The greatest invention of the ancient Hebrews was the idea of the sabbath, though I am using this word in a fully secular sense: the invention of a region free from control of the state and commerce where another dimension of life could be experienced and where altered forms of social relationship could occur. As such, the sabbath has always been a major resistance to state and market power. For purposes of communication, the effective penetration of the sabbath came in the 1880s with the invention of the Sunday newspaper.
Communications theorist James W. Carey, in Technology and Ideology: The Case of the Telegraph, from his book Communication as Culture (1989).
Carey’s essay discusses the development of standard time zones, which he says “served to overlay the world with a grid of time in the same way the surveyor’s map laid a grid of space on old cities, the new territories of the West, or the seas.” Standardizing time allowed for it to be used to control and coordinate activities.
In the above excerpt, he considers the sabbath as a time zone that could be “penetrated” and explains how William Randolph Hearst did so by popularizing the idea of the Sunday newspaper. This perspective could also be applied to commercial broadcasting and the advent of 24-hour television. He writes:
It was Hearst with his New York Sunday World who popularized the idea of Sunday newspaper reading and created, in fact, a market where none had existed before—a sabbath market. Since then the penetration of the sabbath has been one of the “frontiers” of commercial activity. Finally, when the frontier in space was officially closed in 1890, the “new frontier” became the night, and since then there has been a continuous spreading upward of commercial activity.
Murray Melbin (1987) has attempted to characterize “night as a frontier.” In terms of communication the steady expansion of commercial broadcasting into the night is one of the best examples. There were no 24-hour radio stations in Boston, for example, from 1918 through 1954; now half of the stations in Boston operate all night. Television has slowly expanded into the night at one end and at the other initiated operations earlier and earlier. Now, indeed, there are 24-hour television stations in major markets.
FJP: It’s a pretty interesting thought—the colonization, in essence—of time, by media. I discovered the reading in a journalism history course I’m taking with Andie Tucher, whom we’ve interviewed here on the FJP. Check out her videos. —Jihii
[Was hard] news ever commercial?
Gerald J. Baldasty’s book, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century, makes a case clear as spring water that hard news has almost never been a mass commercial enterprise.
The American newspapers of the 1820s and early 1830s were creatures of political parties, edited by zealots. Essentially propaganda sheets, these newspapers were “devoted to winning elections,” as Baldasty wrote… Without newspapers, top political organizer Martin Van Buren once said, “we might as well hang our harps on willows.”
Political parties supported the papers financially, and when editors strayed from the party line into independence, the parties would dump their newspapers.