In common with all demagogues and, by the way, with the lawyer (and the artist), the journalist shares the fate of lacking a fixed social classification. At least, this is the case on the Continent, in contrast to the English, and, by the way, also to former conditions in Prussia. The journalist belongs to a sort of pariah caste, which is always estimated by ‘society’ in terms of its ethically lowest representative. Hence, the strangest notions about journalists and their work are abroad. Not everybody realizes that a really good journalistic accomplishment requires at least as much ‘genius’ as any scholarly accomplishment, especially because of the necessity of producing at once and ‘on order,’ and because of the necessity of being effective, to be sure, under quite different conditions of production. It is almost never acknowledged that the responsibility of the journalist is far greater, and that the sense of responsibility of every honorable journalist is, on the average, not a bit lower than that of the scholar, but rather, as the war has shown, higher. This is because, in the very nature of the case, irresponsible journalistic accomplishments and their often terrible effects are remembered.
Nobody believes that the discretion of any able journalist ranks above the average of other people, and yet that is the case. The quite incomparably graver temptations, and the other conditions that accompany journalistic work at the present time, produce those results which have conditioned the public to regard the press with a mixture of disdain and pitiful cowardice. Today we cannot discuss what is to be done. Here we are interested in the question of the occupational destiny of the political journalist and of his chance to attain a position of political leadership. Thus far, the journalist has had favorable chances only in the Social Democratic party. Within the party, editorial positions have been predominantly in the nature of official positions, but editorial positions have not been the basis for positions of leadership.
In the bourgeois parties, on the whole, the chances for ascent to political power along this avenue have rather become worse, as compared with those of the previous generation. Naturally every politician of consequence has needed influence over the press and hence has needed relations with the press. But that party leaders would emerge from the ranks of the press has been an absolute exception and one should not have expected it. The reason for this lies in the strongly increased ‘indispensability’ of the journalist, above all, of the propertyless and hence professionally bound journalist, an indispensability which is determined by the tremendously increased intensity and tempo of journalistic operations. The necessity of gaining one’s livelihood by the writing of daily or at least weekly articles is like lead on the feet of the politicians. I know of cases in which natural leaders have been permanently paralyzed in their ascent to power, externally and above all internally, by this compulsion. The relations of the press to the ruling powers in the state and in the parties, under the old regime [of the Kaiser], were as detrimental as they could be to the level of journalism; but that is a chapter in itself. These conditions were different in the countries of our opponents [the Allies]. But there also, and for all modern states, apparently the journalist worker gains less and less as the capitalist lord of the press, of the sort of ‘Lord’ Northcliffe, for instance, gains more and more political influence.
Thus far, however, our great capitalist newspaper concerns, which attained control, especially over the ‘chain newspapers,’ with ‘want ads,’ have been regularly and typically the breeders of political indifference.
Max Weber, 1919.