Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Average Homemaker! I am the Daily Newspaper, and have come to show something of personal interest to you. If you will allow me to step in, I will show you that, for a nominal cost, I will bring to your door each day all the information on the latest murders and thefts, broken homes and lives, accidents and catastrophes that will make your hair stand up straight with fright. In addition, I will promise to keep you informed on all the gossip and slander, vice and debauchery the people around you are committing. I will see to it that you have a dramatic portrayal of all their acts transcribed in black and white. And it is our business, in addition to all this, to keep you informed on all the matters of public interest and having news value, in the political, social, recreative and even religious spheres of life; and for good measure we throw in an occasional cake recipe and a page of comics.
Should the daily newspaper come to each home and each individual with such an appeal, there would be undoubtedly many doors slammed in its face. But the newspaper does not come to us that way, neither does it have to.
The newspaper has not gained its popular reception merely on its own appeal. Surely, its astounding popularity and ready acceptance is due greatly to its aptness to strike the eye with psychological appeal.
No newspaper could long continue unless all the tricks of modern journalism were aptly in control. But the striking thing is that no newspaper would be published unless it met the demands of the reading public. The newspaper prints what we want to read. It has its own way of finding this out, just as any salesman has ways of finding out the particular want of his client. It is not necessary that a poll be taken or a questionnaire sent out to get a conception of the public want. Neither does the daily have to worm its way into our domiciles. We want all the stuff the newspaper contains. We accept it with open arms. As proof for this, 1 have only to point you to the exasperation we evidence when the newsboy occasionally skips our door-steps, and we tell him in no uncertain terms what we think of him the next time he comes around, or in a rage we call the news depot and demand that an extra copy be rushed out that very evening.
This great demand for the daily newspaper is evidenced also in the fact that nearly every home receives one. Statistics show that there are enough dailies published to more than supply each home with one. According to a statement taken from the 1941 issue of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the total circulation of daily newspapers in the United States in 1940 was 46,579,892 copies daily. This means that every third person receives a copy each day, and there are some three million copies to spare. Now certainly this vast amount of papers would not be published unless there was that demand. Not only is there merely a demand for a newspaper, but for its contents. Surprising it is to know that in the same period mentioned above, there were some 2,015 different publishers of daily newspapers and most of these are controlled by three or four syndicates. This means that the newspapers publish with very little variation the same contents. There was a time about sixty years ago when there were some 11,000 different independent publishers, but this figure was cut down to the present minimum through consolidations which in turn were evidently influenced by public demand that the news be more uniform. The newspaper has developed along with our national growth and American civilization.
The first American newspaper appeared at Boston in April, 1704. The first daily appeared at Philadelphia in September, 1784; and was known as “The Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser.” Almost from the very inception of our national independence, therefore, our citizenry was under the influence of the daily newspaper. In these early years, the daily paper served primarily as a political organ. In fact, two of the first political leaders in our history, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, leaders of the Federal and Republican (later known as Democratic) parties, each had his own newspaper through almost exclusively. The colonies had been liberated which he aired his political views and platforms. In these days political issues held the public attention from the steel shackles of John Bull. And with this freedom came the responsibility of establishing new forms of government. Hence the question in the soul of every patriot was: What form of government and what political set-up shall we continue under. The public mind demanded the discussion of these in the newspapers.
Though the newspaper served at that time, and still serves to air political issues, it did not remain only a political bulletin. As the nation grew and its life became more complex, its social, religious and recreative efforts more involved and extended, the newspaper, as to form and content and purpose also conformed.
Questions such as these may be heard in most every home today: What does the weather man say? What is Hitler doing today? How many were killed over the week-end? May I see the funnies? How did the Detroit Tigers turn out yesterday? Will you read Uncle Wiggily to me? Who is listed in the obituaries? What kind of a dress did Mary’s mother-in-law wear at her wedding? These and many more are the questions we demand an answer to from our daily newspaper. The answers to these questions make up the content of the daily paper today. At the beginning of this short essay we suggested a rather blunt and sordid appeal the newspaper might make to gain entrance into our homes. And we suggested that should the daily make such an appeal, many doors might be closed in its face. The reason why we put it that way is because we are aware that our age and present civilization deigns to be known as elite, refined, cultured. To come directly to our populace with the request to portray all the sordid mundane activity and events of this stream-lined era might evoke some opposition. And yet at heart our populace craves for exactly these worldly things, and wants to read all about them.
In many Christian homes where the daily also finds entrance, God’s people rise up in horror should anyone attempt to sell them and their children pictures of depraved men and women, or books with filthy stories. Still, when it comes to the daily newspaper, they have no scruples it seems. All of which goes to show that even we live in the flesh and still to a great degree desire the things of the flesh. Hence, it is too, that the paper finds such ready acceptance among us also.
Naturally, when we speak of the daily paper in the homes, we have in mind chiefly our Christian homes. And since the daily paper as to content is determined largely by the mixed demands of the general public, the question arises: Should we, as Christians, indulge in this crave for the daily newspaper? Is the newspaper, in its present form and content to be wholly condemned as evil?
Now, certainly, if there is one principle we have learned in recent years, it is the principle that sin does not reside in things. Sin is a matter of the heart and of the will. On the basis of this same principle, it shall have to be maintained that the newspaper as such is no more evil than the moving picture machine is evil in itself. But this does not mean that the use to which the motion picture machine and therefore also the daily newspaper is put is good. We condemn on Christian principles the picture machine when it is in the service of sin do we not? Should we not also condemn the newspaper in as far as it serves the works of darkness? Right here it becomes evident that the newspaper should not be read without great discretion and discernment. And the sinful, fleshly passion for the vulgar which the newspaper seeks to satisfy shall surely have to be condemned. It will necessarily have to be condemned in ourselves first, and again when we come across it in the newspaper. Also here, the child of God must fight the fight of faith and seek only the beautiful, the pure, the things that harmonize with a walk of sanctification. Unavoidably, however, he comes in contact with the instruments of sin which things he hates.
In this connection, it must be conceded that the newspaper is often the instrument of the prince of darkness. A printer’s devil, according to Webster, is a young apprentice in a printing office who does chores, and often gets very black from the printer’s ink, (whence the name devil). I suppose there are as many of these as there are printing establishments. A devil’s printer, on the other hand, according to our own definition, is a printer who is a tool of the prince of demons, and as such is persuaded to publish the lie. I suppose there are many of these also, and especially in the production of newspapers. Whose purpose it is to inculcate the lie and satisfy the carnal lust and passion of the reading public. The Christian, therefore, shall have to read his paper aware of this earnest attempt of the father of lies to disfigure the truth.
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that though much of the daily paper is corrupt and has a corrupting influence, there is also much in the paper which should be read even by the Christian. I believe the Christian should be fully abreast of his times. He should not only ask questions concerning that which goes on in the world, but he should also read the answers to these questions in the newspaper. Some Christians look askance at the tales of war in horror, and therefore refuse to read of these horrors. They hide their heads as the ostrich, and would attempt to remain aloof from current events. I believe this attitude is not only wrong but also impossible. Are we not called of God to face the dread realities of His providence, and to judge of them as Christians who principally stand in the liberty of Christ? In addition to this there are many other elements in the daily paper we can hardly get along without. The Christian’s home is an integral part of the community and it cannot be physically separated from the secular life of that community. And how shall he coincide with the life of his community unless he is fully aware of that communities’ life? He must be informed.
In conclusion, however, this process of information shall have to come to him and his family not as water through a sieve, but he shall have to analyze each bit of news and all the elements of the newspaper as he does everything else, with spiritual eyes. It shall be his duty, as prophet in the home to show forth the truth even as it shall often be necessary on the background of the lie. Then it will also be true that he will not encourage his children to read all the ‘prul’ one finds in the daily, but to read with discretion. In this respect, we all will admit that we come far short, and we shall have to exclaim with the apostle “the evil which I would not, that I do; and the good that I would, that do I not.”