The power of the 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 must be few, and can appeal directly to only a small minority of the population.
In a country like England, where even the poorest working-man can read. The reading population is practically the whole nation. Hence a large number of newspapers, and their great influence on public opinion. Now the great majority of newspaper readers are uncritical.
Only a few think for themselves and form their own opinions. Most accept what they read without question, and take their opinions ready-made from their favorite papers. Newspapers, therefore, mold public opinion.
In democratic countries, where by the system of election and representation the people control the government, public opinion is the chief power. No democratic government can long withstand 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 the press controls public opinion, and public opinion controls the government, the press ultimately controls the government.
Such is the political power of the press. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. 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 and courageous, and lofty lead on great national questions, the power of the press will be a blessing.
But if the papers are frivolous, prejudiced, and comp, and pander to the worst tastes of the people by filling their pages with scandal and sensationalism, their influence must be bad, and even disastrous.
The commercializing of the modem press is evil. A newspaper is a business concern and is meant to sell. To get a large scale, 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 lolly and serious and moderate. A country that has an independent and clean press, is blessed indeed.