By Thomas M. Loarie

MUST-READ: Failure of the Media to Meet Its Social Responsibilities, by grandson of founder of Chicago Times

November 27, 2016
Column: CEO Learnings

Special to the Catholic Business Journal, writen by grandson of Chicago Times founder.  

Much of the mainstream media has disgraced itself in recent years. It has been focused on manipulation by engaging in tactics to “normalize” those who disagree with their points of view by targeting, freezing, personalizing, and polarizing. And most recently, we observed clear evidence that the press has further corrupted itself through direct complicity with candidates and their campaign organizations to manipulate the election process. This is not journalism.

I grew up in a newspaper family

Black ink runs through my veins.

My grandfather was Richard J. Finnegan (1884-1955), the founder and publisher of the Chicago Times and Executive Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. He also ran for Congress as a Democrat and served as President Truman’s Midwest Domestic Advisor. He is probably rolling in his grave over what has become of our mainstream press.

Mr. Finnegan always emphasized that the biggest social responsibility of a newspaper is to make a success of democracy. If democracy is a success, there will be success for business, for labor, and for agriculture.

Our U.S. Founders granted certain freedoms to the press to insure it played a vital role in our democracy.  Today’s mainstream media elites have failed horrendously in exercising these freedoms. Corruption and manipulation of the masses is not “making a success of democracy” but rather, ensuring its failure.

Read for yourself the poignant words of my grandfather, founder of the Chicago Times, and executive editor of the Chicago-Sun-Times in his article below:

Social Responsibilities of the Newspaper

By Richard J. Finnegan

The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 219, The Press in the Contemporary Scene (Jan., 1942), pp. 166-168

The press is a quasi-public agency because the founders of its freedom created it for a public purpose – as a substitute for revolution. It is an instrument of democracy to produce reform by methods of peace instead of force.

The press has even greater social responsibilities than the President, the Congress, or the Judiciary. They are servants of the people to exercise certain rights which the people have entrusted the government. The press, however, is the especial servant of the people in that greatest state in which the people have reserved to themselves other rights which, by long experience, they have found it foolhardy to surrender to any government – an estate which governments try hard to invade. And in every case in which government invasion has been accomplished, an impotent press has given up the ghost before the people themselves have succumbed.

Era of Editorial Giants

Our press has had three ages.

The first, the “more perfect union” age through the reconstruction days, was marked by editorial giants who battled lustily in the political arena and whose names became household words even beyond their own communities as the makers and breakers of presidents.

Press Becomes Big Business

The second was the age in which great editorial giants gave way to great circulations. The press became big business. Growing robust, it needed publishers as well as, or more often than, editors. They were often geniuses in the co-ordination of rapidly improving mechanization of artistry and physical production, utilization of modern transportation and communication, and reduction of cost to the reader below the nickel price.

For pennies, these publishers sold not only the best news ever assembled and the most intelligent editorial views ever available to any nation’s readers, but also the secrets of beauty, of romance, of the moon and stars. They interpreted the Bible. They had daily and weekly shows in which heroines, villains, adventurers, fashion models, wise crackers, and clans entertained almost unbelievably immense audiences, with millions of readers waiting breathlessly for the next episode of the comic strip. Journalistic showman held the key to the world’s greatest marketplace and competed with milline rates for the privilege of letting the merchant in so that he could advertise his wares to the populace. All the excess profits were not taxed. Some went into shiny new buildings, showcases of journalistic prosperity.

In that galloping age, some independent papers pioneered in social responsibilities, and some of their bursts of enthusiasm were called muckraking. But quite generally, social responsibilities went along pretty well with political alignments. If social reform was not in the platform of either of the two great political parties, it received serious newspaper attention in only isolated instances.

Newspapers slugged  away that each other over the tariff issue and the gold issue because the Republicans and Democrat parties thought that all the chances a businessman had to make profits, and a workingman to go to a job with a full dinner pail, revolved around the slogans for and against tariff wall and sound or unsound money.

Compared with present-day standards, there was little notice in the age of big business to the growing number of government reports – beginning back in the 80s – about the incipiency and development of social fungi in neighborhoods of big cities that marked the beginnings of blighted areas which by now have destroyed human and property values in unconscionable volumes. Perhaps in this second period the press was too busy trying to understand its own new gigantic physical proportions in the skyscraper and monopoly age; it can be given no general encomium for any virility of leadership in social responsibility which the major political parties also were avoiding, but which the minor political parties were feebly expressing.

For instance, the People’s party in 1884 demanded abolishment of child labor, reduction of hours of labor, a graduated income tax, and suffrage regardless of sex. And the United Labor party in 1888 protested against slums in which the “wage workers in cities were forced to pay an exorbitant share of their scanty earnings for cramped and unhealthy quarters.” The same year the Union Labor party, joined by the Prohibition party, advocated “that arbitration should take place of strikes and other injurious methods of settling labor disputes.”

Third Age of Journalism

The third age of American journalism has enough of a start to become the “secure the blessings” age. Pulitzer gave it a shove with his prizes to encourage an awareness of social responsibilities. The Nieman Foundation came later. Between the two came the revolution, a peaceful revolution, thanks to a free press; a revolution, in fact, predicted 30 years ago by newspapers endeavoring to understand and fulfill their social responsibilities.

The challenge of this new era is something more than the matters covered in the code of ethics of the American Society of newspaper editors. It is something more than printing and commenting on the news and providing entertainment. Newspaper men thought they were doing all those things quite well in the two previous ages; and yet the revolution came, and the needs of the people still grew in that estate in which they wanted to work and eat and live without the touch of government.

It has become a not uncommon experience lately for business leaders in talks to other business leaders, at meetings of chambers of commerce and similar organizations, to say that the average businessman has been too much of a specialist in his own line, and now he should begin to understand the problems of other businessmen more sympathetically, and that he should more earnestly and diligently study the problems of government without partisanship. Newspaper men may well ask themselves whether they have been newspaper specialists too much and specialists and democracy too little. For if we are to enjoy domestic tranquility in our pursuit of happiness, and if we are to achieve the blessings of liberty, newspaperman must be the explosive specialists in democracy.

Press and Democracy

Democracy is something more than political skill in government, to which the press dedicated itself almost exclusively in the first two ages that had been roughly sketched. Democracy is concerned with economic man as well as with political man. The biggest social responsibility of the newspaper is to make a success of democracy. If democracy is a success, there will be success for business, for labor, and for agriculture. But none of these can be successful unless all the people have the physical health in the mental equilibrium that come from adequate nutrition. They must eat. To eat, they must learn living wages. There are living wages they must have jobs. To have such jobs, they must be associated with successful business.

The editor of the London Economist wrote recently that the British citizen, after this world crisis (WWII), will have the right of nutrition as well as liberty, housing as well as habeas corpus, and a job as well as a vote. These are the challenges of the new social frontiers. Newspaperman must pioneer in the settlements along the new social frontiers. These frontiers are not in any far-off places; they are right in the cities and communities were newspaperman work; right among their neighbors, among the readers.

The dictator of Berlin has crushed the press wherever his foot has fallen. He has moved into the estate which the press should have protected. He edits the papers and devastates as villainously with the pen as with the sword. Read his own newspaper. His theme is that there is a tyranny in democracy that is more destructive of human happiness than the loss of liberty of speech, of worship, of reading. That tyranny, he says, is whatever in democracy permits human beings to exist unemployed, unfed, unclothed, and unhoused, while others enjoy an abundance.

Our press has more knowledge, more freedom, more readers, and more opportunity than any press here or elsewhere ever had. Somewhere along the line, our way of life is lacked wisdom. It cannot all be governments fault, nor business’, nor labor’s, nor agriculture’s. But there is a fault somewhere, and it was for the detection and correction of just a fault that the people under the Constitution were guaranteed freedom to read. The press is a quasi-public agency because it is a public necessity. There are other necessities – food and its distribution, for instance; milk, for a specific example. Should the production and distribution of milk be impressed with some form of public-utility status? It is the social responsibility of the press to find out.

Responsibility of the Press

Our people are not content to be told that we have a better way of life and the people of any other country. All about us we see signs that prove that discontent is not confined to a minority proletariat. The demand for security is general. There are deep-rooted readjustments during economic and social forces. The press cannot be only half conscious of them. It must be fully conscious. It must bring something constructive to prevent a clash between ignorant change on one hand and a good opposition to change on the other.

Democracy’s future was entrusted to the press as censor and as guide, to oppress conscious of it social obligations and opportunities. The future is here with a musket, reporting “present.”

Richard J Finnegan has been editor of the Chicago Daily Times since 1929. He began newspaper work as a reporter on the Chicago Chronicle in 1901, and two years later joined the Inter- Ocean staff. He became city editor of the Chicago Daily Journal in 1914 after serving on that paper for 10 years. When he left the Journal for his present position he was co-editor of the paper. He is devoted many years of his nonprofessional career to public service.


Thomas M. Loarie, grandson of Richard J. Finnegan, and a serial and successful entrepreneur in his own right, in the life sciences sector.

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