Putting Jefferson's Quote On Newspapers Into Context

from the funny-how-that-works dept

Earlier this year, we took on why journalists who were quoting Thomas Jefferson's famous line: "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter" were missing the point, noting that he really meant journalism not newspapers -- and journalism isn't going away at all. However, Jay Rosen points out that the quote is actually out of context. The full Jefferson quote even more clearly makes the point that it's not physical newspapers, he's concerned about:
"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." -- Thomas Jefferson
From that quote, it seems likely that Jefferson would be quite a fan of the web and the fact that news on the web was free and widely available -- contrary to the point made by most old school news folks quoting it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Tgeigs, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 8:16am

    Also

    "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter"

    I think it's even MORE ironic that the newspapers quoting Tommy Jeff would probably receive a hearty colonial bitch slap for being IN BED with government. Jefferson's quote assumes the two are separate and not working concert, something that isn't often occuring in physical newspapers today.

     

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    Z, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    "But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them."

    And education.

     

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    Luís Carvalho, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    From that quote only, without really knowing much more from the man itself, I can imagine he would be a p2per fanatic. Also, a great blogger.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 10:24am

      Re:

      p2per, one can't really say. But blogger, yes. He wrote thousands of letters, they are our best record of him. So it wouldn't be a stretch to say that today instead of letters he might have just posted to a blog.

       

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    No one, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 8:53am

    New favorite saying

    "hearty colonial bitch slap" - Best cross generational imagery ever.

     

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    :Lobo Santo, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 9:12am

    Quotes out of context

    Taking things out of context is a media tradition going back years! Why stop using such an effective technique now?

     

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    batch, Apr 24th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    Jefferson for the win

    The newspaper people ought to go study the Houston Chronicle. According to the Modern Marvels episode Retro Tech, the Houston Chronicle embraced the internet in the 90's. Whenever that episode was recorded they stated that their physical newspaper circulation is only 500,000. On the other hand, their website, gets 80million visits a month.

    Now, unless all that has changed drastically or was in-accurate to begin with, I'd say they can be considered a success story.

    I can't link an online version of the show, although a google search turns up torrents and other possible places to view it.

     

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    deworde, Apr 26th, 2009 @ 1:23am

    RE: Jefferson for the win

    @batch
    The problem is, how do those 80 million visits translate into money? If you mistake hits for profit, you're going to go bust.

     

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