Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 8. Charles A. Dana and the New York Sun

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XX. Newspapers Since 1860

§ 8. Charles A. Dana and the New York Sun

The war had accustomed publishers to lavish expenditure of money in gathering news and had created many new readers who could not be retained by editorial discussion or heavy style. They had been attracted by lists of killed and wounded, narratives of vivid fact, rather than by discussion; it was necessary to find a substitute for the absorbing accounts of war. One result of this effort to avert a return to the earlier heaviness, perhaps, was the development of a new journalistic technique, the cultivation of an artistic narrative style. It was Charles A. Dana, through the New York Sun, who set the new pattern that was followed by the American press generally for two decades. His idea was merely to apply the art of literary crafts-manship to the choosing and the telling of the varied stories of the day’s events. Human interest, not importance of meaning or consequences, governed the choice of topics. This new style possessed simplicity and clearness; it abounded in details chosen for artistic effectiveness rather than for intrinsic news value. It added grace, without losing force; the deft touch replaced the heavy or awkward stroke. Dana had begun his journalistic career on the New York Tribune under Greeley, where he was managing editor and a most important figure until 1862. He became editor of the Sun early in 1868. What he meant to do, and did, Dana announced thus: “The Sun … will study condensation, clearness, point, and will endeavour to present its daily photograph of the whole world’s doings in the most luminous and lively manner.”

In certain other respects, also, Dana and the Sun were characteristic of the new era. The great majority of papers were still servile party organs; political discussion was as bitter as ever, and nowhere more so than in the Sun; vigorously expressed personalities enlivened the editorial columns. The rancour displayed in the presidential campaign of 1872 was unparalleled. paralleled. But in the midst of bitter party controversy, independent journalism was growing apace; the editor and the politician were becoming more and more disentangled. The politician kept political power and the editor looked elsewhere for his influence—in a variety of interests, social, literary, and commercial. The influential editors throughout the country who were taking the place of the giants of the preceding era were following the precept of Bowles in learning to control what they seemed only to transcribe and narrate. They no longer preached or laid down the law. It was the publishing and depicting of facts, not the invective of editorial attack, that achieved results in the exposure of the Tweed ring by the New york Times and Harper’s Weekly in 1871 and of the “Whiskey Ring” by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Exploits like these had never been attempted before; though they have never since been equalled in daring or in results obtained, they were progenitors of the sensational press characteristic of a later period.