The Grand Old Days of American journalism were characterized first and foremost by severely curtailed competition. There were three television networks, and outside of New York each city had basically one newspaper.
At first I thought this couldn’t be serious. I understand that the days when there were only three broadcast networks are before Yglesias’s time–but it isn’t exactly ancient history. There are lots of people who were around then. Some of them even work at Slate. You would think that, if he couldn’t be bothered to research the period, Yglesias might have queried one of them.
For instance, when I was a kid growing up outside Philadelphia, we had: the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News, the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and the Philadelphia Journal. That is, in addition to the two local dailies, the Gloucester County Times and the Courier-Post.
Without thinking too hard, Boston had the Herald and the Globe (that’s off the top of my head, they may have had more); Seattle had the Seattle Times, the News-Tribune, and the Post Intelligencer; St. Louis had the Globe-Democrat and the Post-Dispatch.
You get the idea. Back in the Grand Old Days most cities had at least two newspapers. (And that’s just counting the major papers–there were tons of smaller ethnic and alternative papers.) I know it’s hard to believe, but once upon a time the major American cities actually had morning and afternoon newspapers. And many of these cities had papers competing even within those time slots!
I know. It sounds crazy. And really, who can be expected to know about stuff that happened way back in the age of rotary dials. I don’t blame Yglesias. It would have taken him 30, maybe even 45 minutes of research to find this out because since most of these papers disappeared before the digital age it’s hard to find them mentioned on the internet.
And really, you can’t blame a journalist for not knowing something if it isn’t in Wikipedia or on Google’s first three results pages. I mean what–do you want journalists to have to read books just so they understand stupid details about what the world was like before iPhones and Twitter?
And I’m sure that from here on out Yglesias will be more careful when spouting off on topics about which he knows very little.
Update: In the comments, Galley Reader JSG asks an interesting question: Is Yglesias’ contention that most cities once had only a single newspaper true for any major American city? Maybe someone with a Twitter account can ask him to provide an example.