The popularity of the internet as a source of information has grown as the credibility of the major media has declined. Newspapers across the country have recognized they must be online if they are to survive economically and remain politically influential. One advantage is that internet sites offer greater control over what the readers access than printed papers. But those controls also allow the opportunity for deceptive censorship practices. After all, omitting key information is a more effective form of censorship than the popular form of redacting documents where the readers know there was something important blacked out.
When Thomas Jefferson proclaimed that he would rather have newspapers without a country than a country without newspapers, he believed the uncensored sharing of unbiased news and opinions among the people was critical to free men. But with the loss of neutrality by the press and morality in society, would Jefferson repeat those words today? Has media become too politically bias and unaccountable? In the sphere of the internet, can we even identify who is entitled to those special protections Jefferson was advocating?
Since the Federalist Papers, newspapers’ editorial opinions have always had influence with politicians. However, recent decades have seen a transition from reporting news separate from the opinions to reporting opinions as news. Readers have very limited opportunity to learn the truth behind the headlines for themselves. Nevertheless, every newsroom receives the occasional letter opposing news and/or editorial content. Unfortunately letters-to-the-editor are typically limited to a just a few words, are subject to editing, and most never reach the public at all.
While the popularity of charging for content has filtered down from national to local newspaper sites, the pay-per-hit advertising revenues have declined as subscribers numbers fall. Recently, the local paper in Loveland, Colorado initiated a program that prevents access to the letters to the editor without a paid subscription. As a business the paper has the right to charge for content. But as a newspaper with special protections afforded under the Constitution does it have constitutional obligation to be both honest in reporting and inclusive of opposing opinions.
In the case of the Loveland Reporter Herald the paper has disguised the denial of access by allowing the reader to momentarily see a partial list of opinion letters before a large ad for a subscription covers the page. If the reader chooses to close the ad without subscribing the letters page is closed and the site returns to the home page. Only the papers’ opinions are available,
The effect of this loop is the total denial of access to opinion letters by non-subscribers. This is significant since fewer and fewer conservatives subscribe to liberal newspapers – even at local levels. The net result then is that leftists candidates will have far more supporting letters read than conservative candidates. The Constitutionally protected press has found a clever new way to censorship.