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Missing the Newspaper: Bernard Berelson

Posted by: | April 9, 2016 | No Comment |
source: http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu

source: http://photoarchive.lib.uchicago.edu

Bernard Berelson (1912-1979) was an American behavioral scientist. In 1945 there was a newspaper strike in New York. This strike provided him with an excellent opportunity to study the effects of the absence of newspapers on its readers. “What ‘Missing The Newspaper’ Means” was an analysis published by Berelson in the 1948-1949 edition of Communications Research. In it he analyzed why people missed the news and how people felt when they couldn’t get their daily news.

In his study Berelson explained that on June 30, 1945, the deliverymen of eight of the major newspapers in NYC went on strike. This lasted for a period of over 2 weeks. Through extensive interviews he studied the several roles that modern newspapers play including: information about public affairs and their interpretation, tool for daily living, for respite, for social prestige, and finally social contact.

Newspapers were found to be a necessity for allowing readers to read commentaries. Berelson stated, “Many people are also concerned with commentaries on current events from both editorials and columnists, which they use as a touchstone for their own opinions.”

The ways in which people’s lives were “handicapped” were: inability to follow programs on radio without printed logs, missed merchandising comments, fear of missed obituaries, etc. The following answer was stated in the study:

“When you read it takes your mind off other things. It [the strike] gave me nothing to do in between my work except to crochet, which does not take my mind off myself as much as reading. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was depressed. There was nothing to read and pass the time. I got a paper on Wednesday and felt a whole lot better.”

Regardless of the content in missed newspapers, the act of reading itself is regarded as “a strongly and pleasurably motivated act in urban society.” It is interesting to read some of the answers that the interviewees gave in response to how they felt. The newspaper truly acts as a sort of safeguard as portrayed through the following answer:

“I am like a fish out of water . . . I am lost and nervous. I’m ashamed to admit it. I feel awfully lost. I like the feeling of being in touch with the world at large. If I don’t know what’s going on next door, it hurts me. It’s like being in jail not to have a paper. You feel put out and isolated from the rest of the world. It practically means isolation. We’re at a loss without our paper.”

In our modern day world, the digital publishing industry seems to be booming significantly. It would be interesting if a similar study would be interesting if a similar study would be conducted today to analyze the psychological and sociological effects of online news, and the decrease of printed newspapers in the lives of many.

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