The discovery that a great corporation which manufactures both paper and electrical power has been acquiring a financial interest in certain newspapers has provided the occasion for declarations on the importance of an independent press. These declarations are important. Although no evidence exists that the newspapers concerned trimmed their news or editorial policies to suit the interests of the power company, it is plain that the relationship is embarrassing. Their own avowals of independence prove that much. However conscientiously they may have acted, the relationship is ambiguous and cannot be defended.
Yet it would be simple-minded to assume that a newspaper is independent simply because it is free of direct financial connection with such private interests. Even when a newspaper is independent of power companies, public utilities, advertisers and the like, it has achieved only the preliminaries of freedom. There remains the vague but vast force of personal and social and official influences against which really independent newspapers have to be continually on guard. It is here that the representative American newspapers, on the whole the most independent body of newspapers in the world, have day by day to vindicate their independence.
Bribery is easy enough to resist, threats it is a pleasure to defy, but the influence of friendships, of social connections with officials, or party associations, remains a daily problem for the newspaper man. Inevitably he comes into intimate personal contact with political leaders and men of affairs and relationships of confidence and sympathy grow up which it is difficult and often extremely embarrassing to disregard. It may be easier to defy a corporation than a golfing partner at the country club.
The maintenance of independence against these subtler influences depends at last upon the personal and professional self-respect of newspaper men themselves. It depends upon how seriously they believe in their own work. N.Y. World