Inspired by Jürgen Habermas’s The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, I trace trends in American journalism from the time of Benjamin Franklin to the present. My thesis is that a combination of growing commercialism and professionalism moved American news media further and further away from the people, starting with the ‘penny press’ of the 1830s. The raucous, angry press of the years before, I argue, is actually needed if the press is going to actively promote discussion within the public sphere.
Today, many people (especially journalists) look back on the journalism of the early years of the Republic as having needed reining in—they see the ethical (and commercial, though they don’t admit that) restraints developed within the new profession of journalism as positive developments only, never recognizing the importance of what had been lost.
I argue that a public sphere can only be effective if it includes both attack-dog Alexander Hamilton and careful essayist… Alexander Hamilton.
If this sounds like it might make an interesting book, stay tuned. Or go to The Rise of the Blogosphere, where I will be describing each of the 15 chapters in the months leading up to publication. The book, to be published by Praeger, should appear sometime next year.