The power of press in any country depends on the number of newspaper readers; and this in turn depends on the spread of education. Where readers are few, newspapers are few and will appeal directly to only a small minority of population. In a country like England or America where even the poorest working man can read, the reading public is practically the whole nation. Hence the large number of newspapers, and their great influence on public opinion.
Now the great majority of newspaper readers is uncritical. Only a few think for themselves and form their own opinions. Most accept what they read without any question and take their opinions readymade for their favorite papers. Newspapers, therefore, mold public opinion.
In democratic countries, whereby the system of election and representation the people control the government, public opinion is the chief power. No democratic government can long neglect or oppose a strong public opinion on any question. Sooner or later the government will have to yield to public opinion or be driven out of office. It is, therefore, obvious that if press controls the government, the press is ultimately controlled by the public. Such is the political power of the press.
This great power may be used for good or evil. If the great newspapers are serious, disinterested and clean, and give their readers a wise, courageous and great national question, the power of press will be blessing. But if the papers are frivolous, prejudiced and corrupt and pander to the worst tastes of the people by filing their pages with scandal and sensationalism, their influence must be bad and even disastrous.
The commercializing of the modern press is an evil. A newspaper is a business concern and is meant to sell. To get a large sale, it must give its readers what they want. And the more extreme and sensational and exciting it is, the better it will sell. It, therefore, cannot afford to be lofty, serious and moderate: A country that has an independent and clean press is blessed indeed.