America's first continuously published newspaper was the Boston NewsLetter. The first issue was published in 1704. Until the 1920s, newspaper reporting was how America got its news. Most newspaper publishers took their duty of reporting facts seriously. In the late nineteenth century, however, two publishers began selling newspapers by relying on “yellow journalism,” a term that refers to sensationalism in journalism.
Yellow journalism focused less on facts than on sensationalism. Scandal, sex, crime, or anything else to catch the reader's attention filled some newspapers. No one loved yellow journalism more than Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911) and William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). Both men were in the habit of buying failing newspapers and turning them into profitable successes using yellow journalism.
Yellow journalism lost its appeal for many readers in the first decade of the twentieth century as journalists called muckrakers took over investigative reporting. These writers rejected yellow journalism and took it upon themselves to expose corruption and greed and then write about it. One of the most famous muckrakers was Ida M. Tarbell (1857–1944), whose 1902–4 report on the unethical work dealings of Standard Oil's owner, John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), forced the breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly.
The first radio stations began broadcasting in 1920, although the first decade of broadcasting was primarily used to get stations licensed and work out the various problems of this new technology. It was not until the 1930s that consumers were relying on radio for their daily news. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) used radio to give his famous “Fireside Chats,” in which he spoke to Americans about the economy, legislation he wanted passed, and eventually, war and national security. He gave thirty chats throughout the 1930s and 1940s, an era known as the Golden Age of Radio.
Radio was so popular that it became the primary advertising vehicle for a magazine that had debuted in 1923. Time magazine was the first magazine to focus solely on current events and other news. Beginning in 1931, the publishers of Time aired a half-hour radio program called The March of Time, which was a dramatization of the week's news. The program brought the magazine to the attention of millions of listeners who might not otherwise have known of its existence. Through the years, other news magazines hit the newsstands, including Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, The Nation, and The National Review.
Radio had competition in the late 1940s as television caught on with American consumers. By the end of the decade, even rural Americans had access to television. Although it was considered “third-generation” news (behind print and radio) by many news commentators, Americans who could afford television preferred it over radio as their news source. CBS had been hailed as the best radio news broadcasting service, and it built on that reputation to develop the most renowned television news team in the 1950s. It counted on reporters and newscasters such as Edward R. Murrow (1908–1965) and Walter Cronkite (1916–) to build the trust with American viewers. The first regular news show was Douglas Edwards with the News, broadcast in 1948. NBC followed in 1949 with The Camel News Caravan. The fifteen-minute evening news slot became fiercely competitive across television stations from 1956 onward. Other popular and important newscasters of the era were Chet Huntley (1911–1974) and David Brinkley (1920–2003).
The 1960s were a decade of television news. Consumers relied on news reports to learn about presidential candidates and for coverage of the escalating Vietnam War (1954–1975). The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963; served 1961–63) in 1963 was given near-continuous coverage for five days on all networks. No other media could rival that sort of coverage.
A newcomer to television news broadcasting in the 1960s was the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which formed in 1967 and was up and running by 1969. Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS gave viewers alternatives to network broadcasting. By the 1970s, PBS was offering quality children's programming such as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The first televised newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, appeared on September 24, 1968, on CBS. It was anchored by Mike Wallace (1918–) and Harry Reasoner (1923–1991), news correspondents whose strengths balanced one another. Although fewer than one in five viewers watched the first segment, ratings eventually climbed as producers experimented with different time slots. In November 1979, 60 Minutes hit number one in the ratings. It became one of the longest-running and highest-rated series in television and featured the talents of correspondents Dan Rather (1931–), Morley Safer (1931–), Ed Bradley (1941–2006), and Diane Sawyer (1945–).
Similar newsmagazines appeared on television over the years, mixing hard news with lighter, more general interest segments. One of the most popular and well-known correspondents was Barbara Walters (1929–). She began her career as a writer at CBS News and joined NBC's Today Show in 1961, where she worked with anchorman Hugh Downs (1921–). Walters joined the newsmagazine 20/20 in 1979, where she reteamed with Downs for a successful fifteen-year run.
Cable and Internet
The 1980s brought about cable television, and the debut of Cable News Network (CNN) on June 1, 1980, changed the nature of news programming. CNN revolutionized the structure of mass communication by offering around-the-clock transmission of news to viewers across the world.
The introduction and growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1980s and throughout the 1990s transformed the media industry. Magazines, newspapers, and even television shows can now be
found online. E-zines (electronic magazines) have been developed by self-made publishers who not only create and develop content but also build interactive communities that meet online to share thoughts and write commentary.
The WWW is host to millions of weblogs, known as blogs. Developers of these blogs are able to post text, photos, sound, and video. In the event of groundbreaking news, these blogs can post stories and accompanying photos or video more quickly than any major news media. Although some blogs are little more than online diaries or random thoughts, many have garnered the respect of traditional media and reporters for their professional content and quality.
Toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, MSNBC.com was the Web's most popular news site. It is a partnership of Microsoft and NBC News. In addition to reporting news stories, it hosts blogs it believes are worthy of its reputation and provides links to blogs and other Web sites.
While print, radio, and television media will probably never be completely replaced by blogs and interactive news communities, consumers have appreciated the competition. Those frustrated with the simplified presentation of news found in traditional media have welcomed the various perspectives and challenges that blogs and interactive communities provide.