THIS is a speculative look at the present state of human intercourse. It is a mercurial subject, this mass communication, which can be an art but is more often big business; so magnificently swift and so wide open to propaganda that we have all grown protective calluses against it. In radio and television it provides entertainment as an opiate for all ages, yet in times of stress it alerts us with the warning of a Murrow or the Hoosier horse sense of an Elmer Davis. It seems destined to be controlled by the few, and there lies its danger. In the Communist state it is an unopposed giant, the voice of Orwell’s Big Brother, politically controlled and so partisan that even the young grow skeptical. With us, where the free competition of ideas is still taken for granted, a different power of consolidation is at work: due to the pressure of the unions and of ever-rising costs, more than one thousand newspapers have perished since 1929; the one-paper town is now the rule, not the exception. Eighty per cent of the press is Republican owned and Republican in sentiment; and, despite its pretensions to the contrary, the FCC continues to favor the pyramiding under a single ownership of radio stations, newspapers, and television channels. It seems to be characteristic of America to build bigger and bigger combines — and then struggle to regulate them.
But bigness is apt to lose the individual touch. The circulation of the printed word is unbelievably greater than ever before in our history, yet it raises the question: Are Americans reading more and more but believing less and less? “All too often in radio and television,” says Edward R. Murrow, “audiences arc conceived and treated as people, not as persons. Quantitative response is consequently made the measure of quality. There is a willingness, and indeed eagerness, to answer the questions, ‘What?’ and ‘How?' But not enough attention is paid to the ‘Why?’ ” It is here that the little independent has his chance—the regional radio station; the educational channels, like WQED of Pittsburgh and WGBH of Boston; the small-town newspaper with its editorial-writing editor and its local humorist; the unchained periodical; the publisher with a taste for Borzoi books — they can still reach out for the individual, and find him. Theirs is an audacity, an identification of interest, and an integrity which are somehow diluted in bigness.
The articles which follow have been selected for their diversity, for their ability to criticize constructively, and for their reasonableness in looking toward the future. For help in their arrangement we wish particularly to thank Volta Torrey of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.