The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XXI. Newspapers, 1775–1860.

§ 18. The Great Editors.

Out of the period of restless change in the thirties there emerged a few great editors whose force and ability gave them and their newspapers an influence hitherto unequalled, and made the period between 1840 and 1860 that of personal journalism. These few men not only interpreted and reflected the spirit of the time, but were of great influence in shaping and directing public opinion. Consequently the scope, character, and influence of newspapers was in the period immensely widened and enriched, and rendered relatively free from the worst subjection to political control.   28
  Naturally, the outstanding feature of this personal journalism was the editorial. Rescued from the slough of ponderousness into which it had fallen in its abject and uninspired party service, the editorial was revived, invigorated, and endowed with a vitality that made it the centre about which all other features of the newspaper were grouped. It was individual; however large the staff of writers, the editorials were regarded as the utterance of the editor. “Greeley says” was the customary preface to quotations from the Tribune, and indeed many editorials were signed. James Gordon Bennett, Samuel Bowles (1826–78), Horace Greeley (1811–72), and Henry J. Raymond (1820–69) are the outstanding figures of the period. Of Bennett’s influence something has already been said; especially, he freed his paper from party control. His power was great, but it came from his genius in gathering and presenting news rather than from editorial discussion, for he had no great moral, social or political ideals, and his influence, always lawless and uncertain, can hardly be regarded as characteristic of the period. Of the others named, and many besides, it could be said with approximate truth that their ideal was “a full presentation and a liberal discussion of all questions of public concernment, from an entirely independent position, and a faithful and impartial exhibition of all movements of interest at home and abroad.” As all three were not only upright and independent, but in various measure gifted with the quality of statesmanship at once philosophical and practical, their newspapers were powerful moulders of opinion at a critical period in the history of the nation.   29
  The news field was immeasurably broadened; news style was improved; interviews, newly introduced, lent the ease and freshness of dialogue and direct quotation. There was a notable improvement in the reporting of business, markets, and finance. In a few papers the literary department was conducted by staffs as able as any today. A foreign news service was developed which in intelligence, fidelity, and general excellence reached the highest standard yet attained in American journalism. A favourite feature was the series of letters from the editor or other member of the staff who travelled and wrote of what he heard or saw. Bowles, Olmsted, Greeley, Bayard Taylor, Bennett, and many others thus observed life and conditions at home or abroad; and they wrote so entertainingly and to such purpose that the letters—those of Olmsted and Taylor, for instance—are still sources of entertainment or information.   30
  The growth of these papers meant the development of great staffs of workers that exceeded in numbers anything dreamed of in the preceding period. Although later journalism has far exceeded in this respect the time we are now considering, still the scope, complexity, and excellence of our modern metropolitan journalism in all its aspects were clearly begun between 1840 and 1860.   31