Here are some borrowed thoughts for starters (and, no, I don’t agree with each and every one):
Reading newspapers, and perhaps writing to them, public meetings, and solicitations of different sorts addressed to the political authorities, are the extent of the participation of private citizens in general politics during the interval between one Parliamentary election and another
John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, 1861
In a democratic age, in the midst of a population which is able to read, no position is comparable for permanent influence and far-reaching power to that of an editor who understands his vocation. In him are vested almost all the attributes of real sovereignty. He has almost exclusive rights of initiative; he retains a permanent right of direction; and, above all, he better than any man is able to generate that steam, known as public opinion, which is the greatest force of politics.
W.T. Stead, Government by Journalism, 1886
[I]t is … hard to compare the press with any other business or institution.
It is not a business pure and simple, partly because the product is regularly sold below cost, but chiefly because the community applies one ethical measure to the press and another to trade or manufacture.
Ethically a newspaper is judged as if it were a church or a school. But if you try to compare it with these you fail; the taxpayer pays for the public school, the private school is endowed or supported by tuition fees, there are subsidies and collections for the church.
You cannot compare journalism with law, medicine or engineering, for in every one of these professions the consumer pays for the service. A free press, if you judge by the attitude of the readers, means newspapers that are virtually given away.
Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 1922
Dahl argues that if everyone’s votes count equally but a few elites control what goes on the agenda, democracy has not been fully realized. And equal access to decision-making by itself is not enough—all must have enough information to make competent choices.
These fundamental tenets, abstract as they sound at first, are the reason On Democracy has such far-reaching implications for America. For example, take Dahl’s assertion that democracy cannot be achieved even if everyone votes, if only a few elites are allowed to speak in public forums.
Our American system has been in tension with this idea ever since Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court declared that spending money is a form of speech. Ever since that decision, “speech” in many public forums has become explicitly dependent on the size of one’s wallet.
Review of Robert Dahl, On Democracy, 1998
[T]he effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups. In the past, every democratic society has had a marginal population, of greater or lesser size, which has not actively participated in politics.
In itself, this marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively …
Samuel Huntington, in Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, and Joji Watnuki, The Crisis of Democracy, 1975