- Freedom from Advertising: E. W. Scripps’s Chicago Experiment
Since the nineteenth-century transition of the political press to a people’s press, newspapers have been almost inextricably intertwined with advertising. Duane C. S. Stoltzfus sheds some light on an anomalous example of an attempt to challenge journalism’s commercialized environment. Stoltzfus chronicles the brief trial of advertising-free journalism supported by E. W. Scripps. In Freedom from Advertising: E. W. Scripps’s Chicago Experiment, Stoltzfus portrays the short existence from Thursday, September 11, 1911 to July 6, 1917 of the Day Book as a trial, close to Scripps’s heart, but not one that had sufficient support from its benefactor or readers to persist in the face of mounting challenges.
Stoltzfus’s objective is to raise the Day Book from its status as a mere footnote in the history of American journalism to that of another case study of journalism that defies big business within the larger context of PM in the 1940s, the subject of the epilogue, and contemporary online journalism. The question could also be whether the Day Book differs greatly from the earlier sectarian and political newspapers of [End Page 856] the nineteenth century. It shares similarities of funding and purpose with earlier publications. Stoltzfus, however, suggests that it is a forerunner of the contemporary, alternative press, challenges to dominant corporate journalism and not simply a throwback to early newspaper practices. The Day Book does share a great deal with the political and sectarian papers that enjoyed the funding and active interest of a benefactor, in this case E. W. Scripps. Freedom from Advertising begins with Scripps’s history and his quest for an “adless” paper. The project, it would seem, was dear to his heart not simply as a way to give a voice to the working class, but to counteract advertisers exerting an undue influence on journalism.
Freedom from Advertising is organized basically as a chronological historical narrative, but shifts focus to follow the trajectory of Stoltzfus’s argument. The premise that self-censorship plagued early journalism due to fears of offending powerful advertisers lay at the root of the argument that ad-free newspapers would represent a more democratic delivery of the news. In Chapter 2, E. W. Scripps is depicted as contradictory, a champion of the common people, but born into a wealthy publishing family with an early start in the business. Stoltzfus charts the rise of the Scripps newspaper chain, the combination of its news associations to form United Press International, which allowed for the expansion of the chain in a distinctive fashion. Stoltzfus notes that the Scripps newspapers typically contained less local news than their competitors, and on this basis E.W. Scripps expanded into working class towns avoiding competition with other major chains. Scripps’s objective of establishing a profitable newspaper for the “common people” represented an attempt to show a newspaper could be profitable without advertisers. The choice of the working class was based on Scripps’s previous success, not on high-minded virtues.
Stoltzfus turns to Scripps’s selection of Negley Cochran, the Toledo News-Bee as editor, his need for secrecy and his heavy hand in the direction of the Day Book almost throughout its existence. The book focuses attention on Cochran and his sense of his role as editor, on the one hand pleasing Scripps, and the other his slowly growing readership in working-class Chicago. The restrictive budget, constant suggestions from Scripps, and the larger context of competitive, tough Chicago newspaper market in the midst of circulation wars were all challenges to Cochran and his staff. Carl Sandburg’s role as one of the Day Book’s journalists was highlighted as one that brought a socialist vision to the paper, championing the causes of the working class. By turning from Scripps, to Cochran, and then to Sandburg, Stoltzfus emphasizes the impact of personality and personal agendas on the Day Book. [End Page 857]
The “adless” experiment is highlighted in...