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I don't think you need to have Veblen quoted to you, but hey...
The current periodical press, whether ephemeral or other, is a vehicle for advertisements. This is its raison d'etre, as a business proposition, and this decides the lines of its management without material qualification. Exceptions to the rule are official and minor propagandist periodicals, and, in an uncertain measure, scientific journals. The profits of publication come from the sale of advertising space. The direct returns from sales and subscriptions are now a matter of wholly secondary consequence. Publishers of periodicals, of all grades of transiency, aim to make their product as salable as may he, in order to pass their advertising pages under the eyes of as many readers as may be. The larger the circulation the greater, other things equal, the market value of the advertising space. The highest product of this development is the class of American newspapers called "independent." These in particular - and they are followed at no great interval by the rest edit all items of news, comment, or gossip with a view to what the news ought to be and what opinions ought to be expressed on passing events.(1)

The first duty of an editor is to gauge the sentiments of his readers, and then tell them what they like to believe. By this means he maintains or increases the circulation. His second duty is to see that nothing is said in the news items or editorials which may discountenance any claims or announcements made by his advertisers, discredit their standing or good faith, or expose any weakness or deception in any business venture that is or may become a valuable advertiser. By this means he increases the advertising value of his circulation.(2) The net result is that both the news columns and the editorial columns are commonly meretricious in a high degree.

...

On the whole, the literature provided in this way and to this end seems to run on a line of slightly more pronounced conservatism and affectation than the average sentiment of the readers appealed to. This is true for the following reason. Readers who are less conservative and less patient of affectations, snobbery, and illiberality than the average are in the position of doubters and dissentients. They are less confident in their convictions of what is right and good in all matters, and are also not unwilling to make condescending allowances for those who are less "advanced," and who must be humored since they know no better; whereas those who rest undoubting in the more conservative views and a more intolerant affectation of gentility are readier, because more naive, in their rejection of whatever does not fully conform to their habits of thought.

So it comes about that the periodical literature is, on the whole, somewhat more scrupulously devout in tone, somewhat more given to laud and dilate upon the traffic of the upper leisure class and to carry on the discussion in the terms and tone imputed to that class, somewhat more prone to speak deprecatingly of the vulgar innovations of modern culture, than the average of the readers to whom it is addressed. The trend of its teaching, therefore, is, on the whole, conservative and conciliatory. It is also under the necessity of adapting itself to a moderately low average of intelligence and information; since on this head, again, it is those who possess intelligence and information that are readiest to make allowances; they are, indeed, mildly flattered to do so, besides being the only ones who can. It is a prime requisite to conciliate a large body of readers.

This latter characteristic is particularly evident in the didactic portion of the periodical literature. This didactic literature, running on discussions of a quasi-artistic and quasi-scientific character, is, by force of the business exigencies of the case, de signed to favor the sensibilities of the weaker among its readers by adroitly suggesting that the readers are already possessed of the substance of what purports to be taught and need only be fortified with certain general results. There follows a great spread of quasi-technical terms and fanciful conceits. The sophisticated animal stories and the half-mythical narratives of industrial processes which now have the vogue illustrate the results achieved in this direction.

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  1. "Ought", is of course here used to denote business expediency, not moral restraint.
  2. As a side line, which affords play for the staff's creative talent, whatever is exceptionally sensational at the same time that it is harmless to the advertisers' interests should, in newspaper slang be "played up".


When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 07:27:39 AM EST

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