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News as a Form of Knowledge: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge Author(s): Robert E.

Park Source: The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 45, No. 5 (Mar., 1940), pp. 669-686 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2770043 Accessed: 18/10/2010 10:20
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NEWS AS A FORM OF KNOWLEDGE: A CHAPTER IN THE SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE


ROBERT E. PARK ABSTRACT FollowingJames's categories,"knowledgeabout" is formalknowledge;"acquainor "commonsense." When theabove tancewith"is unsystematic, intuitive knowledge of its are regarded as beingpointson a continuum, newsalso has a pointcharacteristic and ephemeralquality. The extentto whichnews circulatesdetermines the transient extentto which the membersof a societyparticipatein its political action. News is of a public docuthat will make people talk," tendsto have the character "something ment,and is characteristically limitedto eventsthatbringabout suddenand decisive responsesto othersresulting in a changes. Exclusive attentionto some thingsinhibits limitation of the range and characterof the news to whicha societywill respondcollectively or individually. The function ofnewsis to orientman and societyin an actual world.

There are, as William James and certain others have observed, two fundamentaltypes of knowledge,namely, (i) "acquaintance with" and (2) "knowledgeabout." The distinction suggestedseems in seekingto make it a littlemore exobvious. Nevertheless, fairly plicit,I am doubtlessdoing injusticeto the sense of the original. In the distinction, I am merelymakingit my that case, in interpreting own. James's statementis, in part, as follows: In minds some knowledge abouteveryable to speakat all there is,it is true, can at leastbe classed, and thetimes oftheir told. appearance thing.Things thelessweanalyze a thing, ofitsrelations Butingeneral, andthefewer weperthelesswe know it is ofthe aboutit and themore ourfamiliarity with ceive, ofknowledge The twokinds are,therefore, as thehuman acquaintance-type. exerts terms. ofa That is, thesamethought mind practically them, relative it in comparison with a simpler thought, thing maybe calledknowledge-about it in comparison with a thought ofit thatis more articuoracquaintance with still.' lateand explicit At any rate, "acquaintance with," as I should like to use the expression,is the sort of knowledge one inevitably acquires in the
I

Thereare twokindsofknowledge we distinguishable: broadlyand practically and knowledge-about..... may call themrespectively knowledge ofacquaintance

(New York: Henry Holt & Co., William James, The Principles of Psychology 669

I896), I, 22I-22.

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encounters withthe world and firsthand courseof one's personal rathwhich comes with use andwont abouthim. It is theknowledge or systematic investigation. any sort of formal er than through suchcircumstances we comefinally toknow things notmerely Under themedium but through theresponses ofourspecialsenses through them in thelatter case as weknow We know ofourwhole organism. in a worldto whichwe are to whichwe are accustomed, things of as a form may,in fact,be conceived adjusted.Such knowledge or adaptation, an accumulation representing organicadjustment ofa longseries ofexperiences. It is this and,so to speak,a funding and individual ofpersonal which makeseachofus at sort knowledge in which he elects to live. or is condemned homein theworld thathumanbeings, who are otherwise the most It is notorious tendnevertheless like to becomerooted, creatures, mobile ofliving in the placesand in the associations to whichtheyare acplants, oftheindividual If thisaccommodation to hishabitatis customed. at all,itis probably inwhatwe as knowledge included tobe regarded sense.These are characters which individuals call tact or common and unconscious they ways;but,onceacquired, acquirein informal and personal One might go so tendto becomeprivate possessions. as personality at anyrate, them traits-something, faras to describe or communicated from one indiwhichcannotwellbe formulated statements. vidualto another by formal of "acquaintance with"are: (i) clinical forms Other knowledge, ofpersonal in so farat leastas it is theproduct experience; (2) skills and (3) anything thatis learnedby the and technical knowledge; such as the contact and unconscious experimentation undirected and handling of,objectsinvolves. with, and of humannaturein general ofother Ourknowledge persons seemsto be of thissort.We knowothermindsin muchthe same ourown, thatis,intuitively. weknow Often other waythatweknow thanwe do our own. For the mindis not the mere mindsbetter intowhich eachofus lookswhen, ofconsciousness stream introspechisattention to themovements ofhisownthoughts. he turns tively, tendencies thedivergent to act ofwhich eachofus is Mindis rather to control theability orlesscompletely more including unconscious, in accordance withsomemoreor less and directthosetendencies

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conscious goal. Human beingshave an extraordinary ability, by mechanism it operates, whatever to sensethesetendencies in others It takesa longtime, tobecome as inthemselves. however, thoroughly acquainted withany humanbeing, including ourselves, and the kindofknowledge ofwhich thisacquaintance consists is obviously notthesort ofknowledge we getofhuman behavior by experiments in a psychological It is rather laboratory. moreliketheknowledge has ofhiscustomers, a politician thata salesman ofhisclients, or the a psychiatrist knowledge which gainsofhispatients in hisefforts to understand and curethem.It is evenmorethe sortof knowledge in custom, in habit, which getsembodied and,eventually-by some processof naturalselection that we do not fullyunderstand-in orhabit. Knowledge instinct; a kindofracialmemory ofthissort, if one maycall it knowledge, a personal secret becomes, finally, ofthe man or the specialendowment of therace or stockthat individual it.2 possesses venture thisstatement sincethetypeofintuiOnemay,perhaps, heredescribed seemsto ariseout of tive or instinctive knowledge like the accommodations and adaptations processes substantially have produced the difwhich, by somekindof naturalselection, of mankind as well as the plantand animal racialvarieties ferent is just species.One mayobjectthatwhatone meansby knowledge and notheritable. On theother whatis notinherited hand,it is cerare learnedmuchmoreeasilythan others. tain that some things therefore not anything that could What one inherits is, perhaps, It is rather the inherited properly be calledknowledge. abilityto ofknowledge wecallhabits.Thereseems forms those acquire specific in individuals, and genetic to be a verygreatdifference families, to learnspecific as to their groups ability Nativeintelligence things. not the standardized is probably tests thingthat the intelligence lead one to believe.In so faras thisis truestudies of intelmight
2 thinksof development from as something verydifferent "The biologistordinarily but fromtime to time the idea that the of behaviorby experience, such modification is fundamentally has been adsimilarto memory basis of heredityand development is a processofphysioViewedin thisway thewholecourseofdevelopment vanced.. exposureto an logical learning,beginningwith the simple experienceof differential one modification afteranother,as new experiences in externalfactor,and undergoing the life of the organismor of its parts in relationto each otheroccur" (C. M. Child, FoundationsofBehavior, pp. 248-49; quoted by W. I. Thomas in PrimiPhysiological tiveBehavior [New York: McGraw-HillBook Co., I937], p. 25).

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with in tobe concerned more likely are,I suspect, ligence inthefuture waysin individual ofintelligence and thecurious theidiosyncrasies thanin thesameresults minds achieveessentially individual which theseachievements. and standardizing measuring thatgets (i.e., theknowledge It is obviousthatthis"synthetic" as opposedto analyticand in habit and custom, embodied itself and communicable. is notlikely to be articulate formal knowledge) at all,it willbe intheform ofpractical communicated If itgetsitself in hypothsaws rather than the form of scientifc and wise maxims with menand a wideand intimate acquaintance eses. Nevertheless, inpractical ofmost sound tobe thebulwark judgment is likely things of thosehunches experts as wellas the source uponwhich matters situations and of those sudden in which, insights depend perplexing the preludeto imof science, are so frequently in the evolution discoveries. portant that Jamesdewiththisis the kindof knowledge In contrast is formal, about." Suchknowledge rational, scribes as "knowledge and factbuton factthat It is basedon observation and systematic. and finally in thisand ranged tagged, has beenchecked, regimented, and pointofviewofthe to thepurpose thatperspective, according investigator. thatis to say,knowlabout" is formal knowledge; "Knowledge and precision of exactness has achieved somedegree by edgewhich and ofwords concrete for ofideasfor things. thesubstitution reality ofall systematic thelogicalframework Not onlydo ideasconstitute of thethings intotheverynature thembut theyenter knowledge as distinguished from the hisselveswithwhichscience-natural As a matter offact, there seemto be torical science-is concerned. fundamental ofscientific and three knowledge: (i) philosophy types with which is which areconcerned ideas; (2) history, primarily logic, withevents;and (3) thenatural or classifying concerned primarily are concerned which withthings. primarily sciences, like the number and logicalartifacts, are not system, Concepts flux of and in thegeneral events things. For precisely that involved thepurpose of tagsand counters with reasontheyserveadmirably to describe, to measure things. whichto identify, and, eventually, science seems to be to substitute ofnatural for The ultimate purpose a character of things logical the fluxof eventsand the changing

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character ofthings in which thegeneral and thedirection of formula precision. changemaybe described withlogicaland mathematical and a logical order The advantage ofsubstituting words, concepts, is thattheconceptual order makes the theactualcourse ofevents for the formulations actualorder intelligible, and, so faras hypothetic to theactualcourse ofevents, it becomes we call laws conform posa future It persibleto predict from a present condition of things. mitsus to speculate withsomeassurance how,and to whatextent, in a present intervention or interference situation may any specific it. determine thesituation thatis predestined to succeed On theother is alwaysa temptation to makea comhand,there ofan object pletedivorce between thelogicaland verbal description and theempirical to it Thisseems ora situation which refers. reality to have been the cardinal mistake of scholasticism. Scholasticism whichis a has invariably tendedto substitute logicalconsistency, which is a relation between ideas,for therelation ofcauseand effect, relation between things. An empirical scienceavoids a purelylogical and experimental at somepoint solution ofitsproblems by checking up itscalculation theactualworld.A purely intellectual science is always in danwith out of touchwiththings that the ger of becoming so completely morethan withwhichit operatescease to be anything symbols mental becomes a kindofdialectical game. toys.In thatcase science Thisis a peril which to theextent thatthey thesocialsciences, have and investigate socialproblems in the been disposedto formulate in which forms defined by someadtheyhave been conventionally ministrative or governmental institution, have not always agencies has invariably tended to taketheform escaped.Thus investigation offact-finding thanofresearch. thefacts, rather the Havingfound but theywere agencieswere able to supplythe interpretations; in thepolicies which wereimplicit to which usuallyinterpretations theagencies or institutions werealready committed. These are someof the general characteristics of systematic and scientific withthe knowledge, "knowledge about," as contrasted common with."What concrete senseand "acquaintance knowledge, the uniquecharacter of scientific knowledge, as conis, however, forms is thatit is communicable to trasted other ofknowledge, with theextent thatcommon and senseor knowledge basedon practical

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clinical experience is not. It is communicable becauseits problems and its solutions are statednotmerely in logicaland in intelligible terms butin suchforms thattheycan be checked by experiment or to theempirical to which by reference reality theseterms refer. In order it is necessary in detail to makethispossible, to describe and in everyinstance the sourceand manner in whichfactsand findings wereoriginally obtained.Knowledge about,so farat least as it is scientific, becomes in thiswaya partofthesocialheritage, a in which bodyof testedand accredited factand theory newincrements,added to the original fund,tend to checkup, affirm, or qualify, first ofall, in each specialscience and,finally, in all therelatedsciences, all thathas beencontributed by earlier investigators. as I have sought On theother to charhand,acquaintance with, acterize it,so far as itis basedon theslowaccumulation ofexperience and thegradualaccommodation of theindividual to his individual and personal world, becomes, as I have said,moreand morecompletely identical withinstinct and intuition. about is not merely accumulated but the Knowledge experience result of systematic investigation of nature.It is based on the answers we address to theworld givento thedefinite questions which aboutus. It is knowledge withall theformal pursued methodically and logicalapparatus which has created.I might scientific research thatthere no scientific add, parenthetically, is, generally speaking, of the intuition and insight method whichis wholly independent whichacquaintance withthings and eventsgivesus. Ratheris it true under themostthatformal that, ordinary circumstances, methods can do for research is to assisttheinvestigator in obtaining facts which willmakeit possible to checkup suchinsights and hunches as theinvestigator orhasgained had at theoutset later inthe already course ofhis researches. ofthismethodical is to protect the Oneofthefunctions procedure fromthe perilsof an interpretation to whicha too investigator ardent is likely to lead him. Thereis, on the pursuit ofknowledge other thatis a substitute for hand,no methodical procedure insight. II as "acquaintance with"and "knowledge What is heredescribed forms ofknowledge-forms tobe distinct about"areassumed having

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and of society-rather different functions in thelivesofindividuals ofaccuracy thanknowledge ofthesamekindbutofdifferent degrees in character notso different or and validity. Theyare,nevertheless, function-since theyare, after all, relative terms-thattheymay a continuum-a connot be conceivedas constituting together tinuum within whichall kindsand sorts ofknowledge find a place. In sucha continuum of its own. It is obvious newshas a location thatnewsis notsystematic knowledge likethatofthephysical sciwithevents, ences.It is rather, in so faras it is concerned likehisin timeand located tory.Events,becausetheyare invariably fixed in space,areuniqueand cannot, therefore, be classified as is thecase withthings. moveabout in space and change Not onlydo things withtimebut, in respect to theirinternal organization, theyare or lessstableequilibrium. alwaysin a condition ofmore arenothistorical facts. Newsis nothistory, and itsfacts however, for onething it deals,on Newsis nothistory because, among others, thewhole, withisolated events and doesnotseekto relatethemto oneanother in theform ofteleological either ofcausalorin theform events but seeksto put them sequences. History notonlydescribes in their proper placein thehistorical succession, and,by doing so,to discover theunderlying tendencies and forces which find expression in them.In fact, in assuming one wouldnotbe farwrong thathistory is quiteas muchconcerned with theconnections ofevents-the relation between theincidents thatprecede and thosethatfollowas it is with theevents themselves. On theother hand,a reporter, as distinguished from a historian, seeksmerely to record each single eventas it occurs and is concerned withthepast and future onlyin so faras thesethrow light on whatis actualand present. The relation the taskofthehisof an eventto thepast remains torian, while its significance as a factor determining thefuture may be left Freeman calls"comperhaps to thescience ofpolitics-what or to someother parativepolitics"3-that is to say, to sociology ofthesocialsciences, division which, by comparative studies, seeks to arrive to support a hypothesis at statements or sufficiently general a prediction.4
3Edward A. Freeman,Comparative Politics (London, I873). The sociologicalpoint of view makes its appearance in historical investigation as soon as thehistorian turns from thestudyof"periods" to the studyofinstitutions. The
4

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News,as a form of knowledge, is notprimarily concerned either withthepast or withthefuture but rather withthepresent-what as "thespecious hasbeendescribed bypsychologists present." News maybe said to existonlyin sucha present. Whatis meanthereby is suggested the"specious thatnews, as thepubpresent" bythefact lishers of the commercial pressknow,is a veryperishable comnews it has reached modity. Newsremains thepersons for onlyuntil whomit has "newsinterest." Once published and its significance recognized, whatwas newsbecomes history. Thistransient andephemeral is ofthevery quality essence ofnews and is intimately withevery connected othercharacter thatit exhibits.Different typesof newshave a different timespan. In its mostelementary a newsreport form is a mere"flash," announcing thatan event has happened.If theevent ofrealimportance, proves interest in it willlead to further and to a morecomplete inquiry withtheattendant An eventceasesto acquaintance circumstances. be news, as soonas the tension it aroused however, has ceasedand public attention has been directed to some otheraspect of the habitat or to someother incident sufficiently or imnovel,exciting, portant to holdits attention. The reason thatnewscomesto us, under ordinary circumstances, notin theform of a continued story but as a series ofindependent incidents becomes clear when onetakesaccount ofthefact that weare hereconcerned withthe publicmind-or withwhatis called the publicmind.In its mostelementary form knowledge reachesthe publicnot,as it doestheindividual, in theform ofa perception but in theform ofa communication, thatis to say,news. Publicattention,however, under normal conditions is wavering, unsteady, and easily distracted.When the public mind wanders, the rapport, grapevine telegraph, orwhatever elseit is thatinsures thetransmissionofnews within thelimits ofthepublic ceasesto function, tension is relaxed, communication broken and whatwas live newsbeoff, comescoldfact.
historyof institutions-thatis to say, the family,the church,economicinstitutions, politicalinstitutions, etc.-leads inevitably to comparison, classification, the formation of class names or concepts,and eventuallyto the formulation of law. In the process historybecomesnaturalhistory, and naturalhistory passes over into natural science. In short, history becomessociology(R. E. Park and E. W. Burgess,Introduction tothe ScienceofSociology of Chicago Press, I92I], p. i6). [Chicago: University

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A newsitem,as everynewspaperman knows, is read in inverse ratioto itslength. The ordinary reader willreada column and a half of twoor three-line items aboutmenand things in thehometown before he willreada column howadvertised no matter article, in the unless it turns headlines, out to be notmerely newsbut a story, i.e., thathas whatis calledtechnically something "humaninterest." News comesin the form of small,independent communications thatcanbe easily andrapidly In fact, comprehended. news performs somewhat thesamefunctions for thepublicthatperception doesfor the individual man; thatis to say, it does not so muchinform as orient thepublic, giving each and all noticeas to whatis going on. It does this withoutany effort of the reporter to interpret the events he reports, in so faras to makethemcomprehensible except and interesting. The first typical reaction of an individual to thenewsis likely to be a desire torepeat itto someone. Thismakes arouses conversation, further and perhaps a discussion. comment, starts But thesingular thing about it is that,once discussion has been started, the event under discussion soonceasesto be news, and,as interpretations ofan eventdiffer, discussions turnfrom the newsto the issuesit raises. The clash of opinions and sentiments whichdiscussion invariably evokesusuallyterminates in some sortof consensus or collective opinion-what we call publicopinion.It is upontheinterpretation ofpresent thatpublicopinion events, i.e.,news, rests. to which The extent within newscirculates, a political unitor a theextent political determines towhich society, themembers ofsuch a society maybe said to participate, notin itscollective life-which is themore inclusive term-butin itspolitical acts. Political action and political as one ordinarily understands power, theseterms, are based not on such obviously concert and consensus merely as may existin a herdor in a crowd.It restsultimately, it seems, on the ofa political ability asidefrom whatever society, ofmilitary or materialresources it possesses, to act not only concertedly but conin some accordance with considered sistently and infurtherpurpose anceofsomerational end. The world ofpolitics, it seems, is based, as Schopenhauer has said of the worldin general, on the organic ofwillandidea. Other relation andmore material sources ofpolitical are obviously instrumental. power merely

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is past politics and has said thathistory thehistorian, Freeman, intoa few Thisputsa greatdealoftruth history. is present politics and needssomeenlargement inpractice evenifthestatement words, to both,is neirelated intimately News,though somequalification. makes which the stuff norpolitics.It is, nevertheless, therhistory of collective befrom otherforms action,as distinguished political and are the recognized behavior kindsof collective other Among andreligious expression-etiquette forms ofceremonial conventional and in so faras theycreateunanimity ritual-which, and religious rolein and indirectly an important play directly morale, maintain has no such intimate action.But religion and in political politics secular phewiththenews.News is a purely as politics connection nomenon. III thatit is theunexpected saying to theeffect Thereis a proverbial it follows, or seems makesnews, thathappens.Sincewhathappens theunusual andthe with concerned ormainly to,thatnewsis always it provided it seems, happening, Even themosttrivial unexpected. of ritualand routine the customary from a departure represents of in the press.This conception to be reported dailylife,is likely who,in the competition by thoseeditors newshas been confirmed papers havesought to maketheir for circulation and for advertising, either wheretheycould not be invariably smartand interesting, ofreintotheminds In their to instil efforts or thrilling. informing everywhere the importance of looking and correspondents porters that wouldexcite,amuse,or shockits and alwaysforsomething exsomeinteresting haveput intocirculation newseditors readers, from Homer, an expression borrowing ofwhattheGermans, amples words."The epigram describ"winged Worter, havecalledgeflulgelte and is rehas winged its way overmoreterritory ing newswhich thananyother is this: "Dog bitesman"-that is often peatedmore not news.But "Man bitesdog"-that is. Nota bene!It is not the It is of an eventthat makesit newsworthy. intrinsic importance it will rather thefactthattheeventis so unusualthatifpublished so thatit willbe orotherwise excite thereader either amuse, startle, is whatCharles finally, and repeated. For news always remembered
havior,possible.

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A. Dana described it to be, "something thatwillmakepeopletalk," evenwhenit doesnotmakethemact. and withThe factthatnewsordinarily circulates spontaneously or inhibitions out any adventitious aids-as well as freely without which atcensorship-seems to be responsible foranother character types tachesto it, distinguishing it from related but less authentic ofknowledge-namely, thata report of rumor and gossip.In order notmerely eventscurrent mayhave the qualityofnews, it should circulate-possibly in circuitous underground channels-butshould be published, ifneedbe by thetowncrier or thepublicpress.Such ofa public publication tends to givenewssomething ofthecharacter document. Newsis more orlessauthenticated bythefactthatithas beenexposed it is to thecritical examination ofthepublicto which addressed and withwhoseinterests it is concerned. to protest, The publicwhich thus,by common consent or failure doesnotgiveto putsthestamp ofitsapproval on a published report itsinterpretation theauthority ofstatement thathasbeensubjected to expert historical criticism. Everypublichas its local prejudices A moresearching ofthefacts and itsownlimitations. examination mind and enlightened wouldquitepossibly revealto a morecritical publicopinion. the naive credulity and bias of an unsophisticated In fact, thusrevealed thenaiveteand credulity maybecomean imdatum.This, however, is merely historical or sociological portant and further illustration ofthefactthatevery publichas its another ownuniverse ofdiscourse and that, a factis only humanly speaking, a factin someuniverse ofdiscourse.5 An interesting on the natureof newsby a conlightis thrown sideration ofthechanges which takeplace in information thatgets intocirculation thesanction which without givesto it. In publicity suchcase a report, and from somesourcenot disclosed emanating to a destination thatis unknown, invariably accumulates traveling
5 A universe thana special ofdiscourse is ordinarily is, as theterm used,no more to specific and appropriate It may, which is wellunderstood situations. vocabulary a bodyofmore in thecase ofsomespecialscience defined include precisely however, orlesssystematic terms orconcepts, in thatcasewilltendto havea more charwhich for acter.History, concepts. On theother example, employs no,or almost no,special thatattempts to be systematic, does. As concepts and every science hand,sociology, a "frame assume thissystematic tendto constitute ofreference." character, they

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but mainly detailsfrom the innocent illicitcontributions of those whatwas at whoassistit on its travel.Underthesecircumstances first mere rumor tends to assume, in time, thecharacter ofa legend, thatis, something which but no one believes. everyone repeats When, on theother ofcurrent events arepublished hand,reports for with thenames, makeit possible dates,andplaceswhich anyone of legendwhichgathers concerned to checkthem, the atmosphere about and clothes withfantastic detailthe newsas originally reor whatwillpass for ported is presently dispelled, and whatis fact, is reduced fact, untilcorrected and laternewsreports, by further to something more prosaic thanlegend andmoreauthentic thannews, fact. i.e., historical If it is the unexpected that happens,it is the not wholly unthatgetsintothenews.The events thathave madenews expected in thepast,as in thepresent, areactually theexpected things. They likebirths are characteristically simpleand commonplace matters, and deaths, and funerals, theconditions ofthecrops andof weddings and the weather. These are the expected business, war, politics, butthey areat thesametime theunpredictable things, things. They thatturnup in the gameof life. are theincidents and the chances The factis thatthething and thatmakesnewsis newsinterest, as every editor is a variable that, city knows, quantity-onethathas to be reckoned withfrom the timethe cityeditorsitsdownat his deskin themorning untilthenight editor locksup thelast form at night.The reason for thisis thatthenewsvalueis relative, and an event thatcomes latermay,andoften thevalueofan does,diminish eventthatturned In thatcase the less important up earlier. item has to givewayto thelaterand moreimportant. The anecdotes turn and "believe it or nots"which up in thenews arevaluable to theeditor becausethey canalways be lifted outofthe printer's form to makeway forsomething hotter and moreurgent. In anycase it is, on thewhole, theaccidents and incidents thatthe and defeats publicis prepared on theball field for;thevictories or on the battlefield; the things that one fearsand things that one to understand, hopesfor-thatmakethenews.It is difficult neverthenumber ofpeoplewhoarekilled theless, andmaimed considering accidents killedin I938 was annually by automobile (the number 32,600) thatthese lossesoflife makethefront great rarely page. The

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has cometo be accepted difference seemsto be thattheautomobile as one of thepermanent features of civilized lifeand war has not. at least in the strict senseof the term, News,therefore, is not a thathas fortheperson story or an anecdote.It is something who hearsor readsit an interest thatis pragmatic rather thanappreciathat tive. Newsis characteristically, ifnotalways, limited to events bring aboutsudden and decisive changes.It maybe an incident like thatofthecolored family in Philadelphia, Francesand Ben Mason, whowona fortune in theIrishsweepstakes recently.6 It maybe a tragicincident like the battleoffthe coast of Uruguay whichresulted in thedestruction oftheGerman battleship, the"GrafSpee," and the suicideof its captain.These eventswerenot onlynewsthatis,something in theprethatbrought a sudden decisive change viously existing situation-but,as theywererelatedin the newsto assumea new papersand as we reflected uponthem, theytended andidealsignificance: the theonea story ofgenuine human interest, other thatoftragedy, to useAristotle's to inspire something, phrase, Events such as thesetend to be remembered. "pity and terror." balin popular Eventually they maybecome legends or be recorded lads. Legends and balladsneedno datelineor thenamesofpersons orplacesto authenticate them.Theyliveand survive in ourmemoriesand in thatof the publicbecauseof their humaninterest. As events theyhave ceasedto exist.Theysurvive as a sortofghostly of something an ideal symbol of universal and perennial interest, representation of whatis trueof lifeand of humannatureeverywhere. Thusit seems thatnews, as a form ofknowlecdge, contributes from itsrecord ofevents notonlyto history but to folkand to sociology loreand literature; it contributes something notmerely to thesocial sciences but to thehumanities.
IV

The sociological horizon has recently takenon new dimensions. Socialanthropology, mereno longer interested in primitive society but thenatural ly,has begunto study notonlythehistory history and function of institutions. In doingso it has appropriated more and morethefield ofsociological and research. interest Psychiatry,
6

December 25, See Time,

I939,

p.

I2.

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arediseases ofa andpsychoses has discovered thatneuroses likewise, by the created ofa socialmilieu is itself a product which personality up in the therehas grown Meanwhile of personalities. interaction oflaw which conceives as UnitedStatesand in Europea sociology to rationalthecourts are seeking which thenorms natural products there havebeen cases. Finally, andapplyinspecific ize,systematize, to bring thesubjectofknowledge attempts recent someinteresting itself thelimits ofa sociological discipline. within sincethedaysofParmenides. have existed ofknowledge Theories is a which in knowledge beenless interested They have,however, whichis an idea and an or valid knowledge datumthanin truth is conof knowledge ideal. The question withwhichthe sociology a statethevalidity ofknowledge-of cerned is notwhatconstitutes under or of fact-but what are the conditions mentof principle kindsofknowledge ariseand whatarethefunctions which different ofeach. thedignity of thathaveachieved ofknowledge Mostoftheforms origin. ofmankind, ofveryrecent a science are,in thelonghistory is news. forms ofknowledge andmostelementary Oneoftheearliest whentherewas and not so long ago, either, Therewas a period, of any sort. history, nor rationalknowledge philosophy, neither as and magic.Whatwe nowdescribe legend, Therewas onlymyth, The socialsciuntil didnotexist theRenaissance. theexactsciences in thelast enceshave,roughly onlycomeintoexistence speaking, thelast half-cenfifty years.At leasttheyhave onlybegunwithin use ofstatistics, likescienanything to achieve, with thewider tury tific precision. at all,is probably as knowledge News,so faras it is to be regarded animals werenotwithas old as mankind, older.The lower perhaps out a kind of communication whichwas not unlikenews. The as signifying "cluck"ofthemother henis understood by thechicks accordingly. either or food, and thechicks respond danger in a herd kindofcommunication Thisis notto suggest thatevery comof news.What is ordinarily or flock willhave the character is merely excitement-sometimes a kindof contagious municated associain thegregarious a senseofwell-being and security merely manifested a senseof unrest or malaise, tionof theherd, at others

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in themilling oftheherd.It seems and often intensified likely that is essential thispervasive socialexcitement, which to theexistence of as a socialunit, theherd serves, also,to facilitate thecommunication ofnews, or whatcorresponds to it in theherd. Thereis in naval parlancean expression, "the fleetin being," a fleet which means, apparently, thattheshipswhich constitute are in communication and sufficiently mobilized, perhaps, to be capable ofsomesortofconcerted action.The sameexpression might be apa society, or a herd.A society pliedto a community, is "in being" when thatcompose it areto suchan extent theindividuals enrapport that,whether capableof unitedand collective actionor not,they in a common as participating may be described or collective existence. In sucha society a diffuse socialexcitement tends to envelope, all participants in thecommon likean atmosphere, lifeand to givea direction and tendency to their interests and attitudes. It is as ifthe individuals ofsucha society weredominated moodor by a common them stateofmind which determined for therange and character of or tendencies theirinterests and theirattitudes to act. The most socialtension obvious illustration ofthisobscure or stateofmindin a community is thepersistent and pervasive influence of fashion. At certain timesand undercertain thiscollective conditions excitement, so essential to communication if not to understanding, rises to a higher levelofintensity and,as it doesso,tends tolimit the rangeof response but to increase the intensity of impulses not so inhibited. The effect ofthisis thesameas in thecase ofattention in theindividual. Exclusive attention to somethings inhibits responses to others. This meansin the case of a society a limitation of the range and character ofthenewsto which it willeither collectively or individually respond. The riseofsocialtension in themostelementary maybe observed form in theherdwhen, forsomereason, theherdis restless and bemounts as restlessness is increases. The effect ginsto mill.Tension as ifthemilling in theherda stateof expectancy produced which, as it increased inintensity, increased also thecertainty thatpresenta clap ofthunder or thecrackling ofa twig, would ly someincident, theherdintoa stampede. plunge similar takesplace in a public.As tension the Something arises,

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and the rangeof eventsto which narrows, limits ofpublicinterest The circulation ofnewsis limited; is limited. thepublicwillrespond ofactionofsomesortincreases. discussion ceases,and thecertainty in thecommunity. orpersons influence ofthedominant But person of this dominance dependsupon the abilityof the the existence to maintain tension. It is in thiswaythat community, oritsleaders, ofcensorthenecessity to a dictatorship ofsomesort plainslikewise ship. there is a certain it seems, where Newscirculates, onlyin a society But the effect of degree oftension. degree ofrapport and a certain attention ofpublicinterest is to disperse newsfrom outside thecircle owninitiaindividuals to act ontheir and,by so doing, to encourage or personality. tiverather thanon thatofa dominant party Underordinary circumstances-in a timeofpeace rather thanof overan everwidening tendsto circulate war or revolution-news in society Changes and multiply. area,as meansofcommunication circumstances to takeplace,but itsinstitutions under these continue Under and moreor less imperceptibly. theytake place piecemeal takeplaceviolently other conditions-in warorrevolution-changes and visibly but catastrophically. is deunderordinary conditions The permanence of institutions ofthecommunity ofwhich ortheability ability, pendent upontheir and other to technological less theyare a part,to adapt themselves obviouschanges.But thesechangesand theirconsequences manibut rather in thenews. festthemselves notonlydirectly indirectly church liketheCatholic ortheJapanese statehavebeen Institutions able to survive oftimebecausetheyhave been thedrastic changes in theconditions ofexistence, notmerely able to respond to changes and obviously thosephysically imposed uponthembut thoseforein thenews. shadowed and reflected ofpolitics I haveindicated therolewhich newsplaysin theworld in which in so faras it provides thebasis forthediscussions public a is formed. The newsplaysquiteas important rolein the opinion theprice since ofcommodities, world ofeconomic including relations,
in power. It is this that exdictatorsarise and maintainthemselves This narrowing of the focusof public attentiontends to increasethe

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and securities, intheworld-market money as registered andin every localmarket dependent uponit,is basedon thenews. So sensitive aretheexchanges to events in every partoftheworld thatevery in fashion or the weather is likelyto be refluctuation in the priceson the exchanges. I have said that newsis a flected secularphenomenon. But therecome timeswhenchangesare so greatand so catastrophic thatindividuals and peoplesareno longer interested in worldly affairs. In suchcase men,frustrated in their ambitions and theirhopes,turnaway from the worldof secular and seek refuge affairs and consolation in a flight from the great worldintothe security or of the of the littleworldof the family church. The function of newsis to orient man and society in an actualworld.In so faras it succeeds it tendsto preserve thesanity oftheindividual and thepermanence ofsociety. ofcomAlthough newsis an earlier and more elementary product munication thanscience, newshas by no meansbeensuperseded by it. On thecontrary, theimportance ofnewshas grown consistently withthe expansion of the meansof communication and withthe growth ofscience. withthe Improvedmeansof communication have co-operated vast accumulations of knowledge, in libraries, in museums, and in learnedsocieties, to make possiblea more rapid, accurate,and is thoroughgoing interpretation of events as theyoccur.The result thatpersons andplaces, andlegendary, arenowfamiliar onceremote to every reader ofthedailypress. In fact,the multiplication of the meansof communication has brought it aboutthatanyone, evenin themostdistant partofthe in events-at least as listener world, maynow actually participate ifnotas spectator-asthey takeplacein someother actually partof hisfascist theworld.We haverecently to Mussolini listened address a balconyof Rome; we have heardHitlerspeaking followers from overtheheadsofa devoutcongregation in theReichstag, in Berlin, notmerely to thePresident, butto thepeople, oftheUnited States. We have even had an opportunity to hear the terms of the momentous Munichagreement tenseconds after it had beensigned by therepresentatives offour oftheleading powers in Europeand the

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as thesecan be so quickly world.The factthatacts so momentous has suddenly and completely changed and so publicly consummated thecharacter politics, so thatonecan nolonger even ofinternational has in store for Europeand for theworld. guesswhatthefuture In the modern worldthe role of news has assumedincreased as compared withsomeother rather than diminished importance forexample. The changesin recent forms of knowledge, history, thatthemodern to havebeenso rapidand drastic world seems years and we appearto be living from havelostitshistorical perspective, earlier as a "specious present." day to day in whatI have described mainly Underthecircumstances history seems to be reador written to enableus, by comparison ofthepresent withthepast,to underhave on aboutus rather than,as thehistorians standwhatis going happened." toldus, to know"whatactually anarticle in theSaturday Review Thus ElmerDavis in a recent Mein forI939 twovolumes:Hitler's nounces as "required reading" andThucydides' History ofthe Peloponnesian War(43I B.C.). Kampf ofthePeloponnesian as he He recommends thehistory Warbecause, was not only a brilliant analystof humanbesays,"Thucydides but was at the same time and collective" haviorboth individual "a greatreporter."7 ofourtimes, thatsincenews, as Onenotes, also,as characteristic has tendedto assumethe charreported in American newspapers, thenewspaper so fiction-after themostpopular acterofliterature, assumedmoreand morethe character of literature-has form of Emile Zola's novelswereessentially reports upon contemporary TheGrapes has been manners inFrancejustas Steinbeck's ofWrath described as an epoch-making on the share-cropper in the report UnitedStates. is an age ofnews,and one ofthemostimportant Ours,it seems, in American has beentheriseofthereporter. events civilization
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
7 "Required Reading," SaturdayReview ofLiterature, OctoberI4, I939.

news.8

Press, 1940). sityofChicago

8 See

Story(Chicago: UniverHelen MacGill Hughes,News and theHuman Interest