Numbed by Media: Newspaper Reading as a Dissipation

In 1899, Post editors worried that constant media exposure to violence and injustice would make readers immune to outrage.

Stacks of newspapers

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Over 16,000 newspapers were feeding America’s hunger for news in 1900. People were becoming better informed, but Post editors worried the constant exposure to violence, injustice, and scandal in the papers was making Americans incapable of outrage.

The first peril of careless newspaper reading is that of being morally hardened by constant contact with the physical and spiritual evils of the world, without being called upon to any action with regard to them.

It requires a notable degree of moral culture to keep from becoming “used to” such things; and there are few things worse for us than to grow accustomed to men’s sufferings and their sins, so that these no longer evoke pity, or indignation, or any other emotion in us.

The great minds are those which show the least disposition to become familiar with wrong, so as not to feel indignation every time they see it. They have a moral freshness which is our right and normal condition. They never “get used to” good or evil.

It is very hard for us to keep this freshness of moral impression in our daily contact with what the newspaper tells us of the world’s evil. It is even harder not to be deceived as to the comparative weight of evil and goodness in the world. The newsgatherer is drawn naturally to the former.

—“Newspaper Reading as a Dissipation,” Editorial by Robert Ellis Thompson, March 11, 1899

This article is featured in the March/April 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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