In the 1920s, the news industry was going through a technological and cultural shift that felt just as unsettling as today’s. Urbanization was encouraging smaller papers to consolidate. The invention of the telegraph and the syndication of news brought national and even international news to local readers. This didn’t just change how newspapers worked. It changed what newspapers meant.
In the late-1800s, there were papers for every “class, sect, and political group,” Gallup said. Local journalism in that time was easy to do. When each writer was a member of his own audience, he could trust that anything interesting to him would be of equal interest to his readers. But as newspapers got bigger, journalists were suddenly writing for massive crowds that included every class, sect, and political group. Suddenly, journalists were writing for people they didn’t know at all.
As newspapers got bigger, they were also getting less news-y, Gallup observed. The role of the press as “the chief agency for instructing and informing the mass of people” had diminished with the growth of public schools. The 1920s marked the beginning of the movement for mandatory public schooling, and Gallup predicted that schools were naturally taking over for newspapers as America’s predominant source of serious information.