La presse québécoise de 1884 à 1914: Genèse d'un média de masse

Jean de Bonville

Virtually everything that can be said about objectivity and monopolies in the press has been said! This book, however, deals with a subject which we hear little about--the fact that the press as we now know it developed as a result of socio-economic conditions in an emerging industrial era. It comes as a surprise, for example, that the sacrosanct concept of journalistic objectivity came about because publishers were forced to allow advertising in their newspapers; strange bedfellows. . .

De Bonville's thesis is that as the influence of the merchants increased, economic logic forced the mass media to produce opinion sheets (organs of the political parties) which were less polemic and more commercial, that is to say, neutral. Thus, it is not surprising, and the evidence is convincing, that the modern media--particularly television--have become vehicles for advertising at the expense of what we call "content." As the "first mass medium" (p. 1, translation), the press provided a safe haven for advertisers who were becoming increasingly influential in providing cultural products, including news.

The author's approach is based on his desire to piece together the historical factors which shaped the newspaper industry. De Bonville looks to historical materialism which, based on the dialectic approach, sees "economic activity as ... the matrix of socio-cultural organization" (translation).

Thus de Bonville, good historian that he is, attempts to explain how newspapers which, like "the chrysalis [sic] emerged from the opinion sheet" (p. 1, translation) came into being. From the outset, the author identifies his work as a continuation of the work of Beaulieu and Hamelin who, in La presse québécoise des origines à nos jours, describe the three decades from 1884 to 1914 as a turning point in the development of the press in Quebec.

A century ago, newspapers, which were called "sheets" because they consisted of one large, printed sheet folded into four pages, were luxury items which were of interest only to the few high-ranking officials and rich merchants who could afford them. Newspapers often belonged to the major political parties which used them with little concern for objectivity. The articles were usually written by elected representatives; members and ministers ran the newspapers directly or indirectly by issuing instructions to the publishers who they controlled quite openly.

In less than 30 years, the situation changed completely. After the era of political and religious patronage, the merchant became king and what had been a "luxury item" became a "consumer item." It was no longer the politicians who reached the people, it was the advertisers who reached target markets through newspapers. The audience, which is a vital factor in modern communication media and which actually determines content and programming strategies, is becoming more and more important to the point of becoming the main criterion in determining whether or not a newspaper will survive.

De Bonville's book is not only a valuable historical record, it is also superbly accurate and it is written in a style which sustains the reader's interest. De Bonville writes well, he is always coherent and never obscure. He makes a valid contribution to explaining the cultural issues of the mass media through his analysis of the newspaper industry.



  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO