NOTES ON THE INDUSTRY, OR, WHAT I’M WRITING ABOUT

by James D. Wolf, Jr on February 1, 2012

The United States Constitution mentions only three non-political professions specifically: religion, practice of law and the press.

Of course, whether the legal profession is non-political is arguable. Laws are political constructs, and judges are politically appointed or nominated. Many of the country’s founders were lawyers in the British tradition, and they based much of the Constitution – especially the legal system – on the United Kingdom’s Magna Carta and the courts, rights and system that resulted from that.

And the reasoning for religion’s inclusion is obvious. America’s first permanent European settlers were religious refugees. Jefferson, Adams, Madison and other founders also knew the harm and damage religious wars did to government in Europe. The Constitution draws lines in the sand.

What’s most interesting is the direct mention of the press. It’s even acknowledged separately from free speech in the first amendment, just as religion, assembly and petition of government are. They’re all related to free speech, yet the press has one characteristic that sets it apart from everything else on that list besides religion: the possibility of permanence.

 The men who shaped this country and its laws felt that not just free speech but the right to have that speech organized, disseminated and made permanent – and to be able to chronicle ideas and events – is as important to the republic and its government as are elected officials, ambassadors, taxes, a postal system and the military.

Even farming, which many of the founders participated in as either a sideline or primary source of income, receives no specific reference in the Constitution. Neither does trade.

Since the establishment of the Constitution, the idea of what’s the press has expanded as technology has changed. It includes radio, television and now the Internet. It’s still considered important in all its forms. It’s also in trouble, at least the way that the founders knew it.

From the 2001 through 2008, newspapers – including ones that had once been in the country’s top 100 circulation giants – began dying off or shrinking more quickly. It had actually started before then, but the advent of the Internet spread it like air travel spreads contagion. An attempt to put a number on this would become dated before I could even put this column online. We’re hemorrhaging that quickly.

In this column, I intend to address these issues and how media is changing, dying, surviving, vying for our limited attention. Given that I started in print media and tend to romanticize it and the founders’ intentions, many of the first columns will consider its situation. However, I have also worked in radio and online, have appeared on television and simply have an interest in all media. I want to know what it means not just to the business but to the United States and the world in general.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: