Comparison of British and American press

Britain is a nation of enthusiastic newspaper readers. More than 16 million people buy a copy of a morning paper and countless Britons spend part of every Sunday with the latest issue of their favourite Sunday paper.

As there is keen competition between the mass circulation dailies (papers which appear every day) and weeklies, reporters are constantly in search of scoops (for example exclusive interviews) to raise their circulation figures.

Britain's newspaper market is much differentiated. In addition to the national Sundays (The Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, News of the World, etc.) there are five national 'quality' dailies and seven national 'popular' dailies (the latter ones are called tabloids).

Some of the down-market tabloids are The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express etc., all of which have millions of readers.

In the USA there is no newspaper that strictly speaking, can be defined as a national paper. Only The Washington Post, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal are of nation-wide importance.

However, there are local and regional papers as well as a wide variety of periodicals and news magazines (Time, Newsweek).

In both Britain and the USA, the press has undergone radical changes over last few decades. As more newspapers were brought up by powerful publishers, huge newspaper chains emerged and a trend towards concentration of the press and of the mass media in general could be noticed. Another trend which has had a great impact on newspapers were syndicated columns, cartoons etc. by prominent journalists and cartoonists which were published by such news-reporting services as Reuters and AP (Associated Press) which made the collection of information and foreign news more efficient.

More recently, new techniques have replaced the traditional printing presses.

Journalists cover international events on the front pages or back pages, columnists write about fashion, motoring or financial topics, special features on topics like education and gardening, sports reporters inform the readers on the special events, cartoonists amuse them with comic strips and cartoons and critics write reviews of the latest plays, books etc.

Additional features are leading articles (leaders) written by the editor, correspondence columns with letters to the editor, the latest part of a serialised novel, notices of births, deaths and marriages, crossword puzzles, horoscopes and advertisements.

The publishing house has its papers printed and then taken to the newsagents. Subscribers' papers are delivered to their homes, as their subscription includes this service.


The American Press

The American press started in the 18th century as a small instrument of the literate elite and an unapologetic participant in partisan politics. It was a pamphleteering press, operated by colonial postmasters and opinionated printers. It was not for at least another century that the American press had transformed itself into a fairly nonideological communications instrument, in step with the desires, dynamism, and diversity of the country itself.

But change notwithstanding, the American press has maintained two fundamental constants over the past two centuries: (1) its independence from government, and (2) its reliance on public acceptance if not approval for its financial survival.

There is no universally accepted definition or set of definitions for "news" in the American media. This is because there is no single role designated for the press. Among the roles the American press has chosen for itself are to inform, to educate, to reform, to entertain, to incite, or all of the above.

Within a broad range of definitions, however, there is general agreement as to what is newsworthy and what is not. The most prevalent characteristics include: the activity of officials and celebrities; government action of any kind; events that are new or bizarre (such as crime and disaster); revelations that are titillating or shocking (involving sex and scandal); and new social trends.

Emphasis on the unusual is a mainstay of modern American journalism, explained by the adage: "If dog bites man, it is not news; if man bites dog, that's news." The public tends to have a love-hate relationship with this definition. On one hand, the audience is entertained or provoked by the news; on the other hand, it is resentful that "normal life" tends to be ignored.

Perhaps the greatest source of pride in American journalism is the tradition of investigative reporting, largely aimed at exposing abuses of power. The Pulitzer Prize, the most coveted award in American journalism, is given annually for superior investigation and public service. In recent years, the business community has come under the kind of press scrutiny that was traditionally reserved for government, even though access to business information is usually harder to obtain.

Generally, the American press does a fairly thorough job of covering the "big story" overseas, tailoredto an American audience. But it gives little attention to the day-to-day news abroad, and it does not cater to the foreign audience.

More than 90 percent of America's daily newspapers depend on the news agencies (wire services), primarilythe Associated Press, for news of the world outside their own regions. This is because only a handful of the largest newspapers have their own national and foreign staffs. They include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, and the Christian Science Monitor. Most of these papers have established their own news services, thus giving newspapers more choices than they have had in the past.


Freedom of Information

Just as there is no official or government-owned news agency in the U.S., there are no official or government-owned newspapers. There is no state censorship, no "official secrets act," nor any law that says, for example, that government records must be kept secret until so many years have passed. The Freedom of Information Act allows anyone (American or not), including newspaper reporters, to get information that elsewhere is simply "not available." Courts and judges cannot stop a story or newspaper from being printed, or published. Someone can go to court later, but then, of course, the story has already appeared.

Government attempts to keep former intelligence agents from publishing secrets they once promised to keep - from "telling it all," as the newspapers say - have been notoriously unsuccessful. One of the best-known examples was when The New York Times and The Washington Post published the so-called "Pentagon Papers." These were secret documents concerning U.S. military policy during the war in Vietnam. The newspapers won the Supreme Court case that followed. The Court wrote (1971): "The government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the government."

The American tradition of "muckraking" -digging out the dirt and exposing it for all to see - is still extremely strong, and investigative reporting is still a large part of a journalist's work. This is one reason why so many younger Americans are attracted to careers in journalism as a way of effecting change in society. Even small-town newspapers employ reporters who are kept busy searching for examples of political corruption, business malpractice, or industrial pollution. They are assisted by court decisions, which make it harder for "public figures" to sue for libel or slander. Almost anyone who is well known is a public figure, whether they be politicians, judges, policemen, generals, business leaders, sports figures, or TV and movie personalities. Needless to say, some Americans are not happy with this strong tradition of investigative reporting. They say that it has gone too far, that it gives a false impression of the country, that it makes it almost impossible to keep one's private life private. The press, they say, is not and should not be part of government. The American press responds by quoting their constitutional rights and proudly repeating Thomas Jefferson's noble words: "Our liberty depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." They perform a public service that is necessary for a healthy democracy, they claim. 55 Less nobly, they also know, of course, that when something, which has been hidden behind closed doors, is moved to the front pages, it can sell many newspapers.


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