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The New Journalists

As the nineteenth century slowly gave way to the twentieth century, the education and background of the people writing in newspapers began to change. Unlike the largely self-educated and highly entrepreneurial editors of Michigan’s pre-Civil War era, the new journalists often were well educated and worked for a salary, rather than created their own newspaper.  Much of this change came about for the same reason that political parties could no longer afford to support their own newspaper. Whereas founding a newspaper before the Civil War generally involved a relatively small investment that an enterprising young man trained in printing could reasonably hope to find, after the Civil War this was increasingly less possible, particularly in the larger cities. Similarly as large city papers grew, they tended to develop larger, more specialized positions. Few reporters could be depended on to run a press, and fewer pressmen possessed the skills to write a story. Increasingly the amount of specialized knowledge needed to run specific aspects of a newspaper was such that it was impossible to be the jack-of-all trades that the pre-Civil War editor usually was.

These new reporters also brought a new sensibility to their job. They were generally schooled in the belief that reporters should approach their work, particularly anything involving politics, with neutrality. They should report the facts and let the public, or at least the editorial page writers, draw the conclusions. As one pioneering journalism textbook had it, the reporter’s job was to gather, “facts, facts, and more facts.”[86]Facts, however, were not necessarily of a high minded variety. Sensationalism had long been used to sell newspapers and editors and reporters became ever more colorful in their seeking after the next big story. Indeed the lengths to which newspapers would go for a story disturbed many. At the close of the nineteenth century one of the pathbreaking works establishing a “right of privacy” was written directly in response to the excesses of the press.[87​]