial, might qualify for print in a newspaper”. On the other, they determined a “new order”, that of the “democratic market society” and illustrated the political and economic changes that occurred in it.explaines  Schudson M. in ”Discovering the News. A Social History of American Newspapers”. 

Next, Schudson identifies three reasons for the major changes that marked American journalism in the 1830’s: technological evolution, a higher degree of literacy among the population and the natural evolution of the press in any country. The progress made in the printing methods, the paper manufacturing and development of railroads and communications favored the low cost and the high circulation of the penny press. More people learned how to read and write and were eager to find out local news, which is precisely what the penny press focused on; as Robert E. Park wrote: “The newspapers have discovered that even men who can perhaps read no more than the headlines in the daily press will buy a Sunday paper to look at the pictures.” The newspaper, according to Park, has a “natural history”; a newspaper is “the outcome of a historic process in which many individuals participated without foreseeing what the ultimate product of their labors was to be”.

The newspapers published in the early nineteenth century were the outcome of one man’s effort, the editor, who was a reporter and an advertising agent at the same time. He didn’t have correspondents but gathered news from the letters he received from his travelling friends, for example. This changed in time, as the press no longer relied on informal sources of news, but on paid correspondents. Thanks to their correspondents, American papers like the New York Times and the New York Herald published reports about the American Civil War, which was probably the first conflict ever presented extensively in the press remarks Chalaby, J. K.  in “Journalism as an Anglo-American Invention”. The British Times could afford war correspondents who reported about the war in Crimea. In Schudson’s opinion, the American Civil War intensified “the direction in which journalism had been turning since the 1830s.”

In conclusion, we should highlight two consequences of the commercialization of media.

One of the primary effects is a shift in the priorities of news organizations, with a greater emphasis on generating traffic and clicks, rather than on providing in-depth, investigative reporting. Another consequence of commercialization has been a blurring of the lines between advertising and editorial content. Sponsored content and native advertising have become increasingly common, leading to concerns about conflicts of interest and the erosion of journalistic ethics.

At the same time, commercialization has also created new opportunities for independent media outlets and journalists to reach audiences and generate revenue through crowdfunding, subscriptions, and other alternative models. These developments have the potential to foster greater diversity and competition in the media landscape, but they also face challenges from dominant platforms and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few large corporations.

Editor: Kyenila Taylor

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