The role of the writer: to sell or to serve?
John Steinbeck. Image: Octubre CCC

When John Steinbeck was presented with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 he famously said:

“The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.”

His body of work over almost half of the 20th century lived up to the call.

I was pondering this quote this past week when I attended the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce’s Media Panel luncheon.

In attendance were business owners and citizens from the area set to listen to a five-person panel of media producers in St. George. The owners of St. George News, Canyon Media, Cherry Creek, The Spectrum and Daily News, and The Southern Utah Independent addressed the audience about their respective businesses and their impact in the advertising market.

Save one, not one of them mentioned anything about producing journalism for the readers and listeners in the area.

Granted, it was a business luncheon and more than apropos for the focus of topic to be about advertising.

And I get it: no ads means no content produced.

And in light of Steinbeck’s admonition implying that the role of the writer is to bear the responsibility of holding up a mirror to society, showcasing both its ails and its beauty, and given the notion that our constitution as a people in this country relies upon the fourth branch, otherwise known as the press, I could not help but wonder if such thoughts crossed the minds of these professional web marketers.

Frankly, I am cynical.

You should be too.

See you out there.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Please stay cynical, Dallas. I believe Steinbeck was correct. It is unfortunate that the business end of journalism must take such a prominent role.

  2. Steinbeck was right but a writer with no means to have his voice heard is irrelevant. Print media in particular has been on the edge of economic collapse for years. Large staff layoffs are very common. The most important newspaper — in my opinion — in Utah is the Salt Lake Tribune and it has been in financial trouble for years. Even sources such as The Independent have to sell to stay in business. As I write this I see on the side of the screen an ad for reverse mortgages. Take away those ads and I would not have access to Dallas Hyland’s fact-based opinions except perhaps once a week on a radio show that gets interrupted by commercials. Advertisers are interested in the number of eyeballs that will see their ads and also the demographics of those eyeballs. Unfortunately we eyeballs are not sufficiently interested in thoughtful, disinterested, well written journalism. Too often we just want our prejudices and pre-conceived notices validated. We vote for the media we want with our consumption spending which in turn drives advertising dollars which in turn permits media to stay in business and hire people like Dallas Hyland.

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