views updated May 14 2018


Faced with the challenge of seeking just treatment in a society that systematically restricted the lives of freepeople as well as slaves, African Americans began publishing their own periodicals long before the Civil War, using their words as weapons in a protracted struggle for equality. The crusading editors of early black newspapers comprised an intellectual vanguard with a five-pronged mission: (1) to define the identity of a people who had been stripped of their own culture in a hostile environment; (2) to create a sense of unity by establishing a network of communication among literate blacks and their white supporters throughout the country; (3) to examine issues from a black perspective; (4) to chronicle black achievements that were ignored by the American mainstream; and (5) to further the cause of black liberation.

These objectives, set forth by the founders of one of the oldest black institutions in the United States, underscored the activities of African-American journalists for nearly 150 years. When blacks began to move into the mainstream during the latter part of the twentieth century, assuming positions on general-circulation newspapers and in the broadcast media, many retained a sense of being linked to a larger racial cause. Often they were torn by conflicting loyalties. Were they blacks first or journalists first? Should they strive for respect in the mainstream by

avoiding stories dealing with black topics, or fill in the gaps of coverage that might be left by white reporters? Should they follow the journalistic rule that calls for objectivity and report even events that might be damaging to blacks, or be mindful of the effects their stories might have on attitudes toward African Americans? It was a measure of social change that no such questions would have entered the minds of their predecessors.


The first African-American newspaper, Freedom's Journal, was founded in New York City on March 16, 1827, in response to the persistent attacks on blacks by a proslavery white paper, the New York Enquirer. The purpose of this pioneering publication was to encourage enlightenment and to enable blacks in the various states to exchange ideas. Thus it provided a forum for debate on issues that swirled around the institution of slavery. Among these was the question of whether blacks should strive for full citizenship and assimilation in Americaa view favored by most blacks at that timeor whether they should follow a course of separation and opt for resettlement in Africa, a position then held mostly by whites who saw this as a way to rid the country of troublesome free blacks.

The two founding editors of Freedom's Journal were educated and accomplished freemen who stood on opposite sides of the colonization question. Samuel E. Cornish, an ordained minister who had organized the first African Presbyterian church in the United States, thought blacks should fight for integration in America, while the Jamaican-born John B. Russwurm, who was the nation's second black college graduate (from Bowdoin College) supported repatriation in a part of West Africa that became Liberia. But they were united in their opposition to slavery and appetite for discussion. They clearly set forth their mission in the first issue of Freedom's Journal, stating: "We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented."

Six months later, when their differences over the colonization issue proved insurmountable, Cornish left. Russwurm continued publishing the paper until March 28, 1829. He then settled in Liberia where he remained until his death in 1851, at one time editing a newspaper called The Liberia Herald

Two months after Russwurm's departure, Cornish resurrected Freedom's Journal on May 29, 1829, changing its name to The Rights of All and infusing it with a more militant tone; publication was suspended on October 9 of the same year. Though Cornish was active in the antislavery and black convention movements, he was driven toward journalism. In 1837 he became editor of Philip A. Bell's newspaper, the Weekly Advocate. Two months after its debut, the paper was renamed the Colored American and was published until 1842. Although the paper was based in New York, there is evidence that a Philadelphia edition also was produced, making it possibly the first African-American publication to serve more than one city with different editions. Scholars of the early black press have noted the quality and originality of the Colored American, which was uncompromising in its call for black unity and full citizenship rights for all.

After these first steps had been taken, others began using journalism to establish communication links in a largely illiterate nation and to generate support in the struggle against slavery. While most of these papers were based in New York, the Alienated American was launched in Cleveland on April 9, 1853. Martin R. Delany, the first black graduate of Harvard, published his own newspaper, the Mystery, in Pittsburgh before he became assistant editor of Frederick Douglass's North Star. Other outstanding early publications were Stephen Myer's Elevator (Albany, New York, 1842), Thomas Hamilton's Anglo-American (New York, 1843), and William Wells Brown's Rising Sun (New York, 1847).

The first black newspaper to be published in the South before the Civil War was the Daily Creole, which surfaced in New Orleans in 1856 but bowed to white pressure in assuming an anti-abolitionist stance. It was followed near the end of the Civil War by the New Orleans Tribune, which appeared in July 1864 and is considered the first daily black newspaper. Published three times a week in both English and French, it was an official organ of Louisiana's Republican Party, then the nation's progressive political wing. The Tribune called for bold measures to redress the grievances of bondage, including universal suffrage and payment of weekly wages to ex-slaves.

Most of these newspapers depended on the personal resources of their publishers along with contributions from white sympathizers to supplement the meager income from subscriptions, but prosperous blacks also lent their support. A notable "angel" of the period was James Forten, a Philadelphia veteran of the American Revolution who had amassed a fortune as a sail manufacturer. Forten was a major backer of William Lloyd Garrison, a white journalist who became one of the leading voices in the abolitionist movement through his newspaper the Liberator, first published on January 1, 1831.

Of the forty or so black newspapers published before the Civil War, the most influential was the North Star, founded and edited by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, on November 1, 1847. The name was that of the most brilliant star in the night sky, Polaris, a reference point for escaping slaves as they picked their way northward to freedom. Douglass is an important historical figure, often not regarded primarily as a journalist, but he, like the black leaders who would follow him, knew how to use the press as a weapon. In the prospectus announcing his new publication, he wrote: "The object of the North Star will be to attack slavery in all its forms and aspects; advocate Universal Emancipation; exact the standard of public morality; promote the moral and intellectual improvement of the colored people; and to hasten the day of freedom to our three million enslaved fellow countrymen." Thus he defined the thrust of the early black press.

A Period of Transition

The number of black newspapers increased dramatically after the end of the Civil War in 1965, as the newly emancipated struggled to survive with no resources and few guaranteed rights. Publications sprang up in states where none had previously existed. Armistead S. Pride, the leading scholar on the black press, determined in the mid-twentieth century that African Americans had published 575 newspapers or periodicals by 1890, the end of the Reconstruction period. Although most were short-lived and many were religious or political publications rather than regular newspapers, some survivednotably the Philadelphia Tribune, which was founded in 1884 and continues to be published. It is considered the oldest continuously published black newspaper in the United States. This period also marks the beginning of the Afro-American, which originated as a four-page Baptist Church publication in Baltimore on August 13, 1892. After several metamorphoses, it became the highly respected anchor of a nationally distributed newspaper chain.

This heightened journalistic activity was the result of many factors, among them an increase in literacy and greater mobility on the part of blacks, though their position in society as a whole was hardly satisfactory. When federal troops were withdrawn from the South in 1877 as a matter of political expediency, African Americans were left to the mercy of bitter whites who had fought to deny them freedom. Slavery was replaced by the economic bondage of sharecropping. White dominance was sustained through a system of rigidly enforced segregation and terrorism, including lynching, the random torture and hanging of blacks. When southern blacks fled to northern cities in the first wave of the Great Migration, they found themselves trapped in squalid ghettos with few opportunities for work except in the most menial jobs. For these reasons, the black press was still fueled by the spirit of protest, though that spark often had to be veiled.

The pattern for race relations in America had been set in 1895 when Booker T. Washington, a former slave who had founded Tuskegee Institute, a school providing vocational education for blacks, went before the Cotton States' Exposition in Atlanta and proclaimed that it was folly for blacks to seek equal rights: They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and make the best of things as they were, getting along with whites by being patient, hardworking, subservient, and unresentful. In one of the most famous metaphors of American history, Washington raised his hand and declared: "In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress." Such rhetoric, calling for a separate but not necessarily equal society, condoned the conservative mood of the era. Ordained by whites to speak for blacks, because of his "Atlanta compromise" Washington came to wield extraordinary power. It extended to the press, as black publishers struggled to keep their papers alive. Most had a small subscription base and

advertising was hard to come by. Therefore, they were inordinately dependent on contributions. Washington's critics said that he exercised undue influence over the black press by controlling loans, advertisements, and political subsidies, making certain that his doctrine prevailed.

The journalist most commonly associated with Washington is T. Thomas Fortune, who was editor of he New York Age during a period when Washington controlled it financially and used the paper as a conduit for presentation of his views, though Fortune did not share them. Respected as an accomplished writer with a sharp satiric style, Fortune was one of the first of his race to hold an editorial position on a white daily, writing for the New York Sun and the Evening Sun, leading turn-of-the-century newspapers. Before assuming control of the Age, Fortune had published two newspapers of his own, the Globe and the Freeman, which were considered the best of their type. The Age had grown out of a tabloid called the Rumor, established in 1890.

Fortune was an activist who thoroughly opposed Washington's willing acquiescence to racism and used the Age to promulgate his own ideas. He extolled black pride before the arrival of the twentieth century, urging that the term Afro-American be used instead of "negro," then usually spelled with a lowercase n. Disdaining political patronage and declaring himself as independent, he had to get along without the political advertising that was the main source of income for black newspapers. As a result, Fortune had to rely increasingly on contributions from Booker T. Washington, who eventually purchased the Age. Obliged to write editorials espousing Washington's views, Fortune responded by presenting his own opinions in opposing editorials in the same edition. Researchers credit Fortune with having written or edited all of Washington's books and many of his speeches, but Washington never acknowledged him. Torn by the compromises he was forced to make, Fortune succumbed to mental illness and poverty during the latter part of his career, but he has been called the dean of black journalism.

A few intrepid journalists refused to accept a state of such uneasy compromise. Ida B. Wells-Barnett transcended gender by risking her life to expose racially motivated crimes. She was a teacher in the rural schools of Mississippi and later Tennessee, when she began writing exposés about injustices in the education system. Turning to journalism on a full-time basis, she became part owner and editor of the Memphis Free Speech. In May 1892, when three black Memphis businessmen were lynched after a white mob attacked their grocery store, Wells-Barnett charged in her paper that the murders had been instigated by the white business community and called for a boycott of those white businesses. She also wrote that she had purchased a pistol and would use it to protect herself. While Wells-Barnett was out of town to attend a convention, her newspaper office and the building that housed it were burned down. She relocated to New York, where she continued her crusade in Fortune's New York Age, of which she became a part owner. She later published extensive documentation of lynchings in Redbook magazine, a leading mainstream publication.

Washington's accommodationist views still prevailed at the arrival of the twentieth century, but a more militant tone was set when William Monroe Trotter founded the Boston Guardian in 1901 with George Forbes. Both had graduated from college in 1895, Trotter from Harvard and Forbes from Amherst. Trotter quickly became the main force on the paper. The product of an interracial marriage, he had grown up comfortably in a Boston suburb. At Harvard, he had become the first African American inducted into the honor society Phi Beta Kappa and went on to earn his M.A. degree there in 1896. Unwilling to accept any sort of compromise, he demanded absolute equality for blacks and used his paper to consolidate the first organized opposition to Washington and his ideas. Trotter joined with another son of Massachusetts, W. E. B. Du Boiswho is considered by many to be the greatest intellectual produced by black Americain laying groundwork for the Niagara Movement, the forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Trotter then disdained the NAACP for being too little, too late, and too white. He carried the fight for black rights to the international arena, going be fore the League of Nations and the World Peace Conference in Paris, to no avail. Disillusioned and ill, Trotter either jumped or fell to his death from the roof of his Boston home in 1934, when he was sixty-two years old. But he had sounded a defiant note that set the tone for further development of the black press throughout the twentieth century.

Early black newspapers bore little resemblance to their modern counterparts. From the beginning, they had not been intended as instruments of mass communication. They were aimed at a small, educated elite and emphasized commentary over news coverage. Editors exchanged copies of their publications by mail and engaged in debates over issues, with the responses appearing in their next editions. It was assumed that subscribers also read white publications and thus were informed on national events. Yet these papers filled a void by interpreting the news from a black perspective and noting developments of particular interest to African Americans, providing information that was not available elsewhere. This included local coverage of religious and social events, still a mainstay of black newspapers.

Growth and Power

The modern black press did not come into being until 1905, when Robert S. Abbott founded the Chicago Defender, the first African-American newspaper designed to appeal to the masses and, consequently, the first commercially successful black journalistic enterprise. Although Abbott's sole objective was to improve the plight of blacks in America, he realized that he would have to communicate with the common people if he were to help them. In this respect Abbott followed the imperatives that have shaped daily newspapers since the beginning of the twentieth century. It has been assumed, for the most part, that a publication first must capture the attention of the largest number of potential readers by playing up stories that generate immediate interest. Abbott took particular note of the practices of William Randolph Hearst, who had built the largest journalistic empire of the early twentieth century by engaging in sensationalism to boost sales. But in spite of the screaming red headlines and excited tone that came to mark the Defender's style, the paper, at its core, held to the same precepts that have informed black journalism since its inception.

A small, very black man who suffered the indignities imposed on those of his color during a period when dark skin was considered a major social liability even among African Americans, Abbott was a Georgian who settled in Chicago where he decided to publish his own newspaper, although three other black newspapers already were being distributed there. According to Roi Ottley, Abbott's biographer, the publisher started out in a rented room with nothing but a card table, a borrowed chair, and twenty-five cents in capital, intent on producing his newspaper. Abbott, who had a law degree, called it the Defender because he intended to fight for the rights of black people. At that time the black population of Chicago was concentrated in so few blocks on the South Side that Abbott could gather the news, sell advertising, and distribute his newspaper on foot by himself. That was a situation he was to change with his paper.

At first Abbott avoided politics and other contentious topics, featuring neighborhood news and personals, but he hit his stride when he began to concentrate on muckraking, publishing exposés of prostitution and other criminal activities in the black community. Adopting the scarlet headlines favored by his white counterparts, Abbott developed a publication so popular that copies were posted in churches and barbershops where blacks congregated, so that the latest stories could be read aloud.

One of the factors that contributed to Abbott's early success was increasing literacy among blacks. By 1910 seven out of ten blacks over the age of ten could read and Chicago's black population had grown to 44,103, though still concentrated in a small area. In 1910, when the Defender was in its fifth year, Abbott hired his first paid employee, J. Hockley Smiley, an editor who moved the paper more decidedly toward sensationalism and encouraged the publisher to press for national circulation. White distributors refused to carry black newspapers, but Chicago was a major railroad center, so Smiley suggested that railroad porters and waiters be used to carry bundles of papers to their destinations, smuggling them into the South, where they could be turned over to local black agents. In turn, the railroad workers brought back news, enabling the Defender to become the first black publication with a truly national scope. To shore up this thrust, Abbott employed Roscoe Conkling Simmons, a leading narrator, to tour the country, promoting the paper. Since the stance of the Defender was militant, with detailed accounts of injustices committed against blacks, participants in this underground distribution system courted danger. Two agents were killed and others were driven from their homes because of their involvement with the Defender. Yet Abbott did not back down, engaging the redoubtable Ida B. WellsBarnett to report on riots, lynchings, and other racial wrongs.

Abbott found his place in history in 1917, during World War I, when he began to publish front-page stories with blazing headlines urging southern blacks to migrate to the North, where they could escape from the indignities of Dixie and acquire higher-paying jobs in industry. The paper offered group railroad rates to migrants and encouraged them to seek personal advice on how to adjust to the big city by following the Defender's regular features. Scholars credit the Defender with being a major force in stimulating the tide of northern migration after the war, when blacks realized that the rights U.S. soldiers had fought for abroad were not being extended to them at home. More than 300,000 African Americans migrated to the great industrial cities of the North between 1916 and 1918, with 110,000 moving to Chicago alone, tripling the city's black population.

By 1920, the Defender claimed its peak circulation of 283,571, with an additional high pass-along rate. Unlike those struggling earlier black publishers, Abbott became a millionaire, moving into his own fully paid-for half-million-dollar plant on Chicago's South Side. With a broad-based national circulation, the Defender offered hope and inspiration to poor southern blacks like the young Johnny Johnson, who read the paper as a youth in his native Arkansas during the early 1930s and son moved north with his family to Chicago, where he would build his own publishing empire. Though the paper eventually declined in popularity, due to its failure to keep up with the growing sophistication of blacks, it is still being published. When Abbott died in 1940, one of his nephews, John H. Sengstacke, assumed leadership. In 1956 he converted the Defender into a daily; it appeared four times a week with an additional weekend edition.

While Abbott carved out his empire from Chicago, some resourceful publishers in other parts of the country also built journalistic enterprises that cumulatively developed into one of the most powerful institutions in black America.

At least a dozen black newspapers had come and gone in Pittsburgh by 1910, when the lawyer Robert L. Vann drew up incorporation papers for the Pittsburgh Courier, a fledgling publication he edited and eventually came to own. Born impoverished in 1879 in Ahoskie, North Carolina, Vann struggled for years to get an education, finally earning both baccalaureate and law degrees from the Western University of Pennsylvania, later renamed the University of Pittsburgh. A relatively small man, like Abbott, he was encouraged by friends to pass for an East Indian because he had straight hair and keen features, but Vann remained staunchly black. Though the Courier managed to survive, it did not gain much momentum until 1914, when Ira F. Lewis joined the staff as a sportswriter. He turned out to be a gifted salesman who built advertising and circulation, going on to become business manager of the paper and transforming it into a national institution.

In its editorial tone, the Pittsburgh Courier tended to be somewhat less sensational than the Defender, commanding attention with its distinctive peach-colored cover page. In front-page editorials, Vann led his crusades, demanding that the huge industrial firms hire African Americans and criticizing unions for denying blacks membership, while the European immigrants who were surging into the labor market were accepted in both cases. He called for better education and housing for blacks and urged them to boycott movie houses and stores that overcharged them or treated them disrespectfully.

A local publication during its early years, the Courier began to make national inroads during the 1920s, when Vann improved its quality by retaining some of the most talented black journalists of the period. George S. Schuyler, a figure of the Harlem Renaissance who was called the black H. L. Mencken because of his bitingly satiric prose, began contributing a weekly column and became the chief editorial writer, a position he held for several decades. Schuyler also toured the nation to produce extensive series on the socioeconomic status of black America.

Vann sent Joel A. Rogers, a self-taught historian, to Europe and Africa, where he documented black contributions to Western civilization. Rogers later produced a column called "Your History" and collaborated with an artist on a weekly illustrated feature that stimulated pride among blacks, who had been denied evidence of prior achievements by their race. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Rogers became one of the first black war correspondents by covering the conflict from the front. His colorful dispatches captured the attention of African Americans throughout the United States and thus boosted circulation.

Sparkling entertainment and social news were staples, but the Courier's forte was its sports coverage. Excellent reportage was provided by W. Rollo Wilson, William G. Nunn Sr., Wendell Smith, and Chester "Ches" Washington, a championship speed typist who went on in the 1970s to become the successful publisher of a chain of newspapers in California. The Courier secured its national stature during the 1930s by recognizing the potential of a young pugilist named Joe Louis and maintaining a virtual monopoly on coverage of his activities until long after Louis had become the most popular heavyweight champion in history. As a result, circulation reached 250,000 by 1937, according to figures of the Audit Bureau of Circulation, making the Courier competitive with the Defender as the nation's leading black weekly.

It was a role of the nation's top black newspapers to bridge the gap separating artists and intellectuals from the masses. The Defender published the early poems of the young Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brooks, who would become the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, and employed Willard Motley as a youth editor long before he became a best-selling novelist. The poet and humorist Langston Hughes introduced his character Jesse B. Semple (Simple) in its pages. Similarly, the Courier featured commentary and reviews by James Weldon Johnson, while W. E. B. Du Bois wrote a column for the paper after he stepped down as editor of the Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP.

Unlike Abbott, who relished his ties to the man in the street and especially fellow migrants from the South, Vann was an aloof, politically driven man who used his paper to promote his own career as a lawyer and to seek control of black patronage. He is perhaps best known for his defection from the Republican Party, which had claimed the loyalties of black voters since the time of Abraham Lincoln. Democrats were strongly identified with their party's southern segregationist faction. By 1932 the country was in the throes of an economic depression and the yet untried Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Democratic presidential candidate. Vann, who thought that the Republicans had taken the black vote for granted without responding to the needs of that constituency, delivered a speech that projected him to national prominence. Calling for the black vote to remain "liquid" rather than allied to a single party, he said, "I see millions of Negroes turning the picture of Lincoln to the wall." The line became a catchphrase in the successful Democratic campaign to get black votes and win the election.

Vann died in 1940, seven months after Robert S. Abbott. Yet he established so firm a foundation for the Courier that it retained its popularity for several more years under the management of Ira Lewis, with the publisher's widow, Jesse L. Vann, at the helm. Under editors P. L. Prattis and William G. Nunn, Sr., the crusades continued, with calls for integration of the armed forces during World War II and a "double V" campaign for victory abroad and against discrimination at home. In 1946 the Courier published fourteen editions, including local and national editions with branch offices in twelve cities, and was the most popular black publication even in several cities with their own black newspapers. It attained a circulation of 357,212 in May 1947, a record for audited black newspapers.

Some of the paper's crusades had tangible results. Courier sportswriter Wendell Smith, who had been using his column to press for integration of major league baseball since the 1920s, served as the liaison between Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, resulting in Robinson's joining that team in 1947.

After the death of Ira Lewis in 1948, the Courier lapsed into a general decline because of mismanagement and numerous other factors that affected the black press in the 1950s and 1960s. On the brink of financial collapse in 1965, it was purchased by John Sengstacke, owner of the Defender chain. Thus the similar but separate missions of Robert S. Abbott and Robert L. Vann converged in a final irony. Continuing publication as the New Pittsburgh Courier, it earned some awards for excellence under its new editor-in-chief, Hazel Garland, whose tenure there dated back to the Golden Age of the 1940s, but the Courier had become but a shadow of its old self. Sengstacke Publications, which included the Courier and other acquisitions, became the largest African-American newspaper chain in the country.

The third member of what could be called a triumvirate of great black national newspapers was the Afro-American, which evolved from its beginnings as a Baltimore church publication to become one of the most widely circulated black newspaper in the South and East, with branch offices in Washington, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Newark, New Jersey. Its founder was John H. Murphy, Sr., a former slave and a whitewasher by trade, who created it by merging his own Sunday school sheet with two similar church publications and going on to expand its coverage to include issues and events of interest to the general black public.

When Murphy died in 1922, his five sons took over the operation, with one of them, Carl Murphy, assuming control. Under his leadership, the Afro-American grew into a national publication with multiple editions that emphasized solid reportage and took moderate editorial positions. It became the dominant black publication in the Washington-Baltimore-Richmond triangle, focusing on political matters in a part of the country with a heavy concentration of African Americans. Though firmly patriotic in most of its views, the Afro, as it was known, demonstrated courage by standing up for the singer/actor Paul Robeson and the scholar/editor W. E. B. Du Bois when both were accused of being Communists during the McCarthy era. The publisher also ignored official pressure and sent the journalist William Worthy to Communist China on assignment after the U.S. State Department had denied him a visa. From 1961 through the 1980s the founder's grandson, John Murphy III, played a major role in the paper's fortunes, especially after the death of Carl Murphy in 1967. Over the years, successive generations of Murphys have stepped forward to assume leadership.

While these were the titans in the era of the popular black press, other newspapers distinguished themselves by serving the needs of their own urban communities. The Amsterdam News was established in 1909 in New York City when James H. Anderson began publishing a local sheet with $10 and a dream, giving it the name of the street on which he lived. The paper gained prominence and commercial success after 1936, when it was purchased by two Harlem physicians. One of them, C. B. Powell, assumed control and developed the paper to the point where it had a circulation of more than 100,000 after World War II. The Norfolk Journal and Guide achieved a high level of respectability after 1910, when P. B. Young, a twenty-six-year-old North Carolinian, purchased its original entity, a fraternal organ, and transformed it into a general circulation black newspaper. Avoiding sensationalism and maintaining a relatively conservative stance, the Journal and Guide was singled out for praise by mainstream scholars, who considered it the most objective of black newspapers. Yet it responded readily to the needs of its readers, launching campaigns that resulted in better housing for black residents and pay scales for black teachers that equaled those of whites. W. O. Walker built the Cleveland Call and Post into a "bread-and-butter" paper that focused firmly on local news, while the Scott family, beginning in 1932, built the Atlanta Daily World into the nation's oldest black daily, one of only three that survived beyond the 1990s. Across the nation, from the early to mid-twentieth century, it was difficult to find a major city that was not served by a black newspaper.

The reasons for their existence were obvious. Until the late 1950s African Americans were almost totally ignored by mainstream publications, and when they did appear, it was as suspected perpetrators of crime. If news of interest to the black population was included at all, it was in tiny, segregated columns dubbed "Negro" or "Afro-American," or some similar name, placed inconspicuously in back pages. Even reportage on African-American sports or entertainment figures was designed to reinforce prevailing stereotypes. Thus the black press served the palpable needs of a neglected and maligned people. Editors of black newspaper said that they hoped to change society to such an extent that they would put themselves out of business. But when this change began to take place, they were not prepared to cope with the consequences.

The Tides of Change

When the struggle for racial equality blossomed into the civil rights movement, beginning with the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott in 1955, mainstream publications took steps toward covering events in which African Americans were the major players. As the movement spread from Montgomery to Birmingham to Little Rock and beyond, white newspaper editors began to realize that they were witnessing one of the biggest stories of the century. Furthermore, they were being challenged for the first time by television, a new medium that could provide more immediate coverage, enhanced by dramatic visual images that captured the action as it happened. This was most forcefully demonstrated on August 28, 1963, when television provided extended live coverage of the historic March on Washington and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Since each day brought new developments, most black newspapers, limited to weekly publication, were unable to compete. Furthermore, few of them possessed or were willing to commit the resources that would have enabled them to deploy correspondents to the various hot spots throughout the country. Reporters who worked for the black press during that time recalled their frustration at having to cover the movement by telephone or by rewriting accounts that appeared in the leading white-owned papers.

Although the coverage provided by mainstream print and broadcast media was from a white perspective, inroads were made into a territory that had been the exclusive property of the black press. Yet black journalists rarely were employed by the white media. Even in New York City, the nation's media capital, no African Americans held full-time jobs on white newspapers until Lester A. Walton was hired by the World in the 1920s. No further advances were made until 1936 when Ted Poston became a staff reporter for the New York Post. He risked his life to cover stories in the South, including the trial in Florida of three young black men who were beaten, with a fourth being killed, for the alleged rape of a white woman, a crime that was never proven. Poston won a George Polk award for his stories on this subject and became a legend in the field, but black journalists were still shunned by daily newspapers. In 1955, a year after the Supreme Court school-desegregation decision, Ebony magazine found only thirty-one blacks working on white newspapers throughout the country. Black journalists were so rare in the developing medium of television that they were not even counted before 1962, when Mal Goode, a radio newscaster and former advertising salesman for the Pittsburgh Courier, was hired by ABC to become the first network correspondent of his race.

No major changes were to occur until the late 1960s, when the nation's black communities went up in flames, from Watts in Los Angeles to Harlem in New York. The 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission Report, analyzed the causes of these upheavals. In a section implicating the media, the report said:

They have not communicated to the majority of their audiencewhich is whitea sense of the degradation, misery and hopelessness of living in the ghetto. They have not communicated to whites a feeling for the difficulties and frustrations of being a Negro in the United States. They have not shown understanding or appreciation ofand thus have not communicateda sense of Negro culture, thought or history.

Equally important, most newspaper articles and most television programming ignored the fact that an appreciable part of their audience was black. The world that television and newspapers offered to their black audience was almost totally white, in both appearance and attitude. As we have said, our evidence shows that the so-called "white press" is at best mistrusted and at worst held in contempt by many black Americans. Far too often, the press acts and talks about Negroes as if Negroes do not read the newspapers or watch television, give birth, marry, die and go to PTA meetings.

The riots, as they were transpiring, had driven home a message to white news managers, who realized that their reporters were ill-equipped to enter the alien world of black neighborhoods and to gain confidence of residents to the point where they might discover what was really going on. As the flames of rage spread from the ghettos to central commercial areas, some realized that the destiny of white America was irrevocably linked to that of black America. As a result, some black reporters were hired literally in the heat of the moment. With the strong indictment of the Kerner Commission finding its mark, black reporters were recruited by the mainstream for the first time, most commonly from the black press. By the mid-1970s nearly a hundred African-American journalists were employed by mainstream publications.

Another response to the report was the development of training programs to increase the limited supply of black journalists. The largest of these was a concentrated summer program established at Columbia University in 1968 through a $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. Directed by Fred Friendly, former head of CBS News and a professor at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, the program trained members of various minority groups, then placed from twenty to forty of them each year in both print and broadcast jobs. When one of its black graduates, Michele Clark, died in an airplane crash after working her way up to become co-anchor of the CBS Morning News, the minority-training program was renamed in her honor. In 1974, after substantial increases in the number of African Americans earning degrees from journalism schools, including Columbia's, this program was discontinued. The following year it was revived through the efforts of Earl Caldwell, a leading African-American journalist. Relocated to the University of California at Berkeley and operated by the Institute for Journalism Education (IJE), the program to train and place members of minorities on mainstream newspapers continued into the early 1990s. Under the guidance of nationally known African-American journalists, among them Nancy Hicks, Robert Maynard and Dorothy Gilliam, the IJE broadened its scope to focus on programs in editing and management training, facilitating movement of black journalists into the upper echelons of the print media.

All of these changes had a devastating effect on black newspapers. Their circulations plummeted as television and mainstream newspapers encroached on their readership by providing more immediate, though often superficial and insensitive, coverage of major events affecting the African-American community. By 1977 the audited circulation of the Chicago Defender had shrunk to 34,000 daily and 38,000 for the weekend edition. The New Pittsburgh Courier dipped to 30,000 weekly; the Baltimore Afro-American averaged 34,000 for two weekday editions and 18,500 for a weekend national edition. A few publications fared somewhat better, but others teetered on the brink of bankruptcy or had disappeared altogether. While more than 300 black newspapers were being published in the early 1960s, only 170 remained by the late 1980s. Their overall quality also declined as most of the top talent defected to the mainstream, where the rewards included salaries that were several times larger, far better benefits, and greater prestige. Television offered not only large salaries but also high visibility and glamour, a heady kind of stardom. After 1970, few aspiring journalists entered the field with the intention of working for the black press.

Exceptions to this grim pattern were two radical newspapers that surfaced during the 1960s in the furor of the Black Revolution. Muhammad Speaks, the official organ of the Nation of Islam, otherwise known as the Black Muslins, stemmed from a column called "Mr. Muhammad Speaks" that the sect's leader, Elijah Muhammad, had written for the Pittsburgh Courier during the 1950s. When Christian ministers, valuable links in the black press circulation chain, objected to Muhammad's anti-Christian rhetoric, the column was discontinued. Since Muslim followers had employed aggressive tactics to sell the paper on the streets, they took with them a huge chunk of the Courier's circulation. The column resurfaced in the Amsterdam News during the 1960s, when Malcolm X was galvanizing the black masses not only in Harlem but also throughout the nation. By the early 1970s the Black Muslims were publishing a popular weekly newspaper of their own called Muhammad Speaks. It was produced in Chicago, where Elijah Muhammad lived, by a staff of experienced journalists (who were not necessarily Muslims) working out of a well-equipped plant. Featuring African-American news with a militant slant, along with dogma, and distributed through the same pressurized street-selling techniques, Muhammad Speaks achieved an unaudited weekly circulation of 400,000 to 600,000, an all-time record for a black newspaper. (Unaudited means that the Audit Bureau of Circulations has not verified these figures.) Circulation dropped sharply after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, the death of Elijah Muhammad, which brought on power struggles within the Muslim sect, and a general shift away from overt militancy in the African-American population. However, the paper continued publication under other names, including the Bilalian News and later the Final Call, into the early twenty-first century. These later publications never approached the success of earlier efforts.

A short-lived but significant polemical newspaper was the Black Panther, which achieved an unaudited circulation of 100,000 during the early 1970s, when it was edited by Eldridge Cleaver, author of the autobiographical militant manifesto Soul on Ice. Radical in tone, this newspaper attracted an audience in the turbulent antiwar climate of that time by condemning police brutality at home and America's foreign policy abroad, but it ceased publication after the credibility of Panther leaders was broadly questioned.

The sheer volume of news being generated by the movement toward integration and mainstream efforts to recruit African Americans who could cover these events all but obliterated the power previously held by black newspapers. But one genre of black publications flourished. These were the black magazines that had been conceived as commercial enterprises rather than instruments of protest. Thus they were better able to adjust to the demands of an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Black Magazines

Early black newspapers so resembled magazines in tone and content that differentiation between the two often was based on frequency of publication. The first black magazines seem to have been subsidized organs that originated in the black church during the early 1840s. The first general-circulation magazine owned independently by African Americans and directed to them was the Mirror of Liberty, published by David Ruggles, a New Yorker who was a key figure in the Underground Railroad. Forwarding the cause of abolition, it was published from 1847 to 1849. Other magazines followed. Frederick Douglass, after publishing a series of newspapers, lent his name to an abolitionist magazine, Douglass' Monthly. Aimed primarily at British readers, it was issued from 1860 to 1862. A forerunner of popular modern periodicals was Alexander's Magazine, a national publication produced in Boston from 1905 to 1909. It emphasized the positive aspects of African-American life, featuring stories about outstanding individuals with commentary on cultural, educational, and political events.

The first African-American magazine to have a lasting impact was the Crisis, which was the brainchild of W. E. B. Du Bois. It first appeared in 1910, a year that resonates with significance because of the number of African-American organizations, institutions, and publications spawned at that time. Du Bois, who was one of the original incorporators of the NAACP, assumed the position of director of publications and research for that organization after several previous excursions into journalism. He used the Crisis which remains the official organ of the NAACPto criticize national policies that impeded the progress of blacks and to educate African Americans in the techniques of protest. After Du Bois resigned his post in 1934 following squabbles with the NAACP leadership, he launched other magazines, the most notable being Phylon, a scholarly journal published by Atlanta University, where he spent portions of his career as a professor and head of the sociology department.

Following Du Bois's inspired lead, the National Urban League published Opportunity, a journal that documented the literary and artistic accomplishments of the Harlem Renaissance and lasted until 1949. Another important periodical of the postWorld War I period was The Messenger, a militantly socialist journal edited by Chandler Owen and A. Philip Randolph, the latter of whom was to become the voice of black labor as head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. All of these publications depended on subsidies.

Commercial black magazinesmeaning those that were fully self-sustaining through advertising as well as subscriptionsdid not surface until the 1940s, a period when general-circulation magazines were one of the main forms of home entertainment. The engaging combination of pictures and words had made Life a popular chronicler of the American Dream, while Time provided snappily written coverage of weekly events and The Saturday Evening Post reinforced mainstream values in fiction and nonfiction. The Reader's Digest offered extracts from the era's leading publications, such as the Ladies' Home Journal, which catered to the traditional interests of women. Yet African Americans remained invisible in the pages of these magazines, as they had been in mainstream newspapers.

A veritable revolution in black magazines began in 1942 when John H. Johnson began publishing Negro Digest, a monthly periodical roughly the size of the Reader's Digest, featuring stories about black accomplishments, news items of interest to African Americans, and provocative original articles by prominent whites addressing black issues. He used it as a cornerstone for the development of the most successful black publishing firm in history. Although other quality mass-circulation black magazines originated in the postWorld War II period, Johnson outmaneuvered his competition and thus eliminated it by developing brilliant marketing strategies.

Johnson's climb from poverty to riches was a real Horatio Alger story. He was born poor in 1918 in a tiny Arkansas town on the banks of the Mississippi River. His father was killed in a sawmill accident when he was eight and his mother remarried a year later. Since the town offered no opportunities for a black child to be educated beyond the eighth grade, his mother, Gertrude Johnson Williams, moved her family north in 1933 and worked s a domestic to educate her son. When he graduated from Chicago's DuSable High School as the most outstanding student in the class of 1936, he was offered a scholarship to the University of Chicago but opted to attend part-time while working at Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, one of the nation's leading black businesses. One of his tasks was to produce the company's monthly newspaper. Another was to provide digests of news about blacks for the company's president, Harry Pace, who was Johnson's mentor.

When friends relished the nuggets of black-oriented news Johnson shared with them, he conceived the idea of publishing a monthly magazine based on this kind of material. Having no money, he used his mother's new furniture, with her permission, as collateral to borrow $500. With this sum, he paid for the mailing of an introductory subscription letter sent to Supreme's twenty thousand customers in 1942. The resultant magazine, Negro Digest, was so popular that Johnson was able to launch another magazine, Ebony, in 1945. Stressing the positive aspects of African-American life and using ample pictures to help tell stories, Ebony immediately attracted a large, enthusiastic audience.

Along the way, Johnson outstripped his most promising competitor, Our World, which was published by John P. Davis, a Harvard Law School graduate. It was launched in 1946, just after Ebony, and also was a quality picture magazine printed on slick paper. Our World amassed an impressive circulation of 251,599 by 1952, but went bankrupt in 1955 because it could not attract major advertising accounts, the lifeblood of commercial publications. Meanwhile, Johnson used every ounce of ingenuity he could muster to break down the barriers that led white manufacturers to dismiss black magazines as advertising venues. It was essential to his survival and eventually he devised a winning strategy. By Johnson's own admission, he triumphed not so much because he had a better magazine but because he was a more inventive businessman.

Johnson also was adept at changing his tactics as the times demanded. He discontinued Negro Digest in 1951 when Ebony had usurped its audience, replacing his first publication with Jet, a pocket-size weekly newsmagazine that has remained popular over the years. In 1965, when militancy was in vogue, he revived Negro Digest, changing its name to Black World. Under the editor Hoyt Fuller, it became a prestigious outlet for African-American literature and thought, documenting the developments of what some have called the second black Renaissance. By 1970, when the movement subsided and subscriptions began to fall off, Johnson again discontinued the magazine.

Responding to what he considered to be public taste, Johnson conceived and published an assortment of magazines over the years, among them Tan Confessions during the 1950s, which was transformed into Black Stars in the 1960s, but more significantly Ebony Jr., an educational magazine for children produced during the late 1960s, Ebony Africa, which reflected the African independence movement but was discontinued after a few issues in 1965 when it foundered on differing national, linguistic, and political realities. But over six decades, Johnson has prevailed as the nation'sand world'sleading black publisher, his empire anchored by two stalwarts: Ebony, with an audited monthly circulation of 1,707,489 at the end of 2004, and Jet, with a weekly circulation of 967,909.

Some criticized Johnson's publications for relying too heavily on entertainment and light features while paying too little attention to major issues. But Ebony also had a serious side and provided a nurturing environment for talented black writers. Foremost among these was Lerone Bennett, who joined the staff in 1953. A scholar as well as a journalist, Bennett produced several series of articles that interpreted and dramatized black history in a literary style accessible to the general reader. Most of these articles evolved into popular books, published by Johnson, becoming a mainstay of black studies programs instituted by American colleges and universities during the 1970s.

The legislative gains of the 1960s led to improvements in the overall educational and economic status of African Americans, providing fertile ground for the cultivation of magazines aimed at newly affluent black consumers. A dozen new magazines surfaced in 1970 alone. Two of them became major publications: Essence and Black Enterprise.

Courting Black Women

Essence: The Magazine for Today's Black Woman was conceived in New York City in the fall of 1968. Russell Goings, an assistant vice president for Shearson, Hamill & Company and one of the few black executives with a Wall Street investment banking and brokerage firm at that time, put together a list of up-and-coming young African-Americans in the corporate world. He then invited them to a series of meetings where they could put forth ideas for new businesses they might want to start. It was Jonathan Blount, age twenty-two, a salesman for New Jersey Bell Yellow Pages, who came up with the idea for a black women's magazine. The idea had come from his godmother. Goings introduced Blount to other young men who liked the idea and formed a team. (Few women attended those meetings.) As a result, Blount, joined by Ed Lewis, age twenty-eight, a star in the executive training program at First City Bank; Clarence Smith, thirty-five, a top salesman at Prudential Insurance; and Cecil Hollingsworth, twenty-eight, who had started a small printing brokerage firm, developed a proposal for a black women's magazine. They became known as the Hollingsworth group, with Ed Lewis serving as chief executive.

They assumed it would take $1.5 million to start the magazine, but being black and having no experience in publishing made it all but impossible for them to get backing. All four had to quit their jobs to concentrate full-time on the project, but presentations on Wall Street and elsewhere, attracted no backers. Somehow they got by on moderate loans that had to be paid back, leaving them little to work with. Finally, in May 1970, or nearly two years later, Essence made its debut on newsstands in 145 cities with a press run of 175,000 copies. The new magazine was chock-full of thoughtful articles on important issues by respected authorities along with a cornucopia of fiction, nonfiction, and essays by leading black writers. It was highlighted throughout by beautiful illustrations under the supervision of photographer Gordon Parks. This approach resonated immediately with the targeted Essence audience. However, theirs were not the only opinions that would determine whether the new magazine could survive. White media critics found Essence too militant, somehow intimidating. A white writer for Time magazine went so far as to state that "After a while, the young, urban, inquisitive and acquisitive Black woman for whom the magazine is intended is going to get tired of being reminded of the longstanding, dehumanizing rape of the Black woman in America." An advertising newsletter menacingly predicted: "Black women's magazines have a shaky future." These comments could drive away advertisers.

Sensing potential problems, the founders dismissed their editor in chief, Ruth N. Ross, a former assistant editor at Newsweek who had left her joba rare one for women of any color in those daysto join their tiny staff. Ross also had come up with the name of Essence for the magazine. Originally, the founders had intended to call it Sapphire, long a pejorative term for a loud-mouthed black woman. Focus groups of women had voiced their displeasure, but the four young men had found it difficult to come up with a better name. Ross had done so, but her approach was deemed "too black for prime time" after the first issue. Furthermore, her old job at Newsweek had closed up after her. But Essence thrived. By 1992 Essence had an audited circulation of 900,000, and by the end of 2004, it had climbed to 1,063,645, surpassed only by Ebony.

Black Enterprise

For more than thirty years, Black Enterprise magazine, which was founded in 1970 by Earl G. Graves, a former administrative assistant to Robert F. Kennedy, has informed the publicand particularly African Americansof improved financial opportunities available to them, thus encouraging greater black participation in the economic mainstream. It celebrates the achievements of black entrepreneurs by presenting documented lists of those who have been most successful. Its annual listing of the one hundred biggest black businesses provides a ready reference for determining the progress of African-American entrepreneurs. This magazine has a clear-cut mission and was nearly two years in the planning, with input from a board of advisors that included Whitney Young, Jr., executive director of the Urban League. It is to get African Americans to learn more about money, how to get more of it and how to use it to their own advantage.

Unlike many magazines specializing in financial affairs, Black Enterprise takes an upbeat but down-to-earth approach, examining a full range of money matters, from the issues of corporate America to how families handle their finances. Black Enterprise's annual listing of the nation's largest black businesses is a ready reference to the financial health and wealth of black capitalists. Much emphasis is placed on self-improvement and ample coverage is provided of regular people who have developed their own start-ups, even on a small scale. Complex matters are explained in understandable terms highlighted by photos of smiling African Americans who have managed to make money work for them. The formula has worked, for the magazine had attained an audited circulation of 508,489 by 2005.

With the expansion of the black middle class, a variety of new magazines were developed to address specific tastes. By 1990 at least twenty-five black-oriented magazines were being published in the United States. Most of the newcomers did not survive. Some deserved a better chance, most notably Emerge, a black newsmagazine launched in 1991 by Wilmer Ames, an African-American editor on the Newsweek staff. Uncertain in its thrust early on, Emerge acquired firmer footing when most of its stock was purchased by Black Entertainment Television (BET), which Bob Johnson had launched in 1980 in Washington, D.C., as the first black-owned national cable network. This was a mismatch of sorts, for BET featured dance videos and catered to tastes of those favoring urban hip-hop culture, while Emerge was a newsmagazine. Emerge reached its peak in the mid- to late 1990s when George Curry served as editor, offering fearlessly satiric assessments of politics and public affairs with articles by top black writers working in the mainstream. By 1999 it had a monthly circulation of 160,000, but BET wanted a bigger return for its investment and discontinued publication.


The last decades of the twentieth century brought a dramatic shift toward the mainstreaming of African-American journalists. Beginning in the 1970s, general-circulation daily newspapers and television stations recruited black journalists as they never had before. By 1990 nearly four thousand blacks were employed by daily newspapers, with a few establishing national reputations. Foremost among them was Carl T. Rowan, a senior statesman of journalism who had always worked in the mainstream, starting out in 1948 at the Minneapolis Tribune. He held high government posts in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, then became a syndicated columnist and television panelist. Rowan conducted a historic televised interview with Justice Thurgood Marshall on his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. William Raspberry of the Washington Post also gained broad recognition through his syndicated column. Other columnists who became widely known were Earl Caldwell of the New York Daily News; Bob Herbert, who became the first African-American columnist for the New York Times; Les Payne of Newsday; Dorothy Gilliam of the Washington Post; Chuck Stone of the Philadelphia Daily News; and Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune.

The Gannett Corporation, which was the nation's largest newspaper chain, publishing eighty-seven dailies throughout the country as well as the national USA Today, outstripped others by instituting a strong affirmative action program. Under chairman Allen Neuharth, Gannett enforced strict rules ensuring that minorities were included in coverage and that they were consulted as sources for stories that did not necessarily pertain to race. Through the Gannett chain, Robert Maynard, who had spent ten years at the Washington Post as a national correspondent, ombudsman, and editorial writer, became the first publisher of a general-market daily, the Oakland Tribune, in 1979. Maynard went on to purchase the paper in 1983, another first. Also under the Gannett system, Pam Johnson, who held a Ph.D. in communications, was named publisher of the Ithaca Journal in upstate NewYork in 1981, becoming the first African-American woman to control the affairs of a mainstream daily newspaper.


Similar changes took place in television, though they did not extend to the higher levels of management. The first black journalist on television was Louis Lomax, a newspaperman and college teacher who entered the relatively new medium in 1958 at WNTA-TV in New York. The author of five books, Lomax produced television documentaries before his death in an automobile accident in 1970. Because of the visual nature of television, it often appeared that blacks were making more progress there than in print journalism. Some shifted easily from one medium to the other. In 1963, a year after Mal Goode became the first African-American commentator on network television news, Bill Matney moved from the Detroit News, a daily newspaper, to NBC, where he covered the White House for the network from 1970 to 1972. Yet no African American held a major position in television until 1978, when Max Robinson was the first of his race to become a regular coanchor for a prime-time network television newscast, heading the national desk in Chicago for the ABC Nightly News. Robinson left the network five years later after being demoted and died of AIDS in 1988, but he served as a role model for young blacks aspiring to careers in television news. One of the most durable of network TV newscasters was Ed Bradley, who joined CBS as a stringer in the Paris bureau in 1971, then became a White House correspondent in 1976. He later anchored the CBS Sunday Night News and later went on to attract a loyal following in his long-term position as one of the chief correspondents for the top-rated 60 Minutes, a position he still held in 2005. In terms of all-around popularity, the leader was Bryant Gumbel, who shuttled between news and entertainment as host of NBC's Today show. Although he had been with the show for fifteen years by 1992, it took him five more years to convince NBC brass to let him take the show to Africa, the only continent other then Antarctica that they had not visited. He was able to do so by compiling a mountain of meticulous research and planning on how it could be done. The weeklong series cost more than $2 million to produce but won an award for Gumbel. His struggle to pull it off highlighted Americans' lack of interest in Africa and its people. An informal survey of network coverage found that Africa got less coverage than California whales trapped in Arctic ice or a virus among North Sea seals.

Progress in television was more uneven for women. Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a former New Yorker staffer and New York Times reporter, became one of the most visible women journalists on TV in 1978 when she became New York correspondent for the McNeil-Lehrer Report, on the Public Broadcast System's nightly news program. During her tenure there, she also became the first African-American woman to anchor a national news program. When Hunter-Gault left PBS to take up residence in South Africa, the public network acquired another heavy hitter. Gwen Ifill, a lawyer and journalist, had been White House correspondent for the New York Times before she left in 1994 to join NBC News. After five years at NBC, she was hired by PBS as moderator and managing editor of Washington Week in Review and correspondent for Jim Lehrer's Nightly NewsHour, making her the most prominent woman in public television.

Change moved at a slower pace in commercial TV, but by the late 1980s it had become common for local stations to feature black women as anchors, for they were "two-fers," qualifying as diversity hires because of both race and gender. As the twenty-first century settled in, the formula was modified to include Asian and Latino women, sometimes paired with an African-American woman or man as a featured reporter or weather commentator, especially in urban areas. But it was difficult for these women to break into the networks as correspondents. The most successful black woman journalist on television was Carole Simpson, who took a major step in 1989 at ABC, when she became the first African-American woman to anchor an evening newscast on commercial television, appearing on Sunday nights. But these gains were limited. As in print journalism, the real power in broadcasting is held by executive producers and other top managers, who work behind a white curtain where they determine who or what will make it onto the air. In a 1982 survey of the nation's three networks, Michael Massing found that no blacks held high-level management positions. The highest job held by an African American at ABC was an assignment editor on a nightly news show, while at CBS and NBC the top posts were held by bureau chiefs. At all the networks, about 5 percent of the producers and associated producers were black, many in lower-level jobs. The efforts of black reporters were often overshadowed by general policies that resulted in a predominance of negative portrayals of African Americans in the media. While only 15 percent of the poor people in the United States in 1990 were black, newspaper and television coverage, in particular, perpetuated the impression that most criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, welfare mother, illiterates, and homeless persons were black. On the other hand, hardworking African Americans and those who constituted a large and growing middle class were glossed over. In newspapers, as on television, the problem could be traced to monochromatic leadership. A survey conducted by the American Society of Newspapers in 1985 revealed that almost 95 percent of the journalists on daily newspapers were white and the 92 percent of the nation's newspapers did not have a single minority person in a news executive position. Fifty-four percent of the newspapers had no minority employees at all.

Yet progress was made. A study released in 1999 showed that the percentage of minority television reporters had doubled within that decade. In 1998 they represented 20 percent of those broadcasting as compared to 10 percent in 1991. But there was a disturbing consequence. The increase in black, brown, and tan faces on television has caused many white Americans to believe that all inequities had been corrected. Some even contended that talented whitesand particularly white menwere being denied opportunities they deserved to meet demands for diversity. This led to strained relations in many of the nation's newsrooms.

Leaving the Fold

During the many years when African-American journalists worked almost entirely within the black press, their salaries had not been particularly handsome and the white world had not paid much attention to them, but they commonly had gone about their tasks with a communal spirit, a shared sense of knowing that they were doing something that might make life better for their people. Besides, they could have fun while doing it, for their coworkers as well as the people they usually covered shared a common culture. Of course, there were rivalries at work and some of the same irritations that might be found on any job, but if they got undesirable assignments, were paid less, or passed over for promotions, they could be certain that it was not because of their race. That one factor was a major concern for many African-American journalists who moved into the mainstream. By the early twenty-first century, most black journalists were to be found there.

On a Difficult Course

Life could be uncomfortable at times in the mainstream. Cut off from the fold, fragmented, and dogged by a sense of isolation, these journalists were concerned about their overall ability to effect better and more balanced coverage of African Americans in newsrooms where this might not be a priority. Many were troubled by what they perceived to be an overall assumption of black inferiority and an expectation that their work should emphasize black pathology. Some black journalists were challenged to prove their objectivity, or ability to assume a "white" perspective in their work by digging up dirt about black politicians and leaders, although white reporters were not asked to prove their objectivity. It was assumed. Often black reporters found themselves in a bind, trapped in an uncomfortable place where they would be more likely to achieve success on the job if they wrote negative stories about their own people. This led black people to turn against these journalists, at times venting their rage in public meetings. But one ambitious young journalist rode the matter of black pathology to fameor infamy.

Janet Cooke, a talented, twenty-five-year-old writer at The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for her feature story about an eight-year-old boy named Jimmy whose mother's boyfriend regularly injected him with heroin, thus feeding the child's addiction, which the live-in lover had instigated. Cooke said she had witnessed the scene. The story appeared on the front page of the Post and was picked up by hundreds of other papers, making Cooke an instant journalistic star. When it was discovered that Cooke had fabricated both Jimmy and the story, she was condemned by the public and had to return the Pulitzer, which was the first won by an individual African-American woman journalist. Cooke's caper led many in the journalistic establishment to question the credibility of African-American journalists as a whole, although white journalists were not regarded similarly when those of their color were revealed to be fabricators.

When a similar incident occurred several years later, some feared that black journalists, as a whole, again would have to bear the burden for the misdeeds of an individual. Jayson Blair, a promising twenty-seven-year-old New York Times reporter, had been on the fast track, working as a roving national correspondent, after courting the favor of some of the paper's top figures. But in May 2003, it was revealed that Blair had fabricated much of the material in high-profile stories he had written, some related to moving events taking place on the homefront, in other parts of the nation, during the Iraqi war. He had produced them without leaving his apartment, borrowing material from other publications and creating his own details. His feat, which was examined and analyzed extensively, especially by the Times, was a major embarrassment to that institution. Blair would be remembered as a miscreant who not only destroyed his own career, but who also took down the Times' editor, Howell Raines, who resigned, and the first African-American managing editor at the Times, Gerald Boyd, who also resigned. Though some conservatives dubbed Blair the "poster child for affirmative action," most pundits of the press linked his misdeeds to a culture in some high-pressure journalistic institutions that places such a premium on fame that people will do almost anything to get it.


As African-American journalists moved into the mainstream, they took major steps to address their problems. They realized that there could be power in numbers, so they organized. Forty-four African-American newsmen and newswomen founded the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) on December 12, 1975, at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. They came from both black and mainstream firms, from print media (newspapers and magazine) and broadcast (radio and television). Unlike some journalism organizations, NABJ limited membership to professionals involved in gathering and disseminating the news, excluding professors and those in public relations. Chuck Stone, a flamboyant journalistic figure who had been an editor of several black newspapers, was the guiding force behind creation of the NABJ and served as its first president. At the time, he was a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. After two years the organization had a membership of more than a thousand. Its leaders went on to develop a scholarship program for journalism students, to present annual awards to outstanding journalists of the year, and to hold lavish annual conventions in various cities where there were member chapters. These affairs included job fairs, panel discussions, speeches by luminaries, screen debuts, and live performances by musical stars. One of the major accomplishments of NABJ has been to have members of its board meet with leaders of the three other major organizations of ethnic journalists: the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Native American Journalists Association. The objective is to work in consort and thus to prevent negative forces in the mainstream from pitting them against each other. These sessions resulted in joint conventions called UNITY, held in 1994 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. Six years in the making and budgeted at $1,000,000, the event brought together 6,000 members of all four organizations to share their cultures and concerns. UNITY continued to meet at five-year intervals, with conferences in 1999 and 2004.

Clouds on the Horizon

Wayne Dawkins, who documents NABJ's history, noticed something unexpected when he checked their financial records at the end of 1999. Membership in the organization had reached an all-time high of 3,321 in August 1997 but had dropped to 2,456, down 26 percent in only a year and a half. Perhaps it was just a glitch resulting from the high cost of members having to travel to conventions in western cities for two consecutive years, far from the East and Midwest, where most members live. But this drop-off more likely was a manifestation of a trend others have noticed. Numbers of African Americans and other minorities have been leaving journalism almost as fast as other members of their groups have been entering the field. A 1978 survey by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund concluded that only one in five minorities who earned journalism degrees got jobs. Some get them, but their unemployment rate is three times that of their white peers. A 1985 study by the IJE, a leader in educating and placing minorities in journalism jobs, tracked a group of graduates over ten years and found that 40 percent of them were planning on leaving the field because of a perceived glass ceiling that did not allow them opportunities to grow, to move up. These comments might be considered in the context of a rancorous and heavily-covered trial in 1987 which grew out of a federal discrimination suit filed by four African-American journaliststhree men and one womanagainst their employer, the New York Daily News, at that time, the nation's most widely circulated newspaper. Some in the industry considered it a suit against the whole industry. The issue was not mere employment or even salary, though it was revealed during the investigation related to the suit that blacks and Hispanics were generally paid less than whites in comparable positions, regardless of performance. But the complaint by the Daily News employees had more to do with promotion, recognition, and opportunities to distinguish themselves. They prevailed and were given a total of $3.1 million in damages and a promise that the Daily News would implement an affirmative action program to increase the number of black reporters. Though some considered this a victory, the plaintiffs were permanently scarred by the experience. Joan Shepard, a forty-five-year-old cultural editor who was the lone woman in the case, was found alone in her home in 1998, dead for an unknown length of time, after struggling to establish her own restaurant newsletter.

A Final Note

Progress toward more integrated media seemed to slow after the end of the twentieth century. A study conducted by the Knight Foundation in 2005 found that 73 percent of the larger American newspapers employed fewer nonwhites in that year than they had in some earlier year dating back to 1990. They included some of the most highly respected, among them The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. This finding also coincides with the defection of younger journalists from the field, due to frustration at lack of advancement. But Herbert Lowe, a courts reporter for Newsday and president of NABJ confirms this finding, saying that much of it has to do with lack of advancement. But other experienced journalists stress a need for those who are dissatisfied to understand that it's not enough just to do a job and to do it well. They have to learn how to play the game, to politick on their own behalf.

Those who are dissatisfied also might try the Black Press. More than two hundred black community newspapers and two dailies are being published, with some, like the Sacramento Observer being robust and respected. Someone concerned about preservation might help to restore a historic institution, The Chicago Defender, which celebrated its centennial on May 5, 2005. It has been struggling to survive, with circulation down to 15,000 for four weekday editions and 19,000 for a weekend edition. But Tom Picou, long the key executive of the Defender and chair of the corporate concern that now owns the newspaper has announced plans to move into electronic media by presenting podcasts of news and interviews.

However, Black media itself might be forced to undergo some changes. In June 2005 the New York Times Company announced that it intended to publish a newspaper for African Americans in Gainesville, Florida, called the Gainesville Guardian. The new paper would result from the conversion of a newspaper the Times Company already owns in that area, The Gainsville Sun. A black editor already had been chosen and was participating in the planning. The question raised by African-American publishers was whether a newspaper could be considered "black" if it was not owned by blacks. Their response was a resounding "no" One publisher called such publications "white papers in blackface," conveying memories of the insults of minstrelsy. Nonetheless a precedent already had been set. On January 4, 2005, Time Inc. had announced that it had agreed to buy the 51 percent of Essence Communications Partners, the publisher of the magazines Essence and Suede, that it did not already own. A story in the New York Times business section noted that in 2000 Time Inc., which is owned by Time Warner, had purchased 49 percent of Essence Communications. Ed Lewis, founder and chief executive of Essence Communications, was quoted as saying that in the four years of partnership with Time Inc. he had come to trust the company and that he believed that its strategic might would help Essence and Suede reach more readers. Black Enterprise immediately shot back with an article potting: "Are Black Women Losing Their Voice?" The debate is likely to ensue.

See also Abbott, Robert Sengstacke; Anglo-African, The ; Baltimore Afro-American ; Black Press in Brazil; Black World/Negro Digest ; Chicago Defender ; Christian Recorder ; Cornish, Samuel E.; Crisis, The ; Delany, Martin R.; Ebony ; Forten, James; Fortune, T. Thomas; Douglass, Frederick; Freedom's Journal ; Guardian, The ; Jet ; Liberator, The ; Messenger, The ; Negro World ; North Star ; Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life ; Phylon ; Pittsburgh Courier ; Schuyler, George S.; Trotter, William Monroe; Washington, Booker T.; Wells-Barnett, Ida B.; Woman's Era


Bennett, Lerone, Jr. Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 5th ed. Chicago: Johnson Publishing, 1982.

Berger, Warren. "One Year and Counting: Wilmer Ames and 'Emerge'." Folio (December 1, 1990): 35.

Britt, Donna. "The Relentlessly Upbeat Woman Behind Spirit of Essence." Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1990, p. E14.

Buni, Andrew. Robert L. Vann of the Pittsburgh Courier: Politics and Black Journalism. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974.

Carmody, Deidre. "Black Magazines See Sales in Unity." New York Times, May 4, 1992, p. D9.

Carr, David. "Time Warner Unit to Buy Publisher of Two Magazines." New York Times, January 5, 2005, p. C4.

Cohen, Roger. "Black Media Giant's Fire Still Burns." New York Times, November 19, 1990, p. D8.

Dann, Martin E. ed. The Black Press 18271890. New York: Putnam, 1971.

Dates, Janette, L., and William Barlow, eds. Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1990.

Dawkins, Wayne. Black Journalists: The NABJ Story. Merrillville, Ind.: August Press, 1997.

Dawkins, Wayne. Rugged Waters: Black Journalists Swim the Mainstream. Newport News, Va.: August Press, 2003.

Gilliam, Dorothy. "What Do Black Journalists Want?" Columbia Journalism Review (May/June 1972): 47.

Hicks, Jonathan P. "More New Magazines, and These Beckon to Black Readers." New York Times, August 5, 1990, p.20.

Hines, Patricia Mignon, ed. Essence: 25 Years Celebrating Black Women. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1995.

Hogan, Lawrence D. A Black National News Service: The Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett, 19191945. Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984.

Johnson, John H., with Lerone Bennett, Jr. Succeeding Against the Odds. New York: Warner Books, 1989.

Jones, Alex S. "Oakland Publisher in Uphill Struggle." New York Times, June 5, 1985, p. A16.

Jones, Alex S. "Sense of Muscle for Black Journalists," New York Times, August 21, 1989, p. D1.

LaBrie, Henry III, ed. Perspectives of the Black Press: 1974. Kennebunkport, Me.: Mercer House Press, 1974.

Michaelson, Judith. "Black Journalists Remember Robinson as Role Model." Los Angeles Times, December 23, 1988, sect. 6, p. 36.

"Negroes on White Newspapers." Ebony, November 1955.

Newkirk, Pamela. Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Noble, Gil. Black Is the Color of My TV Tube. Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1981.

Ottley, Roi. The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott. Chicago: H. Regnery, 1955.

Polski, Harry A., and James Williams, eds. The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the Afro-American, 5th ed. Detroit: Gale, 1989.

Quintanilla, Michael. "Blacks Seek Changes in Newsrooms." Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1990, p. E1.

Scardino, Albert. "Black Papers Retain a Local Role." New York Times, July 24, 1989, p. D1.

Shaw, David. "Negative News and Little Else." Los Angeles Times, December 11, 1990, p. A1.

Shaw, David. "Newspapers Struggling to Raise Minority Coverage." Los Angeles Times, December 12, 1990, p. A1.

Shaw, David. "Critics Cite Need to Lead in Hiring Minorities." Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1990, p. A1.

Smith, Roger W. "Black Journalists Deplore Pace of New Media Hires." Newsday, March 19, 1988, p. 11.

Smythe, Mabel, ed. The Black American Reference Book. Engle-wood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Strader, Jim. "Black on Black." Washington Journalism Review (March 1992): 3336.

Wells, Ida B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Edited by Alfreda M. Duster. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Williams, Juan. "Being Black, Being Fair: Journalists Have to 'Do the Right Thing' Too.'" Washington Post, July 16, 1989, p. B1.

Wolseley, Roland E. The Black Press U.S.A. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1971.

phyl garland (1996)
Updated by author 2005


views updated Jun 11 2018


Thomas Cragin

Europe did not see anything resembling modern journalism, the serial publication of news, until the seventeenth century. However, if the definition of journalism is expanded to include the regular printing of news and political, religious, and philosophical opinion, then journalism was born with the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century. From the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries most printed news catered to religious and sensational interests rooted in the popular oral culture that preceded print. After the invention of the printing press, journalists introduced radically new ideas and challenged the growing numbers of readers to rethink old assumptions. Religious dogma, the organization of the universe, and the legitimacy of constituted authority became issues for debate. Early journalists improved the communication of news and had a momentous impact on European society through their diffusion of the ideas of the Protestant and Catholic Reformation, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution.

However, until the nineteenth century in western Europe and the twentieth century in eastern Europe illiteracy, poverty, and geographic isolation kept most Europeans from regular access to print journalism. All that changed in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the newspaper's golden age. In that era mass-circulation dailies popularized the modern newspaper's blend of political, business, sports, and sensational news with special interest sections, reviews, and advertising. Accuracy, detail, speed, and investigation became ideals for the new professional journalist. In the twentieth century electronic media simplified journalistic style and greatly expanded its audience.


Before the invention of the printing press, most Europeans received news verbally from peddlers, travelers, soldiers, and beggars wandering through villages and towns. News of important international events could take years to reach peasant ears and would be greatly distorted when it arrived. False news could have serious effects, as when false reports of new taxes caused peasant revolts in the fourteenth century. Distortions of oral communication invested the written word with greater respect both for its authenticity and for its authority since it was the product of the learned elite.

In the mid-fifteenth century monarchs were among the first to use the printing press to communicate news. By the end of the fifteenth century kings often employed printers to publish their decrees for distribution to officials throughout their kingdoms. Especially in times of crisis, rulers used print to gain popular support. At the end of the War of the Roses, a struggle between rival factions for the English throne, the victorious king Henry VII printed and circulated the papal bull confirming his claim to the throne. Similarly King Charles VIII of France launched a major press campaign in the late fifteenth century to garner support for his invasion of Italy. Monarchs' use of print was quickly imitated by judicial, city, town, and church authorities. These publications usually were written by servants of the king, bishop, or mayor and were printed by royal or ecclesiastical printing houses or printers with royal privileges. Royal or ecclesiastic patrons exercised enormous direct influence over these writers and publishers. However, not all journalists wrote in the service of the church or the Crown.

Before the end of the Renaissance new kinds of journalism developed to serve the needs of commoners. The most important to the development of modern journalism were news books. Merchants' livelihoods depended on quick and accurate news of wars, plagues, famines, shipping disasters, and weather that would greatly increase or contract competition in the market. By the sixteenth century a number of individuals in Italy, Germany, and Holland capitalized on bankers' and merchants' need for quick and reliable news by selling handwritten newssheets reporting important business, military, and political events. These newssheets were destined for only a small readership, however, since the high costs of maintaining correspondents and couriers to collect and carry the latest news kept subscriptions beyond the means of most of the middle classes. But in the sixteenth century the printing press enabled news to reach a much larger audience.


By the early sixteenth century a popular printed journalism flourished throughout Europe. A great variety of popular prints circulated in urban Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, and they were increasingly available to peasants in the countryside during the next century. Four hundred years before the advent of the mass newspaper press, these prints were produced by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

The popular journalists of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries ranged from great poets to lowly peddlers who produced and sold a broad range of literature to rich and poor alike. Their prints appeared in several sizes and formats, most combining text, song, and picture. Poster-sized broadsheets or broadsides, printed on one side for mounting on walls, were very popular in urban settings. More portable, small pamphlets were sold widely in cities and villages. The broadsides and pamphlets most commonly contained sensationalist news and information on religious debates and changes taking place in sixteenth-century Europe.

The Protestant Reformation initiated a war of words that greatly expanded the circulation of vernacular literature. Broadsides and pamphlets spread the ideas of the Protestant and Catholic Reformation in their most abbreviated forms. Martin Luther became one of Germany's best-selling authors through the circulation of hundreds of thousands of copies of his devotionals. While Luther's publications urged readers to decide theological questions for themselves, papal defenders circulated treatises demanding the complacence of "the ignorant and rebellious commoners." By 1521 official Catholic prints had done as much as Luther's to promote popular dissatisfaction with Catholic authorities, turning Luther's revolt into a mass movement. Though he was the most read Protestant journalist in Reformation Germany, Luther was by no means alone. Many of his followers published prints for mass audiences, sometimes in conflict with his views. In central and southern Germany, Protestant propagandists turned Luther's message into a call for social equality and political freedom, initiating the German Peasants' War of 1525. Afterward Luther, his princes, and their Catholic counterparts became increasingly aware of the dangers as well as the advantages of popular journalism.

Most of the Reformation broadsides and pamphlets were published in the vernacular language to reach the widest possible readership. In 1534 French Protestants touched off a dramatic conflict in Paris, known as the "affaire des placards," by posting anti-Catholic propaganda throughout the city. Millions of religious prints were circulated by both Protestants and Catholics in their struggle against one another. More than merely communicating the controversial issues relating to church doctrine, these prints reported miracles, detailed the stories of local saints, and described the actions of witches and demons. During the wars of religion spanning the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they heightened Europeans' fears of heresy, contributing to the violence of religious conflict and the persecution of so-called witches. Popular journalists in mid-seventeenth-century England, for example, reported miracles, monstrosities, and omens that fostered support for the reestablishment of monarchy.

Since church and state were united in Europe at this time, the religious conflict of the Reformation era was very much a conflict of states. Martin Luther won crucial support for his revolt against the Catholic Church through his printed appeals to the German princes. In England, Henry VIII distributed prints throughout Britain justifying his break with the Catholic Church. In France, Francis I issued prints defending the alliance he made between Catholic France and the Protestants in wars against the Spanish Catholics. In addition to using print to promote their interests, both Protestant and Catholic states fought the war of words by banning and burning their opponents' prints. This action, however, could have the opposite effect. As Elizabeth Eisenstein points out, inclusion in the Index of Forbidden Books often promoted the sale of a work that otherwise might have garnered little attention. Thus, to identify and prevent the circulation of banned works, nearly every government instituted elaborate controls over the press. Over time states made political and religious censorship more thorough and more repressive.

However, these controls were unnecessary for most popular journalism. Popular political news nearly always promoted the interests of the state and its established church. When reporting politics, journalists most often announced new laws and regulations, alliances, wars, battles, and peace treaties. They also made regular reports on the major political figures of the day, noting all royal births, deaths, processions, and weddings. Coercion by the state was seldom applied and usually unnecessary to gain good press for the government. In fact most popular political news was adamantly xenophobic and patriotic.

The vast majority of popular news, however, ignored government and politics in favor of sensational news stories. Lacking a loyal clientele, each print had to sell itself with attention-grabbing news. Violence sold best, especially reports of murders, trials, and executions. News of natural disasters was also popular, especially when detailing mass fatalities. Reports of ghosts and monsters did not merely serve to inspire fiction, as they would in the nineteenth century, since early modern readers considered such reports to be factual. In addition to sensational reports, a large part of popular news related practical information. In town and country, newssheets announced the dates and locations of local fairs, festivals, and pilgrimages. Peasants prized the almanac above all other prints since they found so much use for its calendars, forecasts, horoscopes, and religious iconography. Such contents might be used to time planting and harvesting and to secure the protection of the saints for the year's crops.

Social historians look at the early modern popular press to expose the era's values and beliefs. Popular religious prints provide invaluable insight into the nature of religious belief and the early modern worldview. Miraculous divine interventions and satanic rites were not only reported as factual but were also pointed to as explanations for crime and injustice, acts of state, and natural calamities. Early modern journalism suggests that Europeans saw their world as the plaything of supernatural forces. Reports of violent crimes and punishments reveal the consistent affirmation of paternal authority, the vilification of independence in women and servants, and a widespread fascination with the grotesque. Read by elites as well as by the lower classes, these reports, especially those describing fantastical beasts and satanic monsters, suggest the distance between early modern and modern readers' acceptance of and belief in the marvelous.

Until the nineteenth century, broadsides and pamphlets were the most plentiful forms of printed news. But in the seventeenth century many of these prints lost their appeal for rich and poor alike. The upper classes began to disparage many popular genres as beneath their dignity. Scholars are uncertain as to how widespread this rejection of popular literature by elites was. A number of studies suggest that elites continued to buy certain popular pamphlets in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, a new periodical journalism aimed at elite readers emerged in the seventeenth century.


The first printed periodical appeared in Europe during the seventeenth century. In 1605 Abraham Berhoeven introduced Nieuwe Tindinghe, the first periodical newssheet. The Antwerp paper began as a weekly, but demand soon prompted three printings a week. By the middle of the seventeenth century weekly newssheets were printed in Holland, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Spain. While they had neither the format nor the content of the modern newspaper, these weeklies did provide subscribers with a regular source of news. The historian Henri-Jean Martin describes their proliferation as the birth of modern journalism. The speedier collection and publication of news in the early eighteenth century facilitated the introduction of dailies in Europe. The Daily Courant, Europe's first daily, appeared in London in 1702, building its initial success on its updates on the progress of the War of Spanish Succession. England's first professional newspaper editor, Thomas Gainsford, adopted the popular pamphlets' narrative style to make newspaper reporting more engaging for the reader. The result was a hybrid journalism, more factual than before but still sensational.

While popular newssheets were notorious for distorting and falsifying information, newspapers achieved a better reputation among elites in the seventeenth century. Newspaper publishers earned a measure of respect by occasionally correcting errors from an earlier issue, creating the impression that journalists strove for accuracy. The Spanish Gaceta de Zaragoza (Gazette of Zaragoza) explained in a May 1688 report that it was "impossible always to satisfy quickly the public curiosity without sometimes making mistakes" but assured readers that its use of diverse sources that confirmed one another would guarantee accuracy. Yet the impressions these techniques gave were deceiving. Most reports were based on second- and third-hand information relayed from witnesses to foreign correspondents and then from couriers to the papers' publishers, distorted in each transmission. In the eighteenth century some newspapers addressed this problem by offering readers more direct information. The Spectator, a successful London daily, took its name from its reporters' and correspondents' first-hand accounts. Nevertheless, journalism was not yet investigative.

Early newspaper readers subscribed to the new weeklies and dailies to gain access to news critical for business, especially international news that they could not easily obtain otherwise. These texts provided readers with the latest details of European wars and equally important news on trade and conflict in America, Africa, and Asia. Though they reported on the great political and economic events of their day, the weeklies were by no means a medium for the spread of the most important ideas of their time. Few of them printed the scientific discoveries of the seventeenth century that revolutionized astronomy and physics. When discoveries were occasionally described, they were presented in the briefest and most simplistic terms. The early newspapers, like the news pamphlets, gave far more attention to sensations. The seventeenth-century newspaper subscriber could read more about strange births and monsters than about the scientific breakthroughs of Galileo and Johannes Kepler.

To read about the latest ideas relating to science, philosophy, and politics, readers could turn to periodical literary reviews that appeared in Europe in the late seventeenth century. Two of the most important, Journal des savants and Philosophical Transactions, appeared in Paris and London respectively in 1665. Philosophical Transactions published numerous articles on Isaac Newton's breakthroughs in physics, and both journals reviewed his Philosophiae naturalis Principia mathematica (1687). By the mid-eighteenth century dozens of new scientific, philosophical, literary, and professional journals spread the ideas of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment. The dramatic change in Europeans' worldview during the eighteenth century is reflected in journalists' new explanations of events, attributing them to human and natural causes rather than to supernatural forces.

Journalists had established their influence over politics in the Reformation but wielded even greater power as a political force in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Factions in the English government mobilized political writers to win popular support for their causes during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Party leaders issued regular statements to their followers through printed pamphlets. By the early eighteenth century Grubb Street, the booksellers' street in London, was a center for the creation of political pamphlet propaganda purchased by rival factions in Parliament, and by the second half of the eighteenth century printers set up press shops in many of the smaller cities and towns of Britain. As a result the political pamphlet press made thousands of readers aware of the great debates of political philosophy and public policy.

While some early journalists, such as Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), enjoyed stable and profitable careers through service to the Crown, many were critical of their governments in a manner that appealed to a growing number of readers. As patronage shifted from the courts to the aristocratic salon, journalists became the tools of the nobility's attacks on absolutism. Moreover, coffeehouses and cafés provided these authors with a growing audience of middle-class readers, many of whom favored a more open society and polity. Pornographic libelles (lampoons) describing lurid details of the private lives of well-known personages, especially in royal courts, became the mid-eighteenth-century's best-sellers in many parts of Europe. Dressed up as philosophical treatises, they gave rise to a vast number of authors whom the historian Robert Darnton describes as "gutter Rousseaus." Throughout eighteenth-century Europe philosophes, radicals, and politically minded pornographers posed serious challenges to the authority and respect commanded by governments, earning those writers the reputation of constituting a separate and dangerous "republic of letters."

European monarchs attempted to counteract the threat by increasing controls over the press. Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of French King Louis XIII, attempted to promote the development of royal absolutism in France by establishing in 1634 the Académie Française (French Academy), a formal body of writers with control of French printing. Governments throughout Europe attempted to buy off influential journalists with pensions and sinecures. Richelieu rewarded Théophraste Renaudot, editor of France's most important weekly newspaper, La Gazette de France, with a handsome salary, the exclusive privilege to print weekly news in Paris, and news updates from royal dispatches. In turn, La Gazette de France remained a firm ally of church and state, supporting, for example, the church's condemnation of Galileo for his heretical assertion that the earth revolved around the sun. Since newspapers and journals had to meet their subscribers' expectations for regular and timely installments, the threat of imprisonment kept most periodical journalists loyal to the Crown.

Though the periodical press grew throughout the eighteenth century and exerted great influence over its readers, it catered mainly to an elite audience of aristocrats and the upper-middle classes. Stamp taxes and censorship kept newspapers from reaching middle- and lower-class readers, who continued to depend on the cheaper broadsides and pamphlets instead. Journalism was deeply influenced by this situation. In describing the effects of censorship under the Old Regime, Martin asserts that the press was denied "the margin of liberty indispensable for it to flourish and treat the weightier topics" (Martin, 1994, p. 414). But in 1789 the Old Regime and its controls over the press came crashing down, granting the press a whole new political freedom and power.


Britain was among the first of the European states to grant the press limited political freedom. In 1771 Parliament granted the press the right to report parliamentary debates. In the two decades preceding the French Revolution, Britain was a refuge for Europe's most liberal critics of the church and absolutist monarchies. The English press became the most radical in Europe. The political power of the British press prompted the English statesman Edmund Burke to describe the journalists present in Parliament as "the fourth estate." America's war for independence, the radicalism of John Wilkes and his followers at home, and the French Revolution and its wars fueled the dramatic growth of newspaper and pamphlet circulation. The annual circulation of London papers alone grew from nearly 10 million copies in 1760 to over 25 million in 1815. At the same time the provincial papers throughout urban Britain grew and exercised increasing influence on elections.

A great variety of political journalists, defenders and critics of the government alike, competed for the reading public's attention. By the early nineteenth century nearly every political party published its own newspaper. In Spain many newspapers were founded by sociedades patrióticas, political groups growing out of the informal discussion groups of Madrid cafés. Though no more numerous than conservative and nonpolitical writers, radical journalists inspired by Enlightenment ideas played a crucial role in bringing about a series of liberal revolutions in Europe, none more important than the French Revolution of 1789.

The French Revolution diminished censorship and generated a flood of new newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, and almanacs. The power and radicalism of French revolutionary journalism surpassed monarchs' worst fears. Liberal nobles used the press in 1788 to undermine absolute monarchy in France, and the nobles' revolt was itself undermined by an even larger pamphlet campaign. Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès wrote What Is the Third Estate? in 1789 and inspired the French to create a liberal constitutional and representative government. Politicians became journalists, and journalists such as Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Jacques Hébert became politicians who radicalized the revolution. Their role was significant because Parisian workers looked to them for insight and information. Because of the power they exercised and the fear they inspired in their political opponents, many journalists were murdered or executed at the height of the Revolution.

After 1793 French governments imposed strict censorship on political printing. Throughout Europe censorship was redoubled in the early nineteenth century to silence the political and social radicalism of journalists. Even Spain's brief moderate consitutional monarchy passed a law in 1822 that outlawed subversive prints that "injure the sacred and inviolable person of the King," warned against any attempt to stir rebellion, and even banned political allegory. But such strategies did not long stave off European liberals' demand for a free press. Increased censorship touched off revolution in France again in 1830, and journalists were crucial in the creation of a liberal monarchy. Journalists played an equally important role in the Chartist movement in England and in the 1848 revolutions on the Continent. While these were mainly urban revolutions in which journalists mobilized workers, democratic socialist pamphleteers created a peasant movement in France between 1849 and 1851 that demanded the liberalization of France's Second Republic. These peasants rose in revolt against Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat at the end of 1851, prompting his brutal repression of their democratic socialist movement and his reintroduction of severe press censorship. Though none of these revolutions succeeded in creating a lasting radical republic, the power of the press to mobilize the lower classes toward political ends encouraged journalists and politicians to expand the political press while governments made greater efforts to suppress it.

Among political periodicals, the socialist press has been of particular interest to social historians. Political repression and weak demand curtailed its success until nearly the beginning of the nineteenth century. Karl Marx's paper Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848) could be considered exceptionally successful with only six thousand subscribers during the 1848 revolution, when the Prussian press was freed of political repression. By the end of the century, however, socialist editors such as Jean Jaurès, theorists such as Jules Guesde, and writers such as Anatole France reached a large and sympathetic audience through socialist newspapers. Studies of the socialist press suggest the gradual development of working-class consciousness and illustrate the transformation of socialist thinking over time.

The nature of journalism changed in the era of European revolutions. In the last decade of the eighteenth century three London papers, the nonpartisan Times, the Whig Morning Chronicle, and the Tory Morning Post, began a fierce competition to be the first to print the latest news during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Couriers rushed the news, collected by domestic reporters and foreign correspondents, to waiting editors. The Times owners also invested in new techniques that decreased the time required to print a new edition. These papers assigned reporters to specific "beats," where they gained greater expertise and connections, enabling regular and more extensive reports. By the mid-nineteenth century readers showed a growing preference for fact over polemic, promoting a more factual journalistic style. Newspapers also encouraged reporters to move beyond mere description to investigate cause and effect. Taking advantage of the growing number of newspapers demanding the latest news, enterprising businesspeople, such as Charles Havas in Paris, Bernard Wolff in Berlin, and Paul Julius von Reuter in London, created agencies that collected news from foreign papers and correspondents and communicated it to their subscribers by courier, carrier pigeons, and eventually telegraph.

Although the speed of communicating news accelerated, the effect in Europe was limited to the few who could afford high subscription prices. Fearful of the political challenges of printed matter, governments prevented public sales and imposed stamp taxes sufficient to preclude middle- and lower-class subscriptions. In the early nineteenth century lower-middle-class readers accessed political papers by purchasing memberships in private libraries. Both middle- and working-class readers also found newspapers at subscribing bars and cafés. Few workers, however, read the political press through any means.

A few journalistic pioneers attempted to expand readership through three innovations. First, a number of French and British newspapers reduced the price of subscriptions by selling advertising space to the consumer industries of the industrial revolution. But even in 1846, after a decade of this practice, all the Parisian dailies combined could claim less than 200,000 subscribers throughout France. Though advertising did not create a mass audience for most European journals, it became a staple feature that manufacturers and sellers used to reach potential customers and that influenced marketing, business, and consumerism. Second, newspapers serialized popular novels. French newspapers printed great works by Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Alphonse-Marie-Louis de Prat de Lamartine, and Eugène Sue. Literature did indeed expand circulation among those who could afford subscriptions, but, more importantly, when newspapers eventually reached much larger audiences, the serialized novel greatly expanded fiction reading. Last, a number of magazine and newspaper editors applied new techniques of lithography to illustrate their serials. The English Penny Magazine, founded in 1830, and the German Pfennig Magazin (Penny magazine), begun in 1833, both featured woodcut illustrations. By mid-century more European publishers adopted the modern form of newspapers, offering the latest news, illustrations, and serial novels at prices reduced by extensive advertising.

Before the advent of mass circulation newspapers, journalism's greatest expansion resulted from the creation of countless professional journals, illustrated magazines, political newspapers, and provincial dailies that met the specialized interests of smaller readerships. While most of these publications remained prohibitively expensive for lower- and middle-class readers and none reached a large market, globally they brought variety to journalism. A truly mass newspaper press soon appeared.


After the mid-nineteenth century on the Continent, but earlier in Britain, a number of changes in the newspaper business converged with socioeconomic transformations to create a mass press in Europe. Growing disposable incomes and literacy in turn increased demand for the press. An important relationship existed between the expansion of literacy and the reciprocal growth of the press. Literacy rates from 60 to 80 percent in Britain, Germany, and France spurred the development of mass-circulation newspapers at mid-century, while low literacy postponed the expansion of the press until the late nineteenth century in southern and eastern Europe and the early twentieth century in Russia.

The development of mass presses also derived from changes in the newspaper business that increased supply and augmented demand. New printing technologies developed at mid-century made giant press-runs possible. More importantly mass-circulation newspapers increased consumer demand by downplaying politics and emphasizing sensationalism. After 1815 the Times of London outstripped its competitors in a climate of heavy censorship by remaining nonpartisan. John Walter, its founder, argued that a newspaper "should contain something suited to every palate . . . and by steering clear of extremes, hit the happy medium." The English "pauper press" began a newspaper revolution in the 1830s in part by de-emphasizing politics and refusing to pay the stamp tax. Halfhearted attempts to enforce the tax only generated publicity that boosted sales. In 1836 Parliament reduced the stamp tax to one penny and in 1855 abolished it, facilitating the dramatic rise in newspaper circulation. The "pauper press" also owed its success to its sensationalism. Henry Hetherington, publisher of The Twopenny Dispatch, emphasized crimes, fires, spectacles, and sports to make his paper one of the most popular in London by the mid-1830s.

In 1863 Polydore Milhaud's Petit journal (Small journal) touched off a similar newspaper explosion in France. The nonpolitical daily escaped the tax on political prints and sold at one-third the price of its competitors. Like its English counterparts, it published serialized novels and sensational news. By the 1880s Petit journal boasted over a million subscribers and soon had imitators. The illustrated mass-circulation dailies eventually replaced the news broadsides and pamphlets as the principal source of news for the lower classes.

Many social historians, anthropologists, folklorists, and sociologists have viewed the transition from the popular pamphlet and broadsheet press to the mass-circulation newspaper as a veritable cultural revolution. Eugen Weber describes it as the replacement of an oral culture in rural France with an urban-based written culture. While some historians have argued that these assertions overstate the differences between newspapers and their pamphlet and broadside predecessors, the mass-circulation newspaper did place newsmaking in the hands of more educated writers and editors and commercially oriented publishers. As popular news became the product of urban elites, their ideas gained broader acceptance. In dramatic reports of foreign massacres, vicious battles, heinous crimes, sensational trials, and executions, the newspapers addressed the topics traditional to broadside and pamphlet presses. Yet they did so in a manner that promoted new bourgeois ideas about nationalism and imperialism, social justice, moral order, masculinity, and femininity. The modern newspapers adopted traditional foci to gain a mass audience and spread elite ideas.

As newspapers reached a larger audience, journalists became more powerful. Reporters and editors gained notoriety through controversial press campaigns. William Howard Russell, a foreign correspondent for the Times, was famous for his scathing criticism of the mismanagement of the Crimean War. In the 1870s the passion and satire of two editors at Petit journal made their pseudonym, Timothy Trimm, a household word in Paris and provincial cities. French and German journalists fueled public support for the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and western European journalists significantly promoted empire building in subsequent decades. Without doubt the most dramatic journalistic act of the century was Émile Zola's 1898 editorial "J'accuse!" decrying the army's scandalous injustice against Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely accused of passing military secrets to the Germans. Affirming what Edmund Burke had said a century before about the power of journalists, Zola and journalists like him brought down the French government. Moreover, Georges Clemenceau, who published Zola's article in L'Aurore, used the press to build his own political career and eventually became France's president.


In the first decades of the twentieth century the sales of many mass-circulation dailies began to plateau in western Europe but continued to spread throughout southern and eastern Europe. Such dailies had already appeared in Italy at the end of the previous century, in Russia before World War I, and in Spain soon after the war. In content newspapers continued to appeal to the largest possible audience by emphasizing sensational news and avoiding political partisanship. Even as the press increasingly escaped from government censorship in western and central Europe, political content undermined sales if the editors took a stance unpopular with a portion of their readers. This is not to say that newspapers ignored important political issues. On the contrary, they emphasized domestic and international politics heavily, but papers toned down their partisanship, even those papers serving as the mouthpieces of specific parties and political organizations. As they spread throughout Europe, mass-circulation dailies more than ever before shaped public responses to major issues, political and otherwise. As a result, businessmen and politicians hired professional "public relations" specialists to win them favorable press coverage.

In the twentieth century many dailies adopted new forms and content that improved sales and altered modern journalism. Editors added large headlines to front page articles to attract buyers and titled each story to facilitate selective reading. In content they won additional readers by covering sports, greatly extending that coverage after World War I. Indeed sports journalism became so important to working-class readers that Socialist and Communist Party papers featured it as well. Though satirical drawings had been a staple of many newspapers since the mid-nineteenth century, twentieth-century papers gave greater attention to comic drawings that eventually became comic strips. Also in the early twentieth century newspapers began to replace illustrations with photographic images, and those quick to adopt the new technology, such as Paris-Soir, won larger readerships. Moreover the photograph gave rise to an entirely new medium, the photomagazine. Photojournalism in the first half of the twentieth century shifted the attention of its largely middle-class readers away from the harsh realities of the post–World War I and Great Depression era to a glamorous material culture.

Journalism also changed as a business. Newspapers employed large staffs of editors, reporters, photographers, and correspondents, who pursued journalism educations. During the interwar years many journalists formed organizations to promote professional interests and standards. Expanding news agencies, such as Havas and Reuters, provided their subscribers with fully written news stories, background material, photographs, and illustrations. A complex variety of distribution agencies that circulated papers through retailers, wholesalers, and delivery services replaced postal subscriptions and street peddlers.

State control greatly altered journalism in many parts of Europe. The Russian tsar Nicholas II tried to increase state influence over the press by making the St. Petersburg Telegraph Agency, a government authority, a major source of information for Russian newspapers. After the Russian Revolution the Communist government successfully put all periodicals under state control.

At the same time it increased newspaper circulation to over three times that of the pre-Revolution level. Through the press the Soviet government promoted the spread of literacy, which jumped from 20 percent at the end of the nineteenth century to over 80 percent on the eve of World War II. The professionalism of early Soviet journalists gave way under Joseph Stalin to a political cadre that made the major media, such as the Soviet newspaper Pravda, into propaganda disseminators. Scholars debate whether Stalinist journalists exercised a degree of autonomy in the construction of state journalism or were merely puppets of the government. The willing duplicity of Nazi and Fascist journalists is debated less. The Nazis effectively used newspapers, magazines, radio, and films to promote state propaganda both in and outside of Germany. In the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany thousands of journalists were willing government tools, hiding atrocities, promoting government policies, and distorting the public's perception of their state and society. So significant was their role in bringing about a world war that between 1944 and 1945 the victorious Allies abolished many of Europe's fascist and collaborationist newspapers and replaced them with new ones more suited to postwar politics. The war, however, did not end governments' control over the press. In Spain, Francisco Franco's government maintained strict controls over the press for thirty years. Even the more democratic states of postwar Western Europe applied numerous controls, especially on new media. Swedish political parties, for example, controlled radio and television news until the late 1960s.

Not only a tool of government, journalism also continued to play a decisive role in the changing of governments. Polish journalists promoted the Solidarity movement's opposition to Communist rule in the 1980s. After 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost allowed journalists to criticize Communist governments in the USSR and Eastern Europe and undermined the governments' popular support.

The new electronic media of the twentieth century transformed journalism. In 1922 Radiola, France's first radio station, initiated a partial return to the tradition of spoken news. Subscribing to Havas news agency and reading reports from national daily newspapers, radio did not at first challenge the preeminence of the newspaper. Within a decade, however, radio stations throughout Europe employed their own reporters and correspondents and subscribed to news services catering exclusively to radio, making them the most up-to-the-minute news source. Realizing the importance of radio, both Stalin and Adolf Hitler used it effectively in the 1930s to extend their control over their states and their neighbors. Radio altered the style of news writing. As radio news reporting became simpler and more concise, newspapers also adopted the style, which quickly became the norm for modern journalism. To compete with radio, newspapers became larger and diversified their content to satisfy more tastes, producing the modern comic strip, weather forecast, and horoscope.

Journalists also communicated the news through film and television. The interwar years were the golden age of newsreel photography in Europe. Newsreels featured films of significant events and personalities and after 1927 included a narrator explaining the images. Shown in movie theaters, they made moviegoers witnesses to events, but weeks and months afterward. In this capacity newsreels played a crucial role in exposing Nazi atrocities in images that words could not. In the 1950s television further revolutionized journalism by adding video to the up-to-the-minute reporting offered by radio. Constrained at first by its own novelty and by the weight and bulk of cameras, television initially relied on newsreels for its images. However, television stations soon employed their own staffs of reporters and foreign correspondents. In 1949 France's first television news program aired coverage of a balloon race that ended with the destruction of the television cameramen's balloon and created an immediate sensation. In 1951 television news began to air twice a day in France, and by 1961 these telecasts reached nearly every part of the country. In contrast to the United States, European television stations have been under the direct control of the government. In England, the British Broadcasting Corporation controlled television in the postwar period. Italian political parties directed all of Italy's national television networks until the late twentieth century. After the 1970s the proliferation of private cable and satellite stations distanced television from government control and promoted the development of stations specializing in television journalism.

Television accelerated the changes in journalism initiated by early twentieth-century media, continuing the trend toward shortened length and simplified content of reports. These techniques have influenced political campaigning, as politicians endeavor to present a pleasing image and to adopt an intimate tone for viewers. By adding the visual to radio's audio communication, television in a sense restored the audiovisual communication of news that preceded the spread of print. Yet television also continued the trend of the modern media to make news less interactive and less responsive to individual and small community needs and interests. By serving national publics, television, radio, and national newspapers have increased the distance between the event and the public.

The twentieth century closed with the spread of computer communications throughout Europe. Europeans began to rely on computer networks for communication and news in the late 1970s. Between 1978 and 1981 the French introduced TRANSPAC and TELETEL, public computer communication networks. Computer communications were not used widely because computers remained very expensive, however, Western European governments began to provide every home with access to national computer networks in the early 1980s. News, weather, transportation information, and a variety of other services became available through television sets or through small computer terminals, such as the French Minitel introduced in the 1980s. By 1988, 4 million French homes used Minitel, and computer communications increased fivefold. The Internet initiated the most dramatic transition by empowering the "Web surfer" to find news of particular interest. News agencies, television news networks, governments, corporations, and millions of other World Wide Web users offer a dizzying array of information. Print, audio, and video formats have become available at once, and the user can print a hard copy in seconds. The Internet has given Europeans a means to interact with news makers. While modern communications create easier access to more kinds of information, the overwhelming volume of available data gives greater significance than ever to the subjects chosen and judgments drawn by journalists. In the twenty-first century, journalists continue to shape public opinion and public policy. Despite the greater variety of information available to journalists, however, their foci and assessments remain very much informed by professional traditions.

See alsoProfessionals and Professionalization; Revolutions; New Social Movements (volume 3);Pornography (volume 4); and other articles in this section.


Altick, Richard D. Writers, Readers, and Occasions: Selected Essays on Victorian Literature and Life. Columbus, Ohio, 1989.

Bellanger, Claude, et al. Histoire générale de la presse française. Paris, 1969.

Boyce, George, James Curran, and Pauline Wingate, eds. Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day. London, 1978.

Brake, Laurel. Subjugated Knowledges: Journalism, Gender, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century. New York, 1994.

Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Princeton, N.J. 1987.

Chartier, Roger, ed. The Culture of Print: Power and the Uses of Print in Early ModernEurope. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Princeton, N.J., 1989.

Cheesman, Tom. The Shocking Ballad Picture Show: German Popular Literature andCultural History. Providence, R.I., 1994.

Darnton, Robert. The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France. New York, 1995.

Darnton, Robert. The Literary Underground of the Old Regime. Cambridge, Mass., 1982.

Darnton, Robert, and Daniel Roche, eds. Revolution in Print: The Press in France,1775–1800. Berkeley, Calif., 1989.

De la Motte, Dean, and Jeannene M. Przyblyski, eds. Making the News: Modernity and the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France. Amherst, Mass., 1999.

Edwards, Mark U., Jr. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther. Berkeley, Calif., 1994.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, U.K., 1983.

Esaiasson, Peter. "120 Years of Swedish Election Campaigns: A Story of the Rise and Decline of Political Parties and the Emergence of the Mass Media as Power Brokers." Scandinavian Political Studies 14, no. 3 (1991): 261–278.

Frank, Joseph. The Beginnings of the English Newspaper, 1620–1660. Cambridge, Mass., 1961.

Hardt, Hanno. "Pictures for the Masses: Photography and the Rise of Popular Magazines in Weimar Germany." Journal of Communication Inquiry 13, no. 1 (1989): 7–30.

Hollis, Patricia. The Pauper Press: A Study in Working-Class Radicalism of the 1830s. London, 1970.

Martin, Henri-Jean. The History and Power of Writing. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Chicago, 1994.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, Mass., 1994.

McReynolds, Louise. "Autocratic Journalism: The Case of the St. Petersburg Telegraph Agency." Slavic Review 49, no. 1 (1990): 48–57.

McReynolds, Louise. The News under Russia's Old Regime: The Development of aMass-Circulation Press. Princeton, N.J., 1991.

Neuberg, Victor E. Popular Literature: A History and Guide from the Beginning ofPrinting to the Year 1897. New York, 1977.

Nicholson, Eirwen E. C. "Consumers and Spectators: The Public of the Political Print in Eighteenth-Century England." History 81, no. 261 (1996): 5–21.

Palmer, Michael Beaussenat. Des petits journaux aux grandes agences: Naissance du journalisme moderne, 1863–1914. Paris, 1983.

Popkin, Jeremy D. Revolutionary News: The Press in France, 1789–1799. Durham, N.C., 1990.

Schulte, Henry F. The Spanish Press, 1470–1966: Print, Power, and Politics. Urbana, Ill., 1968.

Stephens, Mitchell. A History of News. New York, 1988.

Watt, Tessa. Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550–1640. Cambridge, U.K., 1991.

Weber, Eugen. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford, Calif., 1976.


views updated May 11 2018






Journalism is the gathering, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting of information through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, or the Internet by any news organization as a business. Just as journalism reports day-to-day news and current affairs, its attributes change with the times. Journalisms history is closely associated with democracy and business. Not only does journalism derive its financial strength and power from mass audiences purchasing the product, but it also attains its political strength by swaying the masses. Thus while many may decry the commercialization of information, the mark of success, whether financial or political, is seen in the number of people who access that information and therefore support the endeavor. It is described as the lifeblood of democracy. The intersection between politics and journalism has important and fundamental effects on the stability and legitimacy of democratic regimes.


Newsletters contained news that was written for merchants, businesspeople, and politicians during the seventeenth century. The newsletters exchanged sporadic information about friends abroad or in other colonies between people with common interests. This created an organized circulation, which eventually led to the development of the newspaper.

Pamphlets were published papers that dealt with public questions, while ballads were accounts written in verse. These were distributed in public houses, coffeehouses, and taverns. Such information was printed on broadsides, meaning it was printed on one side of a single sheet. These sheets were sold on the street for a few pence.

Journalisms popularity and influence in the political process emerged at about the same time as the European discovery and colonization of North America. Johannes Gutenberg (14001467) created the first moveable type press in 1455, yet it was not until Christopher Columbus (14511506) sailed from Spain in 1492 that the printing press was popularized in Europe. Columbus wrote many letters describing his discoveries of the Indies. In 1620, around the time the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, the first coranto, or pioneer newspapers, appeared for sale in the streets of London. The first printing press was imported to America in 1639. Over the next forty years, journalism became established in England with the first newspaper, the Weekly Newes.

In England, the popularization of such materials represented the first clash between government and journalism, with authors and importers of imported books being subject to censorship and harsh prosecutions as well as other impediments, such as high taxes. Undeterred by those punishments, the business of journalism grew. It is estimated that between 1640 and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, more than 30,000 political pamphlets and newspapers were issued. The beginnings of journalism also coincided with the rise of political parties in England. Political groups realized that if they could get endorsements from newsletters and pamphlets, their interests would be more easily disseminated to the public. This eventually led to the partisan press in both the United Kingdom and America.

The first continuous American newspaper began publishing in Boston on April 24, 1704. It was founded by the citys postmaster, John Campbell, and was called the Boston News-Letter. It carried news from London journals and focused on English politics and foreign wars. Local content was limited to the arrival of ships, deaths, sermons, political appointments, storms, crimes, and misadventures.

The modern newspaper progressed over the next 200 years, evolving from the broadsheets and pamphlets to weekly sheets and eventually the daily press. Notable figures in the early days of newspapers include Benjamin Franklin (17061790), who, with his brother James, published the New England Courant. Seeking new sales, Franklin established the publishing tradition of letters to the editor. Initially Franklin himself wrote letters under pseudonyms to create controversy and arouse interest in his own editorials. The first daily newspapers tended to be highly partisan. This partisan press eventually was replaced by the penny press.

Economies of scale figure prominently in the evolution of newspapers. As presses became larger, the need for greater capital also increased. Those with the most capital were able to secure larger presses and larger audiences, thereby pushing out of business the small, independent producers and creating larger, more standardized formats. The larger scale of the modern newspaper helped develop the craft and techniques of journalism. Tenants of modern journalism are objectivity, the inverted pyramid, and other conventions of standardized writing. The formatting of news in specific ways, such as the inverted pyramid, means that the most important information, the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why), are placed at the start of the story. This allows readers to find the most important facts quickly. It also means that if the story has to be edited because of space limitations, the last paragraphs are easily cut without losing the main story elements and without the need to rewrite the story.

In addition to movable type, other advances occurred in the creation of the newspaper that influenced the way in which news is reported. The stereotype was invented in 1725 by the Scottish goldsmith William Ged (16901749). This consisted of a printing plate of a whole page of type cast in a single mold. These stereotypes were mass produced and were thin enough to be sent through the mails. Large presses purchased the stereotype and sent it to various newspapers. Subscribing newspapers could simply take the stereotype of the news or of cartoons and reproduce them for local readers. The stereotype proved to be so successful that by 1877 nearly eight out of ten newspapers in America provided their readers the same political cartoon more cheaply than they could write and set their own. The term stereotype is now used to describe how ideas and public opinion were formed through a consistent message, often one that is simplistic and erroneous.


As competition increased, so did the need to be the first to break the news. Many technological advances in the nineteenth century facilitated news-gathering competition. These included the steamship, the railroad, and the magazine telegraph. The telegraph proved to be the most efficient means of conveying information over long distances, and the newspaper helped to popularize and ensure its success. While the telegraph was a boon for the speed of news, it was also expensive.

The first newswire, Agence Havas, was started in 1835 by Charles-Louis Havas (17831858), considered the father of the press agency. Havas translated material from abroad for the French national press. In 1940 the company was taken over by the state and renamed Agence Française de Presse (AFP). Twelve years later the first North American press agency was created, starting with an agreement between the publishers of the Journal of Commerce and the New York Herald. In 1848 the Associated Press (AP) was founded at a meeting of ten men representing six New York newspaper publishers. They pooled their efforts in collecting international news. Horace Greeley (18111872), the founding editor of the New York Tribune, was also a founder of the AP. Having a news wire license would mean a great deal to future newspaper barons because it would ensure their success against competitors who did not have access to the wire. By October 1851 the German-born Paul Julius Reuter (18161899) was transmitting stock market quotes between London and Paris over the Calais-Dover cable. His agency, which eventually became known as Reuters, extended its service to the whole British press and to other European countries. Other news wires that emerged were the United Press Association, set up by E. W. Scripps (18541926), U.S. Newswire, and Bloomberg, whose focus remains business news. Most countries have some form of newswire service. Newswires helped move newspapers away from partisan declarations. To be a successful news agency, one had to have many subscribing newspapers. The ability to get the story meant stripping the copy of its editorial content and focusing on the facts.

As newspapers became more powerful, their partisan nature extended their impact. Journalism was said to be so powerful that it could elect presidents as well as ruin political careers. One figure who changed the power structure of the partisan press was Joseph Pulitzer (18471911), whose career in publishing began inauspiciously with his account of being taken in as a scam artist, written for the Westliche Post, a German-language paper in St. Louis, Missouri. After establishing himself, he purchased the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at auction for $2,500 (Brian 2001, p. 31). Pulitzer had an inherent sense of social justice, which he brought to his paper. His editorial position was that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would not be a tool of partisan politics. Denis Brian (2001) noted Pulitzers pledge: that the paper opposes all frauds and shams wherever and whatever they are, will advocate principles and ideas rather than prejudices and partisanships (Brian 2001, p. 32).

Pulitzer is also associated with yellow journalism. Once the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was an established and successful paper, he moved to New York and purchased the New York World. Within a few years, he took a derelict paper and made it one of the most profitable newspapers in the most competitive U.S. market. To do this he made the paper affordable, cutting the price to 2 cents an issue, and focused on stories that attracted the mass public. Much of this centered on reporting crime and scandal. Later William Randolph Hearst (18631951), who admired Pulitzers business acumen, copied his success and launched the New York Journal to compete against the World. The competition for readers between the two New York papers culminated in the dueling Sunday supplements containing the Yellow Kid cartoons, the first cartoons published in color. The New York Press editor Ervin Wardman dubbed this competition yellow journalism, and the phrase soon became a metaphor for any kind of salacious reporting.

Yellow journalism is the reporting of scandal, divorce, and crime alongside sports. Yellow journalism also refers to false reports, faking of news or interviews, and heavy use of graphic pictures. The battle between Hearst and Pulitzer raged with misleading headlines and each accusing the other of false reports. While the era of yellow journalism reigned from 1892 to 1914, many of its features still linger in contemporary journalism: big headlines, the use of pictures to present information, and the colored comic Sunday supplement.

Despite being associated with the worst of journalism, Pulitzer is also associated with its best. His penchant for accuracy, brevity, and persistence became hallmarks of journalism. While at the time of his death Pulitzers estate was in excess of $18 million, he remained interested in the common good. His core journalistic credo was that journalism should never worry about the profits of the owners but rather about telling the truth and uncovering injustice. To this end he provided $2 million for the creation of the Columbia School of Journalism, which opened on September 30, 1912, just under a year after Pulitzers death.

While journalism had been big business for some time, the height of its power began at the end of the nineteenth century. As the investment in presses became larger, so did the business of journalism and the realization that more money could be made if one owned several small papers rather than one large paper. The person who pioneered this type of capital investment in newspapers was E. W. Scripps, who purchased established papers rather than start new ones. He would choose a city with 50,000 to 100,000 in population and purchase a paper already in operation. Most every year from 1893 until his death, he added nearly a half dozen papers to his holdings. In 1926 the Scripps chain owned thirty-four papers. Hearst too amassed a newspaper empire. The difference was that Hearst established himself in the largest American cities. By the end of 1922 Hearst owned twenty daily papers and eleven Sunday papers in thirteen markets. At his peak Hearst had bought or established forty-two daily papers.


Newspaper journalism began to wane in popularity as other communication technologies emerged. Radio had a unique ability to transmit wire information directly to the public. This challenged newspapers, which feared they would lose their influence. Initial attempts by newspapers to prevent radio from taking over journalism included blocking radio from receiving newswire stories. Nonetheless, there was little to prevent radio stations from reading the news from competing newspapers. When limiting information to radio did not work, newspapers tried to discredit radio journalism by claiming that radio could not uphold the ideals of objectivity, could not provide public service, or was bad for democracy. All these issues were resolved when AP lifted its ban on radio in 1939, allowing radio to compete with newspapers.

Just as radio challenged and changed the nature of journalism, so too did television news. Not only was information equally available, but television news provided better pictures than newspapers with the timeliness of radio. The focus on images in television news changed the nature of journalism, with images reigning paramount over content. From 1950 to the 1980s television news was the most popular means by which the public received information on current events. Televisions success was in part due to the ease of receiving the information as well as the visual nature of the medium.

The American networks created bureaus in countries around the world and furnished firsthand accounts of history unfolding. While newspapers were severely challenged by radio, both radio and television eventually lost part of their audience. While newspapers declined, they still maintain significant readership. Radio journalism has suffered the most and is used less frequently than other forms of journalism.

Despite the technical innovations of getting the message out, the period between the 1920s and 1970s saw journalists become more routinized and codified in their presentation of material. Journalism schools were created, and the occupation of journalist was elevated from a technical or trade occupationone that was also low payingto a profession characterized by higher education, social status, and eventually pay.

As journalism became more standardized, so too were complaints of perceived bias in the media. Those who supported more government intervention in the economy argued that because journalism is a big business, it focuses on protecting the elites and avoiding stories that might embarrass advertisers. Others, those who supported less government, charged that because journalists were becoming more educated, their views were more in keeping with left-wing intellectuals. At the height of the cold war Senator Joseph McCarthy (19081957) led the charge by accusing many prominent journalists (as well as entertainers) of being Communist sympathizers. In particular he took issue with the popular former war correspondent and radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow (19081965) as evidence. Murrow fought back, exposing McCarthys false accusations and setting the standard for hard-hitting investigative journalism. His documentary on McCarthy is considered the most famous ever broadcast, and it signaled the end of McCarthyism. When one considers that television news was still in its infancy, with relatively few people having direct access to television, and that it was a program not promoted by the network, it spoke to the potential impact of the medium. That impact was developed during the 1960s and 1970s with domestic events such as race relations and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. All these events were given heightened sense of crisis and immediacy in part because television news was able to provide the pictures to go along with the information.

In addition to broadcasting local events in North America as well as Europe, television news could provide pictures from faraway places such as Africa and Southeast Asia. Walter Lippmanns 1922 depiction of the world outside and the pictures in our heads (Lippmann 1922, p. 1) was never more true than with television news broadcasting images from faraway places.

Walter Cronkite, the managing editor and anchor of CBS News from 1962 to 1981, was a trusted and well-respected journalist in part because he maintained the CBS News policy of independent, nonpartisan reporting. Some argue that it was not the continuing pictures and stories of the war from Vietnam that changed the majority view on the conflict but the fact that Cronkite, a former World War II (19391945) correspondent, stepped aside from the neutral anchor to present his opinion on the war.

That legacy continued and culminated with the Washington Post s reporting of a break-in in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., in 1972. Relatively junior reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are credited with investigating the story in a series of newspaper articles that revealed that the break-in was linked to the Republican Party, whose officials were seeking information about the Democratic Party. President Richard Nixon eventually resigned rather than face impeachment. While many point to the Watergate reporting as the high-water mark for investigative journalism, others argue that the role of journalism in bringing down the president is more myth than fact. Edward Jay Epstein, for example, argues that Woodward and Bernstein were only slightly ahead of the prosecutors and relied on leaked information from the prosecutors case. As such, Epstein argues, the information would have come out anyway. It was not Woodward and Bernstein who uncovered the link between the burglars and the White House and traced the illegal activities to the Nixon campaign, it was the FBI. Epstein charges that Woodward and Bernstein systematically ignored or minimized the work of law enforcement officials to focus on those parts of the story that were leaked to them (as quoted in Feldstein 2004, p. 3).

Nixon aide Howard Dean states that the role of the journalists in the Watergate story was not investigative reporting but keeping the story alive long enough to legitimize law enforcement agents who were doing the investigation. The media coverage and subsequent frenzy is what kept the Watergate story in the public eye. The press coverage also helped to keep the publics interest alive during the televised hearings about the scandal. Ultimately, however, the business of journalism is sustained by the routine gathering of news rather than by investigative journalism. While television became dominant in news gathering and dissemination, the investigative model is ultimately time consuming and expensive. The day-to-day news business is focused on feeding the news cycle with short, easily digested information. As a result investigative articles are more rare than routine.

Only with the emergence of cable news networks did network television news begin its decline. Despite the pressures from other communications technologies, public opinion surveys indicate that local television news remains the most frequent source of information, followed by local newspapers.

Cable news networks challenged traditional television news in several ways. First, providing one service on cable was significantly cheaper than having to supply stations in every market. These savings allowed cable networks such as CNN to establish more bureaus around the world at a time when network television news had to close down bureaus or cut staff. The twenty-four-hour format gave CNN an advantage on stories with great public interest, such as the 1991 Gulf War. CNN not only changed the way international news is covered but also increased interest in and the scope of international affairs on public policy. Thus it is seen as a catalyst for Western governments to intervene in humanitarian crises, subsequently dubbed the CNN effect. The extent to which governments react to media coverage of suffering people is debatable, but the publics awareness of humanitarian crises are much more extensive as a result of the twenty-four-hour news format. By shifting the focus from local topics to international issues, the focus of the public has become more globalized.

The popularization of the Internet has blurred the lines of journalism and public comment. The Internet not only allows for on-demand news, which traditional media have adopted, but it also allows for individuals not normally considered journalists to present their interpretations of current affairs. The Web log, or blog, is a Web site on which individuals write their views on any subject. Blogs have been associated with breaking publication bans, providing critical commentary on accepted journalistic stories, and popularizing certain political interests. Just as challenges to newspapers were discredited as not being proper journalism, traditional journalists also question and try to discredit blogs. The current definition of journalism disavows blog writers in that they do not typically write for commercial interests. The Washington Press Gallery, for example, limits membership by stipulating that to qualify as a journalist, one must be employed by a periodical that is published for profit and is supported chiefly by advertising or by subscription (United States House of Representatives, Periodical Press Gallery, Rules and Regulations).

SEE ALSO Democracy; Internet; Media; Medium Is the Message; Radio Talk Shows; Television; Watergate


Barton, Gina. 2002. What Is a Jour-na-list? Quill Magazine, (May): 1013.

Brian, Denis. 2001. Pulitzer: A Life. New York: Wiley.

Carey, James, W. 1974. The Problem of Journalism History. Journalism History 1 (1): 35, 27.

Dizard, Wilson, Jr. 2000. Old Media, New Media: Mass Communications in the Information Age. 3rd ed. New York: Longman.

Feldstein, Mark. 2004. Watergate Revisited. American Journalism Review, August-September.

Gramling, Oliver. 1940. AP: The Story of News. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat.

Jackaway, Gwenyth. 1995. Media at War: Radios Challenge to the Newspapers, 19241939. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Lippmann, Walter. 1922. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Mott, Frank Luther. 1962. American Journalism: A History: 16901960. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan.

Oreskes, Michael. 2000. News: A Bit Hard to Define. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 5 (3): 102104.

Payne, George Henry. 1920. History of Journalism in the United States. New York and London: Appleton.

Robinson, Piers. 2002. The CNN Effect: The Myth of News, Foreign Policy, and Intervention. London and New York: Routledge.

Saad, Lydia. 2007. Local TV Is No. 1 Source of News for Americans: Network and Cable News Viewership Down. Gallup Poll, January 5.

Sperber, A. M. 1998. Murrow: His Life and Times. New York: Fordham University Press.

United States House of Representatives. Periodical Press Gallery, Rules and Regulations.

Lydia Miljan


views updated May 23 2018


Selection and recruitment

Training for the profession

Job orientation of the professional


By the conventional definition of the word “profession,” the occupation of journalist is not a profession at all. Although an increasing number of practitioners are trained in academic institutions, no such formal training is required either to secure a job or to fill it well; some highly successful journalists have been men of slight formal education. In the United States, furthermore, there is no system of licensure or certification of journalists; unlike a lawyer or a physician, the journalist requires as the only certification of his competence the willingness of someone to pay for his product. Concomitantly, his professional activities are not policed by any official body of the profession; he cannot be formally restrained from practice by his peers. Many nations have some kind of system of registration or licensing; although experience and demonstration of competence may be specified as a requirement in these countries, the purpose of such registration often is to make surveillance by political authorities easier or to control entrance into what is essentially a trade union.

The tendency to view the journalist as a member of a profession seems to rest largely on the recognition of the importance of his work; he is seen as a man of high responsibility more than as the inheritor of a long tradition of meritorious performance. This ascription of responsibility, in turn, seems to rest upon the general belief that the mass media have much influence in society. The fact that the nature or extent of this influence is hard to demonstrate empirically (see Klapper 1960) seems to have little effect upon the newsman’s willingness to assume it and the rest of society’s readiness to concede it.

Who are the journalists? “Journalism” is a word of broad and varied meaning; so is “journalist.” As used in this article, the word “journalist” or “newsman” refers to a person whose primary occupation is the gathering, writing, and editing of material which consists largely of the reporting or interpretation of current events. Such a definition leaves out many persons professionally involved in mass communications: advertising and public relations men, those on the “business side,” and several kinds of part-time contributors, ranging from “stringers,” who provide routine coverage of minor news on a piecework basis, to the intellectuals who contribute to the “culture” pages of the great dailies of western Europe. But the essential characteristics of these complex systems of mass communication would seem to be best demonstrated by the full-time employees who provide the bulk of the product.

The lack of systematic study of the intellectual is frequently noted by sociologists and other students of society; the profession of journalism is no exception. There is more information available on the profession in the United States than in any other country, but even these data are skimpy and drawn largely from surveys which were often designed primarily for some other purpose. Studies of organizational characteristics and role behavior have been confined almost entirely to the United States, and there have been few of these. There is a sizable body of writing about the profession from European, British, and Soviet sources, but the larger part of this literature tends to be abstractly analytical and to center upon such concepts as journalists’ rights and responsibilities. The autobiographical writings of newsmen—and there have been hundreds of such volumes—frequently provide valuable personal insights and impressions; for example, the works of Lincoln Steffens (1931), Eric Sevareid (1946), Webb Miller (1936), Vin-cent Sheean (1935), and T. S. Matthews (1960).

Selection and recruitment

Available evidence indicates that most professional journalists in the United States come from the upper socioeconomic bracket; various studies (see, for instance, Rosten 1937; Deutschmann 1957; 1958) of discrete groups of practicing journalists show percentage ranges from 40 to 80 per cent with fathers in the professional, managerial, or proprietary occupational groups. There is some slight evidence (Kimball & Lubell 1960) that there is an increasing representation of “blue-collar” background in those now choosing the field, but substantially journalism in the United States re-mains a field of work for those who settle for the same, or in some cases lesser, social position. It is not a profession, apparently, which particularly recommends itself to the poor-but-bright boy as a channel of upward mobility. Most young people who choose the field do so early, many by the twelfth grade, most of the rest by the junior year in college. A study of 1,500 high school upperclassmen who worked on high school papers (Kimball & Lubell 1960) indicates that two factors are most important in choosing journalism as a career; the beliefs that the work is “interesting” and that it is “useful to society.” These students ranked the field well below the classic professions in prestige, economic security, prospects for good family life, and financial reward. An idealistic commitment, then, was of major importance to these students in their choice, and other studies and observation tend to confirm the finding. “Scratch a reporter,” the phrase goes, “and you find a reformer.” The feeling that the work provides an opportunity for self-expression also appears to be an important element in occupational choice. The problem of accommodation of idealized expectations to institutional realities is characteristic of many people in the profession.

There is no substantial body of information on either the socioeconomic origins or the reason for career choice among journalists outside the United States, but some cautious inferences can be made. Most western European journalists, as defined here, completed their formal academic training with the secondary school; their lack of higher education may indicate family backgrounds in which higher education is not a normal expectation. Further, the press on the continent of Europe is highly politicized, and the journalist is generally a member of a trade union. The young man who chooses this career in such a context has a more specific definition of “usefulness to society,” perhaps, but within that definition he would seem to share a sense of social purpose. He is not likely to be a social climber; seldom in Western society does the ordi-nary working journalist have high status. The journalist in the U.S.S.R. is likely to be chosen for the profession rather than choosing it himself; in either case, as Alex Inkeles (1950) points out, his identity as a party worker is more important than any specific assignment. Since there are few journalists in new and developing countries, recruiting for the profession is much more important than studying it. The role of the mass media in national development is generally assumed to be critical (for ex-ample, see Schramm 1964), but in much of Africa and Asia the only really professional newsmen are, or were, the Anglo-European employees of foreign-owned newspapers. New men have to be recruited, trained, and set to work; often they will have to be drawn from a pool of potential leaders that is tragically small. It is significant that most of the journalists of an atypical “new” nation, Israel, were men of long professional experience, which was often gained in Europe (Gill 1959). It is precisely the lack of this kind of resource that cripples the building of news organizations in most developing countries and sets great problems for national leadership in deciding where scarce resources of competence should be assigned. It also means, however, that the journalist in these nations begins with high status and has great opportunity for making it higher.

Training for the profession

Hard data on the educational background of journalists are difficult to find for any country, including the United States. The U.S. Census of 1960 projects a total of about 110,000 persons in the category “editors and reporters” and indicates that about 40 per cent have had four or more years of college (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1963). There are no census data on the number among these who studied journalism. A 1965 survey, based on a relatively small sample and with slightly different categories, indicated that 58 per cent of “news-editorial staff” had college degrees and that about half of these had concentrated in journalism (Oden-dahl 1965). Compared with data from a similar study done in 1954, there seems to have been a small increase in the percentage of working newsmen with college degrees (particularly advanced degrees), but the percentage with journalism degrees has remained about the same. These findings are contrary to the general assumption, on the part of both the profession and journalism educators, that the percentage of journalism degrees has been increasing, modestly but steadily, since the establishment of the first American school of journalism at the University of Missouri in 1908.

After considerable early hostility to the idea of training for journalism in college, American publishers and broadcasters have come to look upon such programs as a primary source of new personnel. Today, U.S. education for journalism puts heavy stress upon the traditional liberal arts and social sciences and thus upon the newsman’s need to know something about many fields of knowledge. Accrediting procedures, as set out by the American Council on Education in Journalism, suggest that programs should contain no more than 25 per cent of the total course work in journalism; in practice, the figure seldom runs over 30 per cent. Most schools and departments provide training in the essential skills of writing and editing; some have elaborate facilities, including photographic labora-tories, wire-service machines, and laboratory news-papers. Most teachers of journalism at the college level have substantial professional experience, either before or concomitant with their teaching careers, but PH.D.S with primary training in research are beginning to come into the field as well. Although there is a good deal of variety among journalism schools and departments, ranging from some which are concerned largely with preparing the student to fit smoothly into current jobs to some which are largely research-oriented, there is little evidence to support the common charge that such programs are mainly preoccupied with teaching “techniques.”

The U.S. newsman without academic training in journalism learns his trade, in most cases, on the job, in a process generally too casual to be referred to as an apprenticeship. On metropolitan dailies, he may start as a copy boy; elsewhere, as a reporter beginning with simple and routine assignments. He thus acquires perceptions of his role in the news bureaucracy, and of the social setting of institutionalized mass communications while he is learning the rudiments of the craft. The academically trained journalist, on the other hand, has been exposed to a wider and more systematically organized view of the structure and workings of the mass media. There is no significant evidence concerning the differential effects, if any, of these kinds of preparation. There is no longer much debate about the value of academic training in journalism, although many editors may casually downgrade it; and there is little tendency for news-rooms to polarize into journalism-school versus non-journalism-school cliques. The newsman seems to advance in position and salary largely in terms of “how well he does his job”—in other words, the ease with which he adapts to his superior’s view of his proper role.

From its American origins, formal education for journalism has become common in the rest of the world, although the geographical pattern is spotty and the types of programs and their institutional settings vary widely. After World War II the Soviet Union developed five-year degree programs in ten of its major universities; those in Kiev, Lvov, and Moscow are the most elaborate (Khudiakov 1958). In addition, an extensive program of short courses brings working newsmen in for refresher work or updating; night school courses also are available in larger cities. Given the objectives of the Soviet system of mass communication, the content of this instruction is highly political, but it also emphasizes craft skills. Journalism education in the People’s Republic of China is structurally similar to the Soviet system; in 1965 three Chinese universities were known to offer journalism degree programs (United Nations ... 1965).

Ten universities in Japan offer journalism degrees or certificates, and curricula resemble those in U.S. universities. The widest variety of types of journalism is available in Latin America; the 57 entities on that continent that offer training for the profession range from small privately owned commercial schools to national universities. Some of the latter (for example, the University of Chile) closely resemble the larger U.S. schools of journalism, and this seems to be the general direction of development on the continent.

Each of the major countries of continental Europe has some kind of academic journalism training, but these generally have little resemblance to the American or Soviet pattern. Some programs have a university base (for example, L’École de Journalisme, University Louvain; Istituto di Pubblicismo, University of Rome; Institut für Publizistik, Free University of Berlin). Broadly speaking, university-anchored entities tend to be oriented toward research and descriptive analysis; there is a common feeling among European academicians that training for the profession is not appropriate to the regular university curriculum. Practical training in craft skills tends to be concentrated in special establishments which are staffed by former or part-time professionals and often involve a kind of concurrent internship on participating newspapers. These are essentially vocational schools, with programs of one or two years’ length (for example, Le Centre de Formation des Journalistes, Paris; Werner-Friedmann Institut, Munich; Institut pour Journalistes, Brussels). Some idea of the limited impact of these training programs can be gained from France, where in 1959, 200 of about 8,000 registered professional journalists had received formal professional training (Voyenne 1959). There is no recognized academic training for journalists in the United Kingdom, but entry into the profession requires completion of a nation-wide formal apprenticeship program under the direction of the National Council for the Training of Journalists, in which all newspapers participate (Dodge 1965).

New and underdeveloped nations give the development of a cadre of capable journalists a high priority, and most of the countries of Africa now are establishing programs of instruction. There were eight programs on the continent in 1965, including three in universities. In addition, various international agencies, such as UNESCO, the International Press Institute, and the African-American Institute, have been involved, especially in providing short-term practical courses. One of India’s ten institutions offering training for journalism goes back to 1941, but the remainder are post-World War II. Most are postgraduate, which means that admission is difficult and enrollments are small.

Generally, underdeveloped countries are attempting to enlarge their resources of competent newsmen. International organizations are providing assistance; the United States example is often relied upon, and American teachers of journalism have been involved in the operations of many overseas programs since 1945. The academic preparation of journalists is a growing trend, but in most countries the workers so trained will be a small percentage of the professional force for several more decades.

Job orientation of the professional

The profession of journalism has been defined here as a field of full-time work concerned with the processing of information related to current affairs, The popular stereotype of the newsman is the reporter, who gathers information and then writes a news story. Although writers of popular fiction have made this a colorful and exciting role (at least in the United States; interestingly, the journalist seldom appears as hero in other cultures), it consists largely of routine: the daily checking of regular sources, the writing of standard accounts of happenings which themselves become standardized because they are written about. Like most other aspects of the profession, the relationship between the reporter and his regular sources has been little studied. Frequently the objectives of the re-porter and the source, as well as their conception of the basic function of the news outlet, are in opposition; the source sees the newspapers’ chief function as giving publicity and avoiding controversy; the reporter sees it as the exposure of conflict (Edelstein & Schultz 1963; Nimmo 1964).

The news-handling hierarchy

At the top of the news-handling hierarchy in a newspaper is the managing editor (in news broadcasting, a news director). The managing editor supervises the work of various specialized editors who do the actual supervision of news personnel: city editor, wire editor (who is responsible for the choice and processing of material received from news agencies), sports and society editors. This supervisor gives the reporters under his direction their daily assignments, generally with a rough indication of the length desired, and passes judgment on the stories when they come in; he may order them rewritten, discard them altogether, or accept them. The processing of this copy is done on “the desk” by copy editors, who cut, correct for style and mechanics if necessary, and write headlines. Large daily news-papers also have rewrite men on the desk; these are writers who take material over the telephone from reporters and then write the actual stories.

There are, then, three discrete roles: that of news gatherer-writer, that of copy editor and head-line writer, and that of supervisor. This tight triumvirate represents the basic news-handling process in daily and weekly newspapers; in weekly news magazines; and, generally in simpler form, in broadcast journalism. In almost every setting it functions under demanding conditions: close personal relationships with constant interaction; continual decision making, little of it consciously centered on policy considerations, much on accumulated perceptions of role relationships; constant pressure of time which hinders careful consideration and revision either before or after the story is written.

Journalists other than these basic news handlers—editorial writers, columnists, and various feature specialists—often work under less stringent demands of time and sometimes in simpler hierarchies, but the essential dimensions of their roles are the same.

Professional advancement—up or out?

The newsman’s opportunity for upward mobility within the news business is limited. There is an ancient saw in the newspaper field that deskmen are old reporters whose feet have given out; many men on the desk did begin as reporters. Supervisory editors—again, within the news-handling triumvirate— almost invariably have been either reporters or deskmen and in many cases have had experience as both. There is some evidence (Jones & Swanson 1954) that this structure does tend to reward ability, that is, that supervisory personnel rank higher on standard tests which would seem to measure competence. The most significant measure of mobility, however, is not the process of internal pro-motion but the tendency to move into other kinds of work. Studies of the American newspaper field repeatedly have indicated a tendency to work in the field for a relatively short time and then move on to other activities (see, for instance, Deutschmann 1957; 1958). The median age of editorial personnel in American newspapers is apparently somewhere around 35. A study of nonmetropolitan news-papers indicated that more than 70 per cent of news-handling personnel had been on their jobs for less than five years. It has been estimated that one of every three newspapermen in their thirties who are now on the job will leave it.

This problem of departing manpower has been a major concern of newspaper publishers, particularly in the United States, and projections indicate a worsening situation in the future. It is complicated by the fact that only about 5 per cent of those who leave the news business ever come back; occupational movement is almost entirely outward. For this reason, recruitment of new staff members and of journalism students has received considerable attention from both the industry and journalism’s academicians. During the past decade, journalism schools have regularly reported three to five times as many jobs available as graduates to fill them.

Evidence indicates that most of these newsmen do not leave the field of mass communication; there is substantial movement into such fields as public relations, advertising, and industrial editing (Keinzle 1963). The essential pattern of the shift is from news handling into areas in which skills already acquired are still useful. However, a substantial number of newsmen remain in the field, find great satisfaction in it, and never seriously contemplate leaving. Those who made a career decision early and had college training in journalism are most likely to be in this category. Studies of job satisfaction among those who do stay show, as the salient element, the continued finding of the work as “interesting.”

Why do newsmen leave the field? Investigation tends to show a predictable cluster of complaints: low pay, unsatisfactory conditions of work (for reporters on small newspapers and broadcasting operations, in particular, hours are often long and irregular), and boredom with routine. Certainly money is important in the decision to move out; although news personnel salaries in the United States have risen considerably in the past decade —a study for the National Science Foundation (Bureau of Social Science Research 1963, p. 53) showed journalists tenth in median income ($5,130) two years after college graduation in a list of forty representative occupations—there generally is more money to be had in writing press releases and speeches or putting out employee magazines. There is also less pressure and a more predictable pattern of daily living.

Job satisfaction and institutional pressures

The structure of institutionalized mass communications in the United States and the role of the individual in it also affect the satisfaction the newsman finds in his job. In many ways the characteristic internal organization of the news business conforms to the standard sociological descriptions of bureaucracy. A premium is put upon the organization’s technical efficiency, with great emphasis upon accuracy, speed, continuity, and sharply defined lines of authority with control from the top. There is little time for experimentation which may lead to waste; responses must be predictable; the basic learning of the first few weeks on the job is the establishment of such responses. From the individual’s point of view, the most significant effect of bureaucracy is, of course, its tendency to capture the people in it and substitute its own structure for individual creativity or the coherent pursuit of values. The profession of journalism in the United States is particularly vulnerable to this kind of ossification.

There has been relatively little study of the journalist’s relation to the framework and context of his work. One elite group has been studied in some detail: the Washington correspondents (Rosten 1937; compare such later treatments of the topic as Rivers 1960; Cohen 1963; Nimmo 1964). This group is too small, as well as too much of an elite, to be taken as representative of the profession, but certain fundamental conclusions parallel those which can be deduced from scattered studies of other groups (see, for instance, Gieber 1960; Judd 1961; Deutschmann 1957; 1958; White 1950; Breed 1955). No two of these studies (with the exception of Rivers’ updating of Rosten) have been organized in such a fashion as to provide rigid comparability, and the variety of data involved is capable of various interpretations. Certain conclusions, however, are highly persuasive.

Many, if not most, persons who choose journalism as a profession do so in part because of their social values. They feel it is a way to do something about the world; it promises to be a useful occupation, in the highest sense of the word “useful.” Yet the day-to-day practice of the profession cannot be set against this goal for measurement. The newsman feels his first obligation is to his audience, but his view of that audience is curiously vague and generalized; there is a striking unanimity of findings on this point. He feels that his job is the molding of public opinion, but he is of necessity vague about what constitutes a “public or what a supposed public is thinking.” Therefore, he is content to satisfy the bureaucracy: as one of Judd’s respondents put it, “if the city editor will accept a story, it is good enough for everyone” (Judd 1961, p. 39).

The journalist is seldom told specifically in advance how to decide what is news or how to handle it once he decides. His decisions are subject to re-vision by those in other roles, but generally after the fact; as Rosten (1937) first pointed out, the newsman learns what not to do from the stories that are rewritten or go unused. He therefore operates, in the classic bureaucratic fashion, within an unmistakable pattern of control, that is, control through structure. This is even true of publications generally assumed to be almost idiosyncratically reflective of a single personality: a writer for Time magazine, for example, is seldom told how to handle a story when it is assigned to him.

Politics and the newsman. More often than not, the American newsman is out of political sympathy with his employer; there is an old joke that publishers are Republicans but reporters are Democrats, and there is some evidence to confirm this. For example, a majority of U.S. newspapers have consistently supported the Republican candidate for president in the period 1936–1960, but informal preference polls of reporters assigned to cover the campaigns have regularly turned up majorities favoring the Democrat. Even if the reporter sees himself as not a party man, he is generally aware of a difference between himself and the top of the hierarchy on a liberal-conservative scale. There is little he can do about this; if he produces the wrong responses, he simply interferes with the efficiency of the organization, and if he does it frequently enough it will either isolate or reject him. The greatest force for conservatism which he faces is not the political commitments of his superiors, in any case, but the very nature of the organization.

Occupational isolation. He also lacks reinforcement by factors outside the organization in which he works. Max Weber pointed out that journalists have no clear-cut social classification (Weber 1919); recent rankings of occupations by the general population (National Opinion Research Center 1947; compare Reiss et al. 1961, p. 263) indicate that the editor or reporter falls somewhere in between the white-collar and blue-collar rankings in public prestige. In the United States the newsman has no formal certification of his competence; other than by the first amendment to the constitution and some minor state legislation, he has no special status under the law. There are various codes of ethics in the profession, but these tend to be both vague and ignored (only one attempt has been made to expel a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors under that organization’s code of ethics, which is perhaps the best-known such statement in American journalism, and the attempt aborted). If he works on a metropolitan daily, he may be a member of a trade union; the American Newspaper Guild, an AFL-CIO affiliate, dominates newsrooms in some of the largest cities, but most newsmen have no such connection.

Given this lack of formalized “outside” values and reinforcing reference groups, the professional journalist comes close to the prototype of the intellectual in a bureaucracy (Merton [1949] 1957, pp. 207–224) and seems to fit the familiar pattern of displacement of goals: “.. . a transference of the sentiments from the aims of the organization onto the particular details of behavior required by the rules. Adherence to the rules, originally conceived as a means, becomes transformed into an end-in-itself” (p. 199). Walter Gieber (1963) has shown in addition that in some cases this phenomenon ex-tends to the point where the newsman may see the same public issue from two quite different points of view, evaluating it in one way as a newsman and quite differently as a citizen of the community. The day-to-day process of gathering, writing, and editing the news, however, represents an almost classic case of bureaucratization.

The extent to which this domination of the news-handling operation by organizational structure is related to the continued movement out of the field of journalism as it has been defined here is not clear, and blithe assumptions would be un-warranted. No amount of analysis can belie the fact that many newsmen (apparently about half) remain in their jobs throughout their careers, find them stimulating and intellectually rewarding, and do excellent work.

Journalism outside the United States

The newsman in countries other than the United States is generally in a somewhat different position. Although the internal structure and basic functioning of the organization are the same, there are external points of reference—repositories of values, in a sense—which overlap and frequently conflict with the primary organization. Most journalists in Europe and Latin America (and, needless to say, in the communist-bloc countries) are members of trade unions or their equivalent. For example, 90 per cent of British journalists are members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). Journalists’ trade unions not only establish, through negotiation, rates of pay, working conditions, and fringe benefits; in some cases they provide encouragement for independence. Thus the British NUJ offers “full financial support to any member who may be victimised for refusing to do work Incompatible with the honor and interests of the profession’” (Kenyon 1948, p. 15). In France, reinforcement is provided by the law of 1935, which contains a “conscience clause” specifying that a newsman who leaves a job because the political line of his employing newspaper has become unpalatable is entitled to the same benefits as those who lose their jobs involuntarily, including severance pay (Voyenne 1962).

Further, almost all countries outside the United States have a body of press law. This is not necessarily desirable; such laws do, however, provide a solid definition of the society’s expectations of the profession, as well as a special status. The last twenty years have also seen a sharp rise in the number of what are generically often referred to as courts of honor. These are national bodies, of varying composition, which hear complaints by the public against the press (and, in some cases, by the press against outside individuals) and, if the evidence warrants, issue formal censure against specific offenders. These bodies, of which the British Press Council is perhaps the best known, include representatives of the profession in their membership, and although their powers are generally limited to the formal pronouncement of censure, they are generally agreed to have influence. More than fifty countries now have some such entity; the idea has never been seriously considered in the United States.

American and foreign journalists compared

Commonwealth, European, Latin American, and communist-bloc journalists, then, operate within a much more sharply defined context and a more formalized value system than their American colleagues. Non-American journalists may still be members of a mass communications bureaucracy; but a significant difference may rest in the fact that they are oriented toward not one bureaucracy, but several, and that these bureaucracies frequently contend with each other. The existence of national newspapers in such countries as England and Japan helps define the job; the newsman begins in the provinces and works up by traditional steps to the top bracket. By contrast, the U.S. newsman can become a national figure only by becoming a columnist for more than one paper.

There are no substantial data concerning job satisfaction or mobility rates in the profession out-side the United States. Casual observation might lead to the conclusion that a much higher percentage of European journalists, in particular, remain in their jobs permanently, but this may not be true. Even if it is, other factors might explain this fact, particularly the very modest development in most other countries of the service fields into which American journalists ordinarily move—public relations, advertising, industrial editing, and journalism teaching. Newspaper owners in Europe have begun to note the loss of personnel to these areas.

It would be specious to contend that the unique bureaucratization of the profession of journalism in the United States is entirely negative in its effects. This would imply that the press in the United States is of low quality and destined to go lower, and such is hardly the case; indeed, it is generally considered, as a whole, the best press system in the world. The increasing traffic from overseas to American schools of journalism, and the increasing use of the American model in journalism elsewhere, speaks for itself.

William E. Porter

[See alsoCommunication, mass.]


Breed, Warren 1955 Social Control in the Newsroom: A Functional Analysis.Social Forces 33:326–335.

Bureau of Social Science Research, Washington, D.C. 1963 Two Years After the College Degree: Work and Further Study Patterns; Report on a 1960 Survey of 1958 College Graduates. Prepared for the National Science Foundation. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Cohen, Bernard C. 1963 The Press and Foreign Policy. Princeton Univ. Press.

Deutschmann, Paul 1957 The Michigan Newspaperman: The Manpower Problem. Unpublished manu-script, Michigan State Univ., Communications Research Center.

Deutschmann, Paul 1958 The Michigan Newspaperman: Attitudes Toward the General Field of News-paper Work. Unpublished manuscript, Michigan State Univ., Communications Research Center.

Dodge, John 1965 Britain Re-jigs Its Training Scheme. Journalism Quarterly 42:466–470.

Edelstein, Alex S.; and Schultz, J. Elaine 1963 The Weekly Newspaper’s Leadership Role as Seen by Community Leaders: Weekly Editor’s Role in Offering Opinion Leadership and in Initiating Community Projects. Journalism Quarterly 40:565–574.

Gieber, Walter 1960 How the “Gatekeepers” View Local Civil Liberties News: Various Factors Which Influence the “Fate” of the Civil Rights News Story. Journalism Quarterly 37:199–205.

Gieber, Walter 1963 The Private vs. the Public Role of the Newsman. Unpublished manuscript, San Francisco State College, Department of Journalism.

Gill, Rafael E. 1959 Journalists in Israel: A Statistical Portrait. Journalism Quarterly 36:57–62.

Inkeles, Alex (1950) 1958 Public Opinion in Soviet Russia: A Study in Mass Persuasion. 3d printing, enl. Russian Research Center Studies, No. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Jones, Robert L.; and Swanson, Charles E. 1954 Small-city Daily Newspapermen: Their Abilities and Interests. Journalism Quarterly 31:38–55.

Judd, Robert P. 1961 The Newspaper Reporter in a Suburban City. Journalism Quarterly 38:35–42.

Keinzle, George 1963 The Role of the Journalism Schools to the Graduate. The APME Red Book 16: 40–45.

Kenyon, A. (editor) 1948 Entry Into Journalism: A Guide for Students, and for Educationists and Others Advising on Careers. London: Medallion Press.

Khudiakov, E. L. 1958 Training Facilities in Different Countries: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Pages 197–206 in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, The Training of Journalists: A World-wide Survey on the Training of Personnel for the Mass Media. Press, Film and Radio in the World Today Studies. Paris: UNESCO.

Kimball, Penn T.; and Lubell, Samuel 1960 High School Students’ Attitudes Toward Journalism as a Career: 2. Journalism Quarterly 37:413–422.

Klapper, Joseph T. 1960 The Effects of Mass Communication. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Matthews, Thomas S. 1960 Name and Address: An Autobiography. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Merton, Robert K. (1949) 1957 SociaZ Theory and Social Structure. Rev. & enl. ed. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Miller, Webb 1936 I Found No Peace: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent. New York: Simon & Schuster.

National Opinion Research Center 1947 National Opinion on Occupation: Final Report of a Special Opinion Survey Among Americans 14 and Over. Survey No. 244. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Nimmo, Dan D. 1964 Newsgathering in Washington: A Study in Political Communication. New York: Atherton.

Odendahl, Eric 1965 College Backgrounds of Staffs of American Daily Newspapers. Journalism Quarterly 42:463–464.

Reiss, Albert J. JR. et al. 1961 Occupations and Social Status. New York: Free Press.

Rivers, William L. 1960 The Washington Correspondents and Government Information. Ph.D. dissertation, American Univ.

Rosten, Leo C. 1937 The Washington Correspondents. New York: Harcourt.

Schramm, Wilbur L. 1964 Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Sevareid, Eric 1946 Not So Wild a Dream. New York: Knopf.

Sheean, Vincent 1935 Personal History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → British edition published as In Search of History.

Steffens, Lincoln 1931 The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. New York: Harcourt.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 1965 Professional Training for Mass Communications. Reports and Papers on Mass Communications, No. 45. Paris: UNESCO.

U.S. Bureau of the Census 1963 Census of Population: 1960. Subject Reports: Occupation by Earnings and Education. Final Report PC(2)-7B. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Voyenne, Bernard 1959 Les journalistes. Revue française de science politique 9:901–934.

Voyenne, Bernard 1962 La presse dans la société contemporaine. Paris: Colin.

Weber, Max (1919) 1946 Politics as a Vocation. Pages 77–128 in Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

White, David M. 1950 “The Gatekeeper”: A Case Study in the Selection of News. Journalism Quarterly 27: 383–390.


views updated May 29 2018


The volatile journalism scene between 1870 and 1920 allowed American writers access to a broader, more diverse set of readers than ever before and helped to shape the content and form of American literature, particularly the novel. The objective method of reporting was not yet fully established as a journalistic ideal, nor was the sharp division between literature and journalism that many twenty-first century readers take for granted—the notion that literary writers produce art worth lingering over, while journalists produce only functional prose worth a quick read and a toss into the trash. The era's papers published poetry, fiction, and literary essays as well as news. Many celebrated literary figures—Mark Twain, Henry James, and Edith Wharton among them—published work in newspapers and magazines at the turn of the century. Willa Cather decided she wanted to be a writer in the 1890s after her college English professor got Cather's essay on Thomas Carlyle published in the Nebraska State Journal. Cather's career as a theater critic, editor, and sometime reporter lasted nearly two decades. Yet when she achieved success as a novelist, Cather did not hesitate to denigrate journalistic writing as commercially driven, shallow, and slipshod.

Such ambivalence was characteristic of the relationship between journalism and literature: the two realms were inevitably intertwined, but attitudes toward the press varied dramatically. Journalism was celebrated as a vibrant force that brought writers in touch with "real life." But it was also attacked as a mind-numbing phenomenon destructive to literary culture, threatening to reduce the American reading public to thoughtless consumers. Such divergent views notwithstanding, literary historians agree that the major literary movements in American fiction at the turn into the twentieth century—realism, naturalism, and modernism—all owe significant debts to journalism.


The period after the Civil War saw a decline in the older model of partisan newspapers controlled by political parties. Instead journalism continued to evolve along the lines set by the advent of the penny press in the 1830s, which featured low prices and high accessibility. When the first mass-circulation newspapers and magazines emerged in the late nineteenth century in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities, revenue from advertising allowed them to be independent from political party support, and the press's primary motivation shifted from political to business advocacy. As a result, popular journals addressed their readers less as potential voters and more as potential consumers of mass-produced products such as soap, baking powder, medical remedies, shirtwaists, and shoes. This shift troubled some citizens, who worried that American democracy was being undermined by corporate control of public discourse. Writers, some critics complained, no longer acted as independent interpreters of the news. Hearst and Scripps emerged as the nation's biggest group owners, buying out the competition and consolidating newspapers in dozens of cities. At the same time, skyrocketing circulations indicated that more Americans, from more varied walks of life, were reading magazines and newspapers than ever before. Because so much advertising was aimed at women, attracting female readers became a priority for many papers. Newspapers and magazines also sought to expand their readerships among the working classes and immigrants, reaching out to the new urban masses, even those who were barely literate in English.

Immigrants played an influential role in the press, not only as readers but also as editors and publishers. One of the most famous was the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, who took over the New York World in 1883 and ushered in a new era of journalism, promising to entertain and inform readers with a bold mix of illustrations, human-interest stories, editorials in support of the working class, and crusades against government and corporate corruption. The average daily circulation of the World doubled during Pulitzer's first three months, from 15,000 to 30,000, and by 1887 it had reached a quarter million, an unprecedented figure. Pulitzer would soon be drawn into a legendary circulation battle with William Randolph Hearst, heir to a California mining fortune and publisher of the San Francisco Examiner. Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895, hired away some of Pulitzer's best editors, and set out to woo the World readers. The fight led both sides to adopt increasingly aggressive strategies, such as pursuing exclusive rights to stories and trumpeting their own social-justice crusades. "While Others Talk the Journal Acts," bragged Hearst's paper while featuring eyebrow-raising headlines like "A Startling Confession of a Wholesale Murderer Who Begs to Be Hanged" and "Strange Things Women Do for Love" (Bleyer, pp. 357–364). These tactics became known as "yellow journalism" because of the World's popular "Yellow Kid" comic strip, which soon began appearing in the Journal as well. Promotions for both papers featured the goofy, vacant-looking figure, and the comic strip became a symbol of sensationalism and journalistic irresponsibility. That irresponsibility peaked in 1898, when overblown coverage of the sinking of the American battleship Maine helped to bring about an ill-advised war with Spain. Despite a chorus of critics, newspapers across the country practiced variations of the yellow journalism formula, and the number of daily newspapers continued to increase, peaking at about 2,600 between 1910 and 1914.

After the Civil War, elite "establishment" magazines such as Harper's, Century, and Scribner's continued to enjoy cultural power and prestige. The Century's popular series on Civil War battles, published in the mid-1880s, led to a four-volume book. By the 1890s, however, magazines became cheaper, and a different type of journal gained national influence. The new leaders in magazine journalism—such as Edward W. Bok, who took over as editor of Ladies' Home Journal in 1889, and S. S. McClure, who founded McClure's Magazine in 1893—printed popular fiction, general articles, and plenty of illustrations. Bok and McClure, both immigrants themselves, foresaw the future of American magazines. They helped to create syndicated journalism, and they went on to redefine the relationship between magazines and their readers. McClure's put the Progressive Era reform impulse into practice and was hailed as a muckraking journal. The term "muckraker"—first used by Teddy Roosevelt as an insult for reformers who looked only downward, wallowing in the filth of society—became a badge of honor for investigative reporters who documented government corruption, gathered evidence against business monopolies, and fought for better conditions and wages for workers. Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and David Graham Phillips were among the best-known muckrakers. Although Bok's Ladies' Home Journal did not take up reform with the fervor of McClure's, Bok positioned the magazine as a clearinghouse for women's domestic concerns and created a new advertising-oriented market.

This combination of reform journalism and reliance on advertising forged a new mode of "realism" that was oriented toward consumers. Even the most sensational forms of this realism could lead to beneficial reforms. The World's daring Nellie Bly inspired significant improvements in conditions for the mentally ill when she pretended to be insane and had herself committed to a notorious asylum in New York City in 1887. In the heyday of the muckraking era, Samuel Hopkins Adams helped bring about new government regulations with his series on the bogus claims of patent-medicine makers, published in Collier's in 1905 and 1906. But some critics have argued that this new realism compromised American democracy by transforming readers from active citizens to passive consumers. According to this view, the new realism was damaging because it turned readers into mere spectators. It packaged information in a way that suggested readers did not have access to "real life" on their own. Moreover, it gave journalism a misleading aura of absolute authenticity. Although magazines and newspapers appeared to be providing readers a clear, neutral window into the real world, they were in fact manipulating information at least as carefully as political journalism had been doing for more than a century.


Despite the growth of advertising and the consolidation of corporate influence in journalism, Progressive Era readers could choose from among a wider variety of print sources than at any other time in the nation's history. Mainstream journals were just one part of the phenomenon; Americans also had access to alternative presses that varied widely in content, format, and even language. Although newspapers like Pulitzer's and Hearst's served as Americanizing aids for many immigrants, smaller ethnic presses in Yiddish, German, Polish, Italian, and other languages also flourished, fostering communities in the native languages of recently arrived city dwellers. Throughout America thousands of alternative presses sprang to life, providing critical outlets for voices raised in social protest, racial and ethnic pride, or artistic experimentation. These journals created counterpublics, which scholars have defined as alternative forums for groups whose members have been denied access to the dominant public sphere. In these arenas, members of subordinated social groups circulate their own interpretations of their identities and needs. Alternative presses allowed readers relegated to society's margins to gather information, share opinions, and find entertainment.

These presses also launched and supported individual literary careers, not unlike mainstream newspapers and magazines. Zitkala–Ša, the Sioux author and Indian rights activist, served as a contributor and editor of American Indian Magazine, the periodical for the Society of American Indians, from 1916 to 1920. The novelist Abraham Cahan, a Russian immigrant, began writing for both English and Yiddish newspapers soon after he arrived in America in 1882. Cahan would go on to serve as editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a socialist organ that became the leading Yiddish newspaper in the world in the early twentieth century. At the turn of the century radical women's publications blossomed, spurred by rising labor reform, temperance, and women's rights movements. From 1909 to 1916 the feminist activist and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman published and also wrote most of the copy for the Forerunner, a monthly magazine featuring fiction, poetry, editorials, and news reports. The Masses (1911–1917), edited by Floyd Dell and Max Eastman, and Mother Earth (1906–1917), edited and published by Emma Goldman, also promoted feminist goals. The so-called little magazines, such as Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, founded by Harriet Monroe in 1912, published experimental writing, promoting radical political views and avant-garde aesthetics. Although these magazines appeared erratically and were short-lived, they published work by important poets like Ezra Pound and Marianne Moore. Their influence went far beyond their small circulations.

Meanwhile the rising tide of racial violence against African Americans fueled an explosion of black newspapers. Between 1895 and 1915, some 1,200 African American newspapers were launched, more than in any other era of American history. At a time when almost all white-owned newspapers refused to hire African Americans, these newspapers gave writers a platform from which to condemn injustice, call for change, and celebrate the achievements of their race. Ida B. Wells, the daughter of former slaves, started writing for the black press in 1884 and went on to become an internationally recognized anti-lynching crusader. Her impassioned journalism, which exposed the hypocrisy of white society's rationale for lynchings, contrasted sharply with the approving reports that appeared in the white press. African American journals also printed poetry and fiction. The Colored American Magazine, founded in 1900, published the serialized fiction of Pauline E. Hopkins, now recognized as a major voice in turn-of-the-century black fiction. The Crisis, the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), debuted in 1910. It was edited by the scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, author of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), a groundbreaking study of African American culture.


When Ernest Hemingway joined the Kansas City Star in 1917, he launched a writing career that would make him one of the world's most famous novelists. Hemingway's spare prose style has often been linked to the brevity required of reporters, who must compress information into the limited space of newspaper columns. His first book, In Our Time (1925), combined journalistic reports with fiction in a complex collage of perspectives on the First World War. Although Hemingway's achievement was extraordinary, changes in journalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set the stage for his rise from reporter to literary celebrity.

Only in the decades after the Civil War did reporting become widely recognized as a respectable profession. By the 1880s reporters had come into their own, and journalism offered new career options for Americans who wanted to write professionally. Bylines became more common as reporters achieved new prominence in news organizations. At the same time, journalists joined lawyers, librarians, social workers, chemists, economists, teachers, engineers, and doctors in carving their own specialized niche in the working world. The first professional organizations for journalists were founded in this era, as was the Journalist, a trade publication that appeared in 1883. Colleges and universities initiated journalism courses, and in 1908 the University of Missouri established the first college of journalism. Columbia University soon followed suit, funded by a generous grant from Joseph Pulitzer.

Although salaries remained low for all except a few top executives, writing for newspapers and magazines became known as a potentially glamorous job. Richard Harding Davis, the dashing son of the author Rebecca Harding Davis, personified that glamour for many turn-of-the-century readers. A star reporter who began in Philadelphia and moved quickly to the New York City metropolitan papers, Davis launched his career covering crime and sports and soon began writing popular fiction as well. Davis's expansive personality, good looks, and friendship with the magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson made him one of the best-known faces in American journalism, especially after he became the model for the male companion to Gibson's famous "Gibson girl." Davis also helped popularize the image of the journalist as a swashbuckling adventurer. He served as a correspondent in the Spanish-American War and later in World War I.

Although journalism was dominated by men, women also flocked into newsrooms in the 1880s. Most female journalists covered fashion news, domestic tips, and society events for the newly created women's pages, but some also wrote front-page news. More likely to use pseudonyms than male journalists, newswomen also were more likely to be highly visible, their names and faces promoted along with their stories. Dorothy Dix, hired in 1894 as a "girl Friday" for the New Orleans Picayune, became one of the most successful newspaperwomen of her day. Dix (the pen name of Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer) began with obituaries, graduated to news events, and ended up writing a popular advice column, "Dorothy Dix Talks," for fifty years. Dix's contemporary, Nellie Bly (the pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane), made headlines with her incognito excursions into the darker parts of the city. Winifred Black, Ada Patterson, and a host of other imitators helped to make "girl stunt reporting" into a national phenomenon. This fad preceded the cross-class adventures of other late-nineteenth-century writers, the best-known of whom is Stephen Crane, whose sketches "Experiment in Misery" and "Experiment in Luxury" appeared in the New York Press in 1894. Two years later Crane registered as a seaman on a gunrunning ship to Cuba to seek experience as a war correspondent. He found himself reporting on a different sort of trauma when the ship sank and he spent almost thirty hours, in dangerously high seas, with three other men in a ten-foot dinghy. Soon after, Crane published a report in the New York Press, and a few months later his short story based on the incident, "The Open Boat," appeared in Scribner's Magazine.

Crane's movement between fact and fiction was not unusual. The newspaper editor and novelist Abraham Cahan's realist novel The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) evolved from a series McClure's Magazine commissioned him to write on Jewish immigrants in the garment trade. The former journalist Theodore Dreiser adapted news reports from a 1906 murder case for his important naturalist novel An American Tragedy (1925). Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos were among the many writers who collected newspaper headlines to use in their own work. An unprecedented number of American authors between 1870 and 1920 began their careers as journalists, more than in any period before or since. The list includes celebrated novelists such as Crane and Hemingway as well as popular novelists whose work is less known today, such as Edna Ferber and David Graham Phillips. For many writers, journalism acted as a bracing substitute for formal education. "At a time when the respectable bourgeois youngsters of my generation were college freshmen, oppressed by simian sophomores and affronted with balderdash daily and hourly by chalky pedagogues," H. L. Mencken recalled, "I was at large in a wicked seaport of half a million people, with a front seat at every public show . . . getting earfuls and eyefuls of instruction in a hundred giddy arcana, none of them taught in schools" (p. ix).

Yet journalism's impact on American letters was too sweeping and complex for a single formula to explain. Journalism was viewed as a new form of literary apprenticeship. It offered aspiring writers steady income as well as the opportunity to immerse themselves in a broad range of American experiences. It also provided an influential venue for writers like Eugene Field, a poet whose "Sharps and Flats" column in the Chicago Daily News mixed urbane commentary on contemporary life with verse and whimsy. The in-house humorist became a standard feature of late-nineteenth-century newspapers, and several, such as Field, Bill Nye, George Ade, and Finley Peter Dunne, rose to prominence in this role. But commercial imperatives and deadline pressures made some journalists view their workplaces more as industrial prisons than schools. As editors exerted more control over the content and style of stories, writers resented their lack of autonomy and grew alienated from management. The press attracted some vocal critics. "The great presses of the country," the novelist Frank Norris declared, "are for the most part merely sublimated sausage machines that go dashing along in a mess of paper and printer's ink turning out meat for the monster" (pp. 104–105). The muckraker Upton Sinclair, known for his meatpacking industry exposé The Jungle (1906), launched a systematic, passionate attack on the commercial press in The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism (1919). Comparing journalists to prostitutes, Sinclair dismantled any claims to freedom of the press and declared that corporations controlled the American news industry. "To expect justice and truth-telling of a capitalist newspaper," Sinclair concluded, "is to expect asceticism at a cannibal feast" (p. 224).

Although Sinclair's indictment was extreme, many works of fiction reflect their authors' frustration with journalism. William Dean Howells represents the newsman as a selfish, manipulative liar in A Modern Instance (1882). James mocks "lady-correspondents" in his characterization of Henrietta Stackpole in The Portrait of a Lady (1881), then goes even further with his portrayal of the villainous Boston interviewer Matthias Pardon in The Bostonians (1886). The conclusion of Edna Ferber's Dawn O'Hara (1911) rewards the hardworking reporter-heroine by affording her two avenues of escape from journalism: she gets a book contract and a husband. Journalism's influence on literature went even deeper than any individual characterizations of reporters can reveal, however. Some writers, James and Cather among them, saw newspapers as a symbol for all that was going wrong in American culture. They protested the consumerism and standardization of the new mass culture. Against a rapid-fire model of reading and writing, they fought to assert the value of contemplation and carefully crafted expression.


The reporter's access to raw experience was especially prized among novelists who sought to record the brutalities of everyday life in America. The Harvard-educated Hutchins Hapgood, who complained that American novels lacked vivid realism, set out to remedy the problem by forging his own brand of participatory journalism, immersing himself in his subjects' lives as much as possible. Hapgood's series of articles on the Jewish ghetto, written for New York's Commercial Advertiser, were revised and published in a book, The Spirit of the Ghetto (1902). Although not a novel, the book was praised in literary circles. When the New York City police reporter and photojournalist Jacob Riis published a pioneering attack on tenement housing in 1890, his book's title, How the Other Half Lives, summed up what many writers hoped to gain from their reporting days. Riis, who spent years covering slums, took a scientific approach to fact gathering. To document the exploitation of children in tenement factories, Riis consulted a statistical table from the health department showing how to tell age by children's teeth, then went into factories and looked in little girls' mouths to see how old they were. Journalism's stress on precise observation and, more broadly, its assumption that reality was external and thus reportable, contributed to the two major movements in American fiction in the late nineteenth century, realism and naturalism.

Realism was championed by the literary critic and novelist William Dean Howells, who as a boy helped his father edit a small-town newspaper in Ohio. The movement encompassed a diverse set of approaches and authors, from the frontier humor of Mark Twain to the social-problem fiction of Howells. A reaction against the enormous popularity of sentimental fiction, realism centered on ordinary life, insisted upon verisimilitude of detail, represented vernacular speech, and attempted to present an objective view of American society. This last characteristic—the celebration of objectivity, the goal of depersonalized narration—has inspired the most skepticism from later readers because many critics rightly point out that no narrative can be value-neutral and no story exists without some particular angle of vision. Realist fiction, although less idealistic than sentimental fiction, nonetheless tended to advocate an ethical standpoint. That standpoint becomes clearer when realism is compared to its counterpart, naturalism, a pessimistic subset of realism. Naturalists, like realists, sought to document oppressive realities of turn-of-the-century lives, but their fiction featured a deterministic vision, showing individuals at the mercy of biological and social forces beyond their control. The journalists Crane, Dreiser, Norris, and Jack London all wrote major naturalist fiction.

Modernism, an elite literary movement that emerged in the 1890s in Europe and blossomed in the United States shortly after, was more directly antagonistic toward the mass culture associated with journalism. Modernist fiction, like that of the realists and naturalists, sought to create authentic portrayals of life. But modernists like Gertrude Stein and John Dos Passos challenged standard ways of reading, experimenting with unusual narrative structure and adapting the abstract methods of modernist painters to represent multiple, shifting perspectives. They rejected the idea that language could give readers access to a neutral view of reality. Their demanding, often elliptical writing forced readers to grapple with the printed word, widening the gap between how one read the newspaper and how one read literature. That so many readers take this gap for granted today reflects the power of the modernists' literary legacy.

Some scholars argue that a special category of journalism emerged at the turn of the century, an elite form that combined the creative license of fiction writers with the fact-based method of newly professionalized journalists. Authors such as Crane, Davis, Cahan, Dreiser, Hapgood, Lincoln Steffens, and the longtime New York reporter Julian Ralph have been called "literary journalists" because they sought to endow factual accounts with the grace and power of literary prose. Their writing is distinguished by the depth of its research, complexity of its topic, and subtlety of its approach. It is worth noting that almost no women from the turn of the century have been included in lists of "literary journalists." Female journalists, stereotyped as "sob sisters" who produced only emotional drivel, were rarely taken seriously as writers, even though some of them, such as the writer and editor Elizabeth Jordan, went on to have successful careers as fiction writers. Jordan's first book—a story collection titled Tales of the City Room (1898)—attracted attention in part because of Jordan's notoriety as one of the only female reporters to cover the murder trial of Lizzie Borden in 1893. Although women took on visible roles in newspaper and magazine journalism, newsrooms have been depicted as overwhelmingly masculine. Whether they were writing news or fiction, women were more often identified with an earlier generation's sentimentality, seen as throwbacks to a literary movement the realists and naturalists were struggling to move beyond.

By the late 1920s print culture was competing with film and radio, and a new shift in American cultural practices was occurring. But authors would continue to negotiate the multiple legacies of journalism, which inspired new forms of expression, created new reading publics, and challenged writers to invest the printed word with a newly vital sense of "the real."

See alsoAppeal to Reason; Century Magazine; Editors; Harper's New Monthly Magazine; Literary Marketplace; Little Magazines and Small Presses; McClure's Magazine; Newspaper Syndicates; Scribner's Magazine


Primary Works

Cahan, Abraham. The Rise of David Levinsky. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917.

Crane, Stephen. "The Open Boat." Scribner's Magazine (June 1897): 728–740.

Dreiser, Theodore. An American Tragedy. 1925. New York: Library of America, 2003.

Ferber, Edna. Dawn O'Hara. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1911.

Hapgood, Hutchins. The Spirit of the Ghetto. 1902. Edited by Moses Rischin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. 1925. New York: Scribners, 1986.

Howells, William Dean. A Modern Instance. 1882. New York: Penguin Books, 1984.

James, Henry. The Bostonians. 1886. New York: Modern Library, 2003.

Jordan, Elizabeth G. Tales of the City Room. New York: Scribners, 1898.

Mencken, H. L. Newspaper Days 1899–1906. New York: Knopf, 1941.

Norris, Frank. The Responsibilities of the Novelist. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1903.

Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives. 1890. New York: Penguin, 1997.

Sinclair, Upton. The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. 1919. Introduction by Robert McChesney and Ben Scott. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Secondary Works

Baldasty, Gerald J. The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Batker, Carol J. Reforming Fictions: Native, African, and Jewish American Women's Literature and Journalism in the Progressive Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Bleyer, Willard G. Main Currents in the History of American Journalism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927.

Campbell, W. Joseph. Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

Emery, Edwin, and Michael Emery. The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media. 8th ed. New York: Pearson, Allyn & Beacon, 1995.

Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. From Fact to Fiction: Journalism & Imaginative Writing in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

Frus, Phyllis. The Politics and Poetics of Journalistic Narrative. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Hardt, Hanno, and Bonnie Brennen, eds. Newsworkers: Toward a History of the Rank and File. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Hartsock, John C. A History of American Literary Journalism: The Emergence of a Modern Narrative Form. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.

Marzolf, Marion. Civilizing Voices: American Press Criticism, 1880–1950. New York: Longman, 1991.

Mindich, David T. Z. Just the Facts: How "Objectivity" Came to Define American Journalism. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Pizer, Donald. The Theory and Practice of American Literary Naturalism: Selected Essays and Reviews. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.

Robertson, Michael. Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Schiller, Dan. Objectivity and the News: The Public and the Rise of Commercial Journalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

Simmons, Charles A. The African American Press: A History of News Coverage During National Crises, with Special Reference to Four Black Newspapers, 1827–1965. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998.

Sims, Norman. Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Streitmatter, Rodger. Raising Her Voice: African-American Women Journalists Who Changed History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Strychacz, Thomas. Modernism, Mass Culture, and Professionalism. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Wilson, Christopher P. "The Rhetoric of Consumption: Mass-Market Magazines and the Demise of the Gentle Reader, 1880–1920." In The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 1880–1980, edited by Richard Wightman Fox and T. J. Jackson Lears, pp. 39–64. New York: Pantheon, 1983.

Jean Marie Lutes


views updated May 11 2018


Jews have played a major role in journalism since the early years of the profession. Publishers, editors, columnists, and reporters contributed to the development of political analysis, mass circulation techniques, methods of worldwide news gathering, chain journalism, and techniques that deepened the influence and impact of the written word. The overall number of Jews engaged in journalism in various countries is actually small. The significance of their contributions is readily apparent, however, in any examination of the relatively new, constantly changing and developing field of communications.

There have been Jews who distinguished themselves in journalism by their direction of some of the leading and most influential papers of the day. In the United States there were Adolph S. *Ochs and Arthur Hays *Sulzberger of The New York Times, Joseph *Pulitzer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The World, and the Evening World, and Samuel *Newhouse, newspaper chain owner; in Germany, Leopold *Ullstein and Bernhard *Wolff; in Britain, Baron Paul Julius *Reuter of the news agency bearing his name, Lord *Southwood of the Daily Herald, and Joseph Moses Levy and his son Lord Burnham (see *Lawson family) of the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper which, selling at a penny and aiming at popular appeal, started the trend toward brighter newspapers. In the 1890s Rachel *Beer edited two leading London weeklies owned by her husband. The overwhelming majority of publishers and editors, however, were and are non-Jewish, notwithstanding the old canard that the world's press is controlled by Jews. Jews entered the main currents of journalism when they entered the mainstream of life in Europe. In the late 18th century, emancipation broke down the ghetto walls and Jews were able to enter a world from which they had been excluded.

Modern journalism was born after the French and American Revolutions. The freedom to think, to speak, and to write sought expression in the journals then developing, which were read by the rapidly growing educated and semi-educated population of the cities and towns. The Jew emerging from the ghetto was thus in the right place at the right time. German Jews, excluded before 1848 from the professions for which they had been trained, were disproportionately prominent in journalism during this early period and tended to advocate "radical" liberal views. His gift of adaptability permitted the Jew to act as an intermediary, the link between the event and the reader, as the journalist has often been called.

Jewish journalists were active during the 19th century in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and Hungary, and to a somewhat lesser degree in the United States, England, France, and Romania. Small numbers also worked with the general press in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Italy, Belgium, Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, and Switzerland. Involvement of the Jew in journalism in other areas of the world came later. The activities of Jewish journalists were proscribed, of course, in those countries where antisemitism was practiced officially during the 20th century. Jewish journalists and publishers who led some of Germany's most important newspaper enterprises became the special targets of the Nazis. Some were killed; others fled their homeland to practice their craft in a different land. For at least two decades the voice of Jewish journalists was stilled in Germany and for years also in countries overrun by the Germans.

In the United States, Jews became part of the developing journalism of the new land early in its history. But it took almost a century and a half for any measurable numbers of Jews to enter the profession. Jewish engagement in journalism in the United States began with Mordecai Manuel *Noah, editor of the Enquirer in New York. Similarly, in Europe, Jewish participation began almost with the birth of modern journalism.

The impact and influence of Jews on the general press increased markedly during the 19th and 20th centuries. Jews did not work as Jews. In Europe, talented Jewish writers turned to journalism as the best means of expressing themselves. The emancipated mind and spirit often eschewed such traditional forms of expression as poetry and fiction in favor of journalism, which had brightness and novelty. In Germany and Austria, Jewish influence in the new craft was marked by the contributions of such outstanding men as Heinrich *Heine andLudwig *Boerne (in the Augsburger Zeitung), and Karl *Marx (in the Rheinische Zeitung), and by the efforts of Daniel Spitzer (1835–93) and Moritz *Saphir, by the work of Theodore *Herzl, Max *Nordau, and Alfred *Polgar. David Kalisch founded Kladderadatsch in 1848 and made it famous as a satirical journal. His collaborator was the poet Rudolf Loewenstein.

Important publishing enterprises were begun by Rudolf *Mosse, who in 1872 founded the Berliner Tageblatt; Leopold *Sonnemann, who founded the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1856; and Leopold Ullstein, publisher, whose Morgenpost reached a circulation of 600,000. Herzl, Nordau, and Spitzer wrote for the Neue Freie Presse of Vienna, making it one of the outstanding journals of its day. Eduard Bacher was its publisher. Moritz Saphir published the witty paper Der Humorist (1837), and Polgar won a reputation through his contributions to Die Weltbuehne. Bernhard Wolff founded the Wolff Telegraphic Bureau in 1848.

This fruitful period of the 19th century was also marked by the journalistic work of Gabriel *Riesser, Johann *Jacoby, and Edward *Lasker. The primary contribution of the most famous of these was in the form of the feuilleton, a personal essay or commentary that has no precise counterpart in present-day journalism. The feuilleton was marked by a highly personal character and a well-developed style. In America only Simeon Strunsky could be said to have reflected this special skill. Several decades later the field attracted such names as Karl *Kraus, Egon Erwin *Kisch, Kurt *Tucholsky, Theodore *Wolff, who served as editor in chief of the Berliner Tageblatt, and Georg *Bernhard, editor in chief of the Vossische Zeitung. The early 20th century also saw the development of a large group of art, music, and drama critics, such as Alfred *Kerr, who produced a quantity of creative criticism which influenced and fostered the arts.

In Great Britain, first mention of a Jewish journalist is made by Oliver Goldsmith in his Haunch of Venison (1776). Emanuel Samuel (d. 1818) contributed to the Morning Post as early as 1786 and later worked in The World. He is the first Anglo-Jewish journalist on record, followed at the end of the century by Lewis *Goldsmith, a vigorous political writer and propagandist. The contribution of Jews was greater in publishing and organizing than in writing. Men like Ralph D. *Blumenfeld of the Daily Express, Lord Burnham (Levy), founder of the Daily Telegraph, Paul Julius Reuter, founder of Reuter's news agency, and Lord Southwood (Elias) of the Daily Herald, were among the builders of the modern British press. Other important names in British journalism were Sidney *Low, editor of the St. James Gazette, Lucien *Wolf, foreign editor of the Daily Graphic, Henri Georges Stephane Adolphe Opper de *Blowitz, correspondent of The Times, and Bernard Falk, editor of the Sunday Dispatch. While a number of leading columnists in the British press in recent years have been Jewish, such as The Times'Bernard *Levin, Jewish ownership of the British press in recent decades has been slight, with only the ill-fated period of ownership of the Daily Mirror by Robert *Maxwell being an exception. In the 1990s the Daily Telegraph was owned by the non-Jewish but strongly pro-Zionist Canadian, Conrad Black (Lord Black of Crossharbour), whose Jewish wife, Barbara Amiel, had an influential pro-Israeli column in the paper.

In France, Jewish journalists were concerned primarily with politics, although several were active in literature. Perhaps the nation's foremost journalist was Leon *Blum, who did his principal journalistic work in the period 1920 to 1939 in such papers as L'Humanité and Le Populaire. Blum, Joseph *Reinach, and Bernard *Lazare were three of France's greatest journalists at the turn of the 20th century. Other French journalists of repute were Marcel Hutin of L'Echo de Paris and L'Epoque, Pierre Lazareff, general director of Paris Soir, George London of Le Journal, Jacques Kayser of La Dépêche de Toulouse, Arthur Meyer of Le Gaulois, and Louise Weiss of L'Europe nouvelle.

In Italy, with its relatively small Jewish population, Jewish journalists made important contributions to the country's liberal movements. Among the most prominent were Cesare Rovighi; Angiolo *Orvieto, who with his brother Adolfo founded the Florentine weekly, Il Marzocco; Giacomo Dina, editor of Opinione; Salvatore *Barzilai, foreign editor of La Tribuna; and Margherita Sarfatti, literary editor of Il Popolo d'Italia, who became a member of Mussolini's inner circle.

In Russia and Poland where the suppression of Jews was a continuing governmental policy, several journalists of importance emerged. During the Bolshevik period, many Jewish revolutionaries engaged in newspaper work for political purposes, and Ilya *Ehrenburg won international fame as a journalist of uncommon ability. In Poland the name of Isaac Ignac *Schwarzbart stands out with those of Wilhelm Berkelhammer, Joseph Perl, and Florian Sokolow. Schwarzbart directed the most important paper in Lvov. In Scandinavia, Jews held important posts on papers in Denmark. Among the journalists were Carl *Brandes, who helped to found Politiken, M.A. *Goldschmidt, Moritz Nathansen, and Gottlieb Siesby. In Holland, Marcus van Blankenstein, Louis de *Jong, Eduard Elias, Joseph F. Stoppelman, and Arnold Vaz Dias were important.

Jews entered the general Hungarian press during the 1840s when newspapers appeared mainly in German. Active in liberal organs and in the production of pamphlets which preached assimilation, most of them changed their faith. In the revolution of 1848, they attained high posts in the government service. After 1867, the year of "The Compromise" (which ended Austrian domination) and the year of emancipation of Hungarian Jewry, Jews had an important part in the founding of a modern press and its technical organization. Jews worked on almost every paper (except those openly antisemitic), from the nationalist papers which preached complete assimilation for all minorities to the radical and socialist, where the Jews were in a majority. In 1910, out of 1,214 journalists in Hungary, 516 were Jews; but in 1920 their number had dropped to 358, and continued to fall. From 1938 onward Jews were ousted from editorial posts under the provisions of antisemitic legislation; only a small percentage retained their jobs. During the first hours of the German invasion in 1944, the Hungarian Nazis, using prepared lists, hunted down the Jewish journalists still at work and had them sent to the extermination camps. From 1945, during the period of the coalition administration, which was set up after World War ii, Jews regained important positions, especially in the socialist and communist press; but after the rise of the communist regime they tried to conceal their Jewish identity.

Unlike the European press (primarily concerned with ideas), the press in the United States focuses its attention on information and news. It is chiefly devoted to reporting the events of the world and not to the propagation of opinions. Jews became active in journalism not long after the first papers made their appearance in the colonies (1704–30). In the first quarter of the 19th century Mordecai Noah was the editor of the City Gazette of Charleston, South Carolina and later the editor and publisher of the New York Enquirer. Noah also helped James Gordon Bennett to establish the New York Herald in 1835. A visionary and dreamer with a Zionist ideal long before the word itself was invented, Noah may be said to have been the first important Jewish journalist in the New World. He was among the first to attempt to enliven his paper for the benefit of the ordinary reader. As in Europe, Jewish journalists participated in all sections – in publishing, chain journalism, circulation techniques, and writing. Their overall numbers are small. Of the 1,800 dailies published in the United States at the end of the 20th century about 50 were owned by Jews, among them some of the most influential – The New York Times, The Daily News in New York, and the 22 papers owned by Samuel I. Newhouse.

As on the Continent, it is difficult to define the distinctive Jewish contribution. Most Jewish journalists on the staffs of the general press were entirely integrated into American newspaper routines. An early figure of importance was Edward *Rosewater, who worked during the second half of the 19th century in Nebraska as a correspondent and owner of the Omaha Bee (1871). The earliest papers in the New World were commonly called penny papers. They were sensational in their treatment of news, and their attitude was to influence the journalism of two outstanding American Jewish publishers, Joseph Pulitzer and Adolph Ochs, whose papers were among the most important in the nation.

Pulitzer purchased The New York World in 1883 after having followed an aggressive policy in earlier penny-paper journalism, both in news and editorial columns. He engaged in numerous crusades, one of the most important of which was the exposure of the mismanagement of life insurance companies in New York City. He introduced political cartoons, striking illustrations, colored pictures, and colored comics. The circulation of The World rose and in 1886 it claimed the largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States – 250,000. Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, who had purchased the Morning Journal in 1895, vied with each other in sensationalism. Their rivalry gave rise to the expression "yellow journalism." Pulitzer was an ardent believer in professional training, and provided a large endowment for a school of journalism, which was opened at Columbia University in 1912, as well as for the prizes in journalism and the arts that bear his name. Adolph Ochs took another road. When he became publisher of The New York Times, he issued a statement of purpose under a signature that is still the basic credo of the paper: "… to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interest involved…" Ochs recognized that New York was beginning to tire of sensationalism and he promised to give straight news as fast as, or faster than, any other paper. He thought of The New York Times as a kind of public institution of which he had only temporary charge, and was fiercely determined that no individual, or favored group, would ever use it selfishly or for self-glorification. When he died he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Arthur Hays *Sulzberger, whose youngest son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, became publisher in 1963. His son, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., succeeded him and was publisher and chairman of the board of the New York Times Company, a publicly traded corporation, through the early years of the 21st century. The latter Sulzbergers, along with their advisers and editors, including Executive Editor A.M. *Rosenthal, played prominent roles in putting The Times on a sound financial footing, in uncovering government misfeasance, and in furthering the aims of a free press.

In the early 1970s The Washington Post, under Katharine Graham, took the lead in exposing an attempted cover-up of the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington. That reporting, by the team of Robert Woodward and Carl *Bernstein, got Graham's personal backing and eventually resulted in the resignation in 1974 of President Richard M. Nixon in disgrace. During that period, The New York Times came into possession of a secret history of the war in Vietnam, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers when it was published at great length in 1973. The Nixon administration tried to suppress publication of the historic documents and their analyses on the grounds of national security, but the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the press to publish the information. The case was a landmark ruling against prior restraint of the press, and its champion was The Times.

Other important Jewish figures in American journalism include Emanuel Philip Adler who founded the Lee Syndicate, a chain of papers in the Midwest; Eugene *Meyer, former owner of The Washington Post; Paul Block (1877–1941), who helped to foster the growth of chain journalism; Moses *Koenigsberg, the creator of the King Features Syndicate; Walter *Annenberg, publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer; J. David *Stern, owner and publisher of papers in Camden, nj, and Philadelphia; Dorothy *Schiff, owner and publisher of The New York Post; Edwin S. Friendly who served on the former Evening Sun; Herbert Bayard *Swope of The World; and Harry *Golden who, in the 1950s, achieved the distinction of making his Carolina Israelite a weekly with general readership. After Dorothy Schiff's death, The Post changed hands a few times. The other major New York City newspaper, TheDaily News, was bought by Robert Maxwell in 1991 and then, with the paper in bankruptcy, shortly afterward by Mortimer Zuckerman, a Boston builder and the publisher of the magazine U.S. News and World Report. The Post and News became embroiled in a bitter advertising and circulation war in the first years of the 21st century.

Jews scored successes in two special areas of American journalism – commentary on current affairs and the "gossip" column. In the first, Walter *Lippmann, Arthur *Krock, and David *Lawrence commented on domestic and foreign affairs in some of the nation's most important journals, winning attention in world capitals. As gossip columnists, Walter Winchell, Leonard Lyons (d. 1976), Louis Sobol, and Sidney Skolsky (d. 1983) attracted a wide readership and developed an influence by their reporting on the lives of stage and screen personalities, government officials, and public and political figures. Identical twin sisters from the Middle West, Pauline Esther Friedman, writing as Abigail Van Buren, and Esther Pauline *Lederer, writing as Ann Landers, dispensed homespun advice in their newspaper columns, each appearing daily in over 1,200 newspapers and reaching 20 million readers. Each received 10,000 letters a week for help, and both sisters dispensed blunt, common-sense remedies for most of the second half of the 20th century. Other Jewish journalists were active as foreign correspondents and as writers on science, economics, politics, and sports. Among American journalists, Franklin Pierce Adams, Meyer Berger, and Ben *Hecht had especially keen eyes for the unusual. In sketching the human condition they successfully translated the stories of ordinary people into newspaper prose of high quality. As Jews assimilated into the mainstream of American life, they rose to prominent positions in journalism. Rosenthal of The Times was succeeded by Max *Frankel, who was succeeded by Joseph *Lelyveld. All had been star reporters and winners of the Pulitzer Prize. And Thomas L. *Friedman of The Times became the most influential foreign affairs columnist as well as the first reporter to win a Pulitzer for reporting on Lebanon and another for reporting from Israel. At least one Jewish American journalist lost his life, Daniel *Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, while affirming his faith.

The participation of Jews in Latin American journalism began at an early stage of their immigration. Since the publications for which they wrote were oriented toward the Jewish public, the newspapers, journals, and publications in general were in Yiddish during the first years, and with the immigration from Central Europe in the 1930s, also in German. However, publication in Spanish and Portuguese commenced very quickly, and these became the main languages of communication in the community framework with the decline of Yiddish.

Jews were active in general journalism in almost all the Latin American countries. Some of them achieved prominent positions and can be considered pioneers in their field. The first Jewish journalist who published in Argentina in a general daily was Enrique Lipschutz (1864–1937), who wrote in La Prensa from 1895. After him, many Jewish journalists and writers published in general newspapers and journals and some of them also became section editors and also chief editors. One of them was Alberto Gerchunoff (1884–1950), who was with the leading daily La Nación for 40 years and part of the time was its editor in chief. Other leading journalists were Bernardo Verbitsky (1907–1979) in El Mundo (his son Horacio Verbitsky became editor in chief of Página 12), Santiago Nudelman (1904–1961) editor in chief of Crítica from 1958, and Antonio Portnoy at La Gaceta. In the 1960s and 1970s one of the best-known journalists was Jacobo Timerman (1923–1999). In the 1960s he founded and directed two successful current affairs magazines, Primera Plana and Confirmado, and in 1970 the daily La Opinión, which tried to be a new kind of newspaper in the style of the French Le Monde. Timerman became known worldwide when was kidnapped by the military junta in 1977. International pressure, especially from the U.S. and Israel, led to his release in 1979. In those years of dictatorship the weekly Nueva Presencia (1977) was founded, which started as a Spanish offshoot of the Yiddish daily Di Prese. Under the editorship of Herman Schiller, it adopted an opposition stance against the repression in Argentina. This journal became one of the referents of the Argentinean Human Rights Movement, and Schiller, who participated in the organization of the Jewish Movement for Human Rights, was recognized as one of its leaders.

In the early 21st century there were many well-known Jewish journalists who published in the printed press as well as in the electronic media – radio, television, and the internet. These included José Eliaschev, Marcelo Zlotogwiazda, Ernesto Tenenbaum, Roman Lejtman, Martín Liberman, and Juan Pablo Varsky.

Jews were prominent in Chilean journalism. Ana Albala-Levy was editor of Las Últimas Noticias of Santiago; her husband, Robert Levy, wrote for many newspapers and journals; Max Dickmann, was literary and managing editor of El Ateneo of Santiago and an author of substantial reputation; and Marcos Chamudes was chief editor of the magazine Política, Economía y Cultura (pec) and later of the newspaper La Nación.

In Brazil Jews were prominent as journalists as well as entrepreneurs in the news media. One of the most important media companies was Bloch Editores owned by Adolfo Bloch, which at its peak included 25 magazines, among them the famous weekly Manchete, six radio stations, and a tv network, Rede Manchete. Two important Jewish journalists collaborated in many stages of their career with this group. Zevi Ghivelder (1934– ) worked for many years for the magazine Manchete and directed the news magazine on its tv network, also publishing numerous books that won national prizes. Henrique Veltman (1936– ) was editor in chief of Bloch Editores publications from 1971, including the magazine Manchete, and was also editor in chief of the most important newspapers of Rio de JaneiroUltima Hora and O Globo. Both of them were much involved in Jewish community life and Zionist action. Also Naum Sirotzky was editor in chief of Manchete in the 1950s. Alberto Dines (1932– ), who started his career as a journalist with Manchete under Naum Sirotzky, became one of the most prominent and innovative in the field. As a professional who combined writing and news photography, he was editor in chief of many major newspapers, such as Jornal do Brasil and the Folha de São Paulo branch in Rio de Janeiro. Besides teaching journalism in many universities, he developed a new kind of journalistic criticism in Brazil with Observatorio da Imprensa on tv programs and the internet. Diane Kuperman (1949– ), a journalist at Jornal do Brasil and director of the Instituto de Comunicação Social da Universidade Gama Filho, and Osias Wurman (1950– ), a journalist at O Globo and Jornal do Brasil, were also the leaders of the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro.

Samuel Wainer (1912–1980) is also considered one of the professionals responsible for a revolution in Brazilian journalism. In 1930 he started his career at Diário de Notícias and in 1938 he founded the monthly magazine Diretrizes with an agenda in politics, culture, and economic affairs. In 1971 he founded the magazine Domingo Ilustrado as part of Bloch Editores, and in 1973–75 was editor in chief of Última Hora of São Paulo. From 1977 he was a member of the editorial board of Folha de São Paulo.

Arnaldo Niskier (1935– ) was, in addition to his more than 40 years in journalism, a teacher at the University of Rio de Janeiro State and secretary of the state for science, technology, education, and culture. He was also chairman of the Academia Brasileira de Letras.

One of the most prominent journalists in Mexico was undoubtedly Jacobo Zabludovsky (1928– ). He started his career in 1946 as assistant editor of news magazines at Cadena Radio Continental. In 1950, at the very beginning of tv transmissions in Mexico, he initiated the production and direction of the first professional news magazine on Mexican television, and subsequently directed and presented many news magazines. He also directed the cinema news magazine El Mundo en Marcha, wrote for the newspapers Observaciones and Novedades, for the weeklies Claridades and El Redondel, and from 1959 edited the magazine Siempre. He held official posts in radio and television and also wrote many books on politics and the Mexican media and containing interviews with Mexican painters.

There were also important contributors to the local press like Luis Rubio, Ezra Shabot, Enrique Krauze, Hellen Krauze, and Alberto Musacchio, all of them on the daily Reforma, and Esther Shabot on Excelsior. Enrique Burak and Abraham Faitelson are sports journalists on tv.

In Canada, Jews were prominent in all facets of the journalism professions, and in ways unimaginable even 30 years ago. In 2000, the Asper family acquired the Hollinger media holdings, thereby controlling a large number of newspapers both in Canada and abroad, including the National Post, one of Canada's two English-language newspapers. They also own Global Television Network, Canada's second large independent television network. Another Jew, Edward Greenspon, is the editor in chief of Canada's other major national English language paper, The Globe and Mail. Michael Goldbloom is the current publisher of the Toronto Star, which is the largest mass circulation newspaper in Canada. Jews are also prominent as reporters, columnists, and feature writers in newspapers across the country, and have achieved a high profile in the electronic media. Peter C. Newman, Joe Schlesinger, William Weintraub, Barbara Frum, Simma Holt, Robert Matas, Michelle Landsberg, Rick Salutin, Ralph Benmergui, Avi Lewis, and Naomi Klein, to name only a few over the last four decades, have become journalistic icons in Canada.

In Australia, an outstanding newspaper owner and builder was Theodore *Fink. In recent decades, none of Australia's newspapers had a Jewish owner, although Michael Gawenda, a Melbourne Jew, was editor of the Melbourne Age from 1996 to 2004.

In South Africa, the leading weekly The Sunday Times was edited (1912–40) by J. Langley Levy. From 1960 the same paper was edited by Joel Mervis and its companion paper the Sunday Express by Meyer Albert "Johnny" Johnson from 1961. Johnson subsequently assumed the editorship of the conservative daily The Citizen in 1979. In 1987, the left-leaning weekly Weekly Mail (later Mail & Guardian) was founded by Irwin Manoim and Anton Harber.

[Kalman Seigel /

Stewart Kampel,

Richard Menkis,

Harold Troper,

William D. Rubinstein,

David Saks, and

Efraim Zadoff (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 23 2018


Russian journalism, both under the tsars and since, has more often responded to state requirements than it has exemplified the freedom of the press. Moreover, not until a decade or so before the 1917 Revolution did a number of newspapers win mass readerships by lively and extensive daily reporting of domestic and foreign news.

Peter I (r. 16821725) started the first newspaper in a small format, the St. Petersburg Bulletin, and wrote for it himself to advance his reform program. Later in the eighteenth century journals appeared as outlets for literary and didactic works, but they could not escape the influence of the state. As part of her effort to enlighten Russia, Catherine II (r. 17621796) launched All Sorts of Things in 1769. This was a weekly publication modeled on English satirical journals. Nicholas Novikov, a dedicated Freemason, published his well-known Drone on the presses of the Academy of Sciences, providing outlet for pointedly critical comments about conditions in Russia, including serfdom, but he went too far, and the Empress closed down his publishing activities.

In the early, reformist years of the reign of Alexander I (18011825), a number of writers promoted constitutional ideas in periodicals controlled or subsidized by the government. Between 1804 and 1805, an education official named I. I. Martynov edited one such newspaper, Northern Messenger, and promoted Western ideas. He portrayed Great Britain as an advanced and truly free society. Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, the tsar's unofficial historian, founded Messenger of Europe (18021820) to introduce Russian readers to European developments.

Among the reign's new monthlies, those issued by the Ministries of War, Public Education, Justice, the Interior, and the Navy continued until the 1917 Revolution. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a newspaper in French. After the Napoleonic wars, Alexander I backed a small newspaper, Messenger of Zion, its main message being that the promoters of Western European Enlightenment

were plotting to subvert the Russian church and state.

The reign of Nicholas I (18251855) saw commercial successes by privately owned but progovernment periodicals. For example, the Library for Readers, founded by Alexander Filippovich Smirdin, reached a peak circulation of seven thousand subscribers in 1837. As the first of the so-called thick journals that dominated journalism for about three decades, each issue ran about three hundred pages and was divided into sections on Russian literature, foreign literature, science, art, and the like. Its size and content made it especially appealing in the countryside, where it provided a month's reading for landlord families. Works by virtually all of Russia's prominent writers appeared in serial form in such journals.

Smirdin also acquired Russia's first popular, privately owned daily newspaper, Northern Bee, which was essentially a loyalist publication that had permission to publish both foreign and domestic political information. The Bee also had the exclusive right to publish news of the Crimean War, but only by excerpting it from the Ministry of War's official newspaper, Russian War Veteran. During the war, the Bee achieved the unprecedented readership of ten thousand subscribers.

Another major development was the growing success in the 1840s of two privately owned journals, Notes of the Fatherland and The Contemporary. Each drew readers largely by publishing the literary reviews of a formidable critic, Vissarion Belinsky, who managed to express his moral outrage at human wrongs, despite the efforts of censors. However, journalism turned from a literary emphasis to a more political one during the reign of the tsar-reformer Alexander II (r. 18551881), who emancipated some 50 million serfs and effected reforms in education, local government, the judiciary, and the military, and relaxed the practice of preliminary, or pre-publication, censorship. One of his first steps in this regard was, in 1857, to permit journalists to publicize the peasant emancipation question, a topic previously forbidden. The next was allowing journalists to comment on how best to reform the courts and local government.

Journalists seized what was, on the whole, a genuine expansion of free speech about public affairs. They had as their ideal Alexander Herzen, the emigre whose banned words they read in The Bell, a Russian-language paper he produced in London and smuggled into Russia. By keeping informed on developments in Russia through correspondence and visitors, Herzen published authoritative information and liberal arguments, especially on the emancipation of the serfs, and influenced many who served under Alexander II. Meanwhile, Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, an erudite man who read several languages, became Russia's leading political journalist through the pages of The Contemporary ; and he, like Herzen, wove in relevant events from Western Europe to shape public and government opinion on reform issues. Another such journalist, Dmitry Pisarev, wrote many of his major pieces in prison, and published them in the other major radical journal within the Empire, Russian Word ; however, he espoused the nihilist position of accepting nothing on faith but, rather, testing all accepted truths and practices by the critical tools of reason and science. In line with the view of a liberal censor at that time, Alexander Vasilevich Nikitenko, higher censorship officials suspended both journals for eight months in 1862 and later permanently closed them.

Through his new censorship statute of 1865, widely hailed as a reform, Alexander II unleashed a major expansion of the commercial daily press, which was concentrated in Moscow and the capital, St. Petersburg. During the last decade of the previous reign, only six new dailies (all in the special-interest category) had been allowed, but officials now approved sixty new dailies in the first decade under Alexander II, and many of these were granted permission to publish not just general news but also a political section. In 1862, private dailies received permission to sell space to advertisers, a right that allowed lower subscription fees. The new income source prompted the publisher of Son of the Fatherland to change it from a weekly to a daily, and it soon acquired twenty thousand subscribers, well over half of them in the provinces.

By Western standards, however, overall circulation levels remained modest, even as more and more newspapers became commercially successful in the 1860s. Andrei Alexandrovich Kraevsky's moderate daily, Voice, saw profits grow as readers increased to ten thousand by the close of the 1860s. Moscow Bulletin, edited by Michael Katkov, who leased it in 1863 and changed it from a weekly to a daily, doubled its circulation to twelve thousand in two years' time, in part because of its ardently nationalistic leaders, which were front-page opinion pieces modeled on French feuilletons and written by Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov, known as the editorial "thunderer." Just as outspoken and popular were the leaders written in the capital for the daily, St. Petersburg Bulletin, by Alexei Sergeyevich Suvorin, who kept that conservative paper's circulation high. Readers preferring nationalistic and slavophile journalism critical of the government bought Ivan Aksakov's Day (18651866) and then his Moscow (18671869), its end coming when the State Council banned his daily and barred him from publishing, citing his unrelenting defiance of censorship law.

Another boon for newspapers under Alexander II was their new right, granted in the early 1860s, to buy foreign news reports received in Russia by the Russian Telegraph Agency (RTA, run by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), after such dispatches had been officially approved. In this period, too, publishers improved printing production by buying advanced equipment from Germany and elsewhere in Europe, including typesetting machines and rotary presses that that permitted press runs in the tens of thousands. Publishers also imported photographic and engraving tools that made possible the pictorial magazines and Sunday supplements.

Following the politically-motivated murder of Alexander II, his son and heir Alexander III (r. 1881-1894) gave governors full right to close publications judged to be inciting a condition of alarm in their provinces, without the approval of the courts. But there were still possibilities for critical journalists even at a time of conservative government policies. Nicholas K. Mikhailovsky, who espoused a radical populist viewpoint, published in Notes of the Fatherland until the government closed it in 1884. Most of the staff moved to Northern Messenger, which began publishing in 1885. After spending a period in exile, Mikhailovsky joined the Messenger staff and wrote later for two other populist journals, Russian Wealth and Russian Thought. He was one of the outstanding examples of the legal populist journalists and led the journalistic critique of the legal Marxists.

During the early years of Nicholas II (r. 18941917), some Russian journalists promoted anti-government political and social views in the papers printed abroad by such illegal political parties as the Social Democrats, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Union of Liberation. The Social Democrats, led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, began Spark in 1902 in London, its declared purpose being to unseat the tsar and start a social revolution. Those who backed Spark in Russia had to accept Spark 's editorial board as their party's leaders. When the various anti-autocracy factions cohered as legal parties in Russia following the Revolution of 1905, each published its own legal newspaper. The Mensheviks launched Ray in 1912 and Lenin's Bolsheviks started Pravda (Truth) in 1912, but the government closed the latter in 1914. (Pravda emerged again after the Revolution of 1917 as the main outlet for the views of the ruling Communist Party). Another type of journalism was that of Prince V. P. Meshchersky, editor of the St. Petersburg daily, The Citizen. Meshchersky accepted money from a secret government "reptile" fund. His publishing activities were completely venal, but both Alexander II and Nicholas II supported him because of his pro-autocracy, nationalistic views.

With mass publishing commonplace in the big cities of Russia by 1900, publishers in those centers continued to increase readerships, some with papers that primarily shocked or entertained. In the first category was Rumor of St. Petersburg; in the second, St. Petersburg Gazette, for which Anton Chekhov wrote short stories pseudonymously. The copeck newspapers of Moscow and St. Petersburg provided broad coverage at little cost for urban readers. Making a selling point of pictures and fiction, by 1870 Adolf Fyodorovich Marks lined up nine thousand paid subscriptions to meet the initial costs of his illustrated magazine, The Cornfield, which was the first of the so-called thin journals, and increased readership to 235,000 by century's turn. The government itself entered into mass production of its inexpensive newspaper for peasants, Village Messenger, and achieved a press run of 150,000.

High reporting standards set by long-time publisher Alexei Sergeyevich Suvorin, on the other hand, won a large readership for the conservative New Times, the daily he had acquired in 1876. Reputedly the one paper read by members of the Imperial family, New Times merited respect for publishing reporters such as Vasily Vasilevich Rozanov, one of the best practitioners of the cryptic news style typical in modern journalism. Imperial funding to friendly publishers like Suvorin, regardless of need, continued to 1917 through subsidies and subscription purchases. (Other recipients of lesser stature were Russian Will, Contemporary Word, Voice of Moscow, and Morning of Russia. ) Another paper receiving help from the government was Russian Banner, the organ of the party of the extreme right wing in Russia after 1905, the Union of the Russian People. On the other end of the political spectrum, satirical publications targeting high officials and Tsar Nicholas II flourished in the years 1905 through 1908, though many were short-lived. One count shows 429 different titles of satirical publications during these years.

One outstanding newspaper, Russian Word of Moscow, became Russia's largest daily. Credit goes to the publisher of peasant origins, Ivan D. Sytin, who followed the journalistic road urged on him by Chekhov by founding a conservative daily in 1894 and transforming it into a liberal daily outside party or government affiliations. Sytin was no writer himself, but in 1901 he hired an excellent liberal editor, Vlas Doroshevich, who became one of Russia's most imitated journalists and a prose stylist whom Leo Tolstoy ranked as second only to Chekhov. Doroshevich gained the title king of feuilletonists by dealing with important issues in an engaging, chatty style. As editor of Word, he ordered each reporter to make sense of breaking events by writing as if he were the reader's informative and entertaining friend. At the same time he barred intrusion by the business office into the newsroom, and kept Sytin to his promise not to interfere in any editorial matters whatsoever. Through these journalistic standards, Doroshevich built Russian Word into the only million-copy daily published in Russia prior to the Revolution of 1917.

Pravda, not Russian Word, however, would be the paper that dominated the new order established by Lenin's Bolsheviks. In the early twenty-first century, the front section of the building that housed Word abuts the building of Izvestiia, another Bolshevik paper from 1917 that has, in its post-communist incarnation, become one of Russia's great newspapers. Pravda, the huge Soviet-era daily with a press-run of more than six million, was first and foremost the organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR and it perpetuated Lenin's idea that the press in a socialist society must be a collectivist propagandist, agitator, and organizer. Other newspapers during the Soviet era were bound to follow Pravda 's political line, expressed in the form of long articles and the printing of speeches of high officials, and to promote the achievements of Soviet life. Regional and local papers, little distinguishable from Pravda in format, had leeway to cover local news, and specialized papers had scope to introduce somewhat different coverage, as well. In any event, the agitational purpose of Soviet papers meant that Western concepts of independent reporting and confidentiality of sources had no place in journalism in the USSR.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new Constitution of the Russian Federation, approved by popular referendum on December 12, 1993, recognized freedom of thought and speech, forbade censorship, and guaranteed "the right to freely seek, obtain, transmit, produce, and disseminate information by any legal method." The Constitution prohibited the creation of a state ideology that could limit the functioning of the mass media. Within months, in June of 1994, the Congress of Russian Journalists insisted that journalists resist pressure on the reporting of news from any source.

Russian journalists, working to these high standards, have sometimes paid a price for their commitment to objective reporting. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, for writing critical dispatches from Chechnya for the small, biweekly newspaper New Gazette, was detained for a period by the FSB, the federal security service, and received numerous threats to her personal security. When Gregory Pasco, the naval officer turned journalist, exposed nuclear waste dumping in the Pacific Ocean by the Russian fleet, a court convicted him of treason. Other Russian journalists who engaged in forthright reporting have been killed under mysterious circumstances.

Major Russian newspapers have not managed to establish their own financial independence, because they are owned by wealthy banks and resource companies closely connected to the federal government. Most newspapers outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg (from 95 to 97% of them, according to the Glasnost Foundation) are owned or controlled by governments at the provincial or regional level. One of their tasks is to assist in the reelection of local officials. Overall, only a handful of newspapers in Russia are independent journalistic voices in the early twenty-first century. On the other hand, controls on journalism in Russia are no longer monolithic, as in the Soviet era, and citizens of the Russian Federation had access to varied sources of news reports in the print and electronic media. The Internet newspaper, for instance, offers coverage comparable to a Western paper.

See also: belinsky, vissarion grigorievich; censorship; chernyshevsky, nikolai gavrilovich; herzen, alexander ivanovich intelligentsia; katkov, mikhail nikiforovich; mikhailovsky, nikolai konstantinovich; newspapers; suvorin, alexei sergeyevich; sytin, ivan dmitrievich; thick journals


Ambler, Effie. (1972). Russian Journalism and Politics: The Career of Aleksei S. Suvorin, 18611881. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

McReynolds, Louise. (1991). The News under Russia's Old Regime: The Development of a Mass Circulation Press. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Norton, Barbara T., and Gheith, Jehanne M., eds. (2001). An Improper Profession: Women, Gender, and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ruud, Charles A. (1982). Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 18041906. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Charles A. Ruud


views updated May 09 2018


Latin American journalism is complicated by the tension that exists between the quality of the work and the strategies employed to deal with competitors and enemies of the press. In 2005, the United Nations estimated that almost 10 percent of the region's citizens are illiterate and only 83 percent of primary students finish the schooling cycle. Even though millions do not buy a newspaper, it is a daily habit for many to read the headlines on the front pages of publications in kioskos (cabinets that hold newspapers and magazines). Radio and television have reached more incomunicados (those beyond communication), but many who are exposed to broadcast media are also tabloid readers. The print medium has had a greater long-term historical impact by influencing opinion makers but is losing that power. The mainstream press, which represents the social and economic interests of its owners, often challenged in the twentieth century by dictators, is under pressure of the powers that be (poderes fácticos) such as corporations, populist politicians, and the drug lords in the early twenty-first century.

The first printing press was set up in New Spain (Mexico) in 1535, soon after the Spanish Conquest and a century before the establishment of the first printing press in the British North American colonies. This first press was used primarily to produce religious material to support the Roman Catholic Church. An Italian citizen brought the first printing press to the Viceroyalty of Peru in 1583.

Under close government control, however, the early presses did not print newspapers until the eighteenth century. The first newspaper in Spanish America was La Gazeta de México y Noticias de Nueva España, founded in Mexico City in 1722; the first daily paper did not appear until 1805. The early press reported on religious and commercial activities, but as time passed, journalism entered into a vituperative political phase.

The movements for independence from Spain between 1809 and 1825 saw the birth of patriot propaganda organs, such as El Despertador Americano (The American Alarm Clock) in Mexico, Aurora de Chile (Dawn) in Chile, and El Peruano (The Peruvian) in Peru. El Peruano suspended publication in 1880 during a war against Chile, but it restarted several years later and was still being published into the twenty-first century. As the nineteenth century progressed, newspapers became a source of information for the masses.

In Chile, for example, El Ferrocarril (The Railroad, 1855–1911) was the first newspaper supported mainly by advertising. Likewise, in Mexico the founding by Rafael Reyes Spíndola of El Imparcial (1896), which sold for one centavo, removed the press from dependence on political support by widening circulation and thus increasing advertising revenues. Newspapers were also an important medium for fledgling parties, such as La Vanguardia for the Argentine Socialist Party.

As an example of the power of the press in early twentieth-century Latin America, U.S. journalist James Creelman's interview with the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911), published in Pearson's Magazine in 1908, contained Díaz's assertion that he would not run for an eighth term in 1910. Intended only for foreign consumption, the interview was circulated by the underground press in Mexico, which set the political pot bubbling and led to revolution. In the aftermath of the revolution, some conservative Mexico City newspapers, seeking to preserve privilege, undermined the fragile democratic government of Francisco I. Madero (1911–1913).

In Bolivia, the distance between the press and the people was huge. The Big Three tin-mine owners controlled the three leading newspapers until the advent of La Calle (The Street, 1936–1946). Politicized by the disastrous Chaco War with Paraguay (1932–1935), La Calle supported the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement), which started reforms in Bolivia in 1952.

In Cuba, the corrupt press under Fulgencio Batista (1934–1959) accepted $450,000 a month in bribes to support the dictator. After Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, he instituted state control of the press. Granma became the voice of the Cuban Communist Party, and therefore of the state, and Prensa Latina started operations as the Third World's first international news agency.

Other newspapers strove to be independent. In Uruguay, El Día championed the progressive programs of President José Batlle y Ordóñez. La Prensa of Buenos Aires, founded by Ezequiel Paz in 1869 and the best known Latin American newspaper before its closure by Juan Perón in 1951, refused to accept subscriptions from government employees and vowed not to discuss the private lives of public figures. Bartolomé Mitre founded Argentina's influential La Nación.

The liberal Excélsior of Mexico, however, was not able to remain exempt from the wrath of the official party Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Founded in 1917, and one of the few successful newspaper cooperatives in the world, Excélsior was edited by Julio García Scherer until the government of Luis Echeverría engineered his ouster in 1976. Neither Excélsior nor La Prensa of Argentina has recovered its international prestige.

In Brazil, during the early Portuguese colonial period, there was no printing press or periodicals, since prohibitions against the press were rigorously enforced. The first Brazilian newspaper was the weekly A Gazeta do Río de Janeiro, established in 1808.

The nineteenth century saw the emergence of such distinguished journalists as Joaquim María Machado de Assís (1839–1908), who along with Rui Barbosa (1849–1923) combined journalism with literature. Cuban José Martí did the same for Mexican, American, and Venezuelan newspapers beginning in 1880.

In modern times, giants of the Brazilian press such as O Estado de São Paulo and Jornal do Brasil opposed the reformist president João Goulart (1961–1964), contributing to his overthrow and ushering in twenty-one years of military rule. But once censorship was lifted in 1978, Brazilian newspapers were instrumental in opposing continued military domination and fostering a return to democracy in 1985.

But nowhere was the dispute between government and press more sharply etched than in Chile during the freely elected presidency of socialist Salvador Allende (1970–1973). While Allende granted freedom of the press, the opposition press undermined his government and made possible the military coup of 11 September 1973. El Mercurio (founded 1827) accepted $1,650,000 from the Central Intelligence Agency to wage verbal warfare against Allende. His successor, dictator General Augusto Pinochet, did not permit freedom of expression during his sixteen-year rule.

There were other approaches toward the relationship between government and the press. In Peru a group of military officers who took power in 1968 seized the eight leading newspapers in 1974. They promised to turn these dailies over to various sectors of the people, but this never happened. An elected civilian government returned the papers to their owners in 1980.

Journalism is a prestigious field in Latin America, although underpaid reporters often hold two or more jobs, sometimes unaware of possible conflicts of interest. They are also susceptible to bribes, particularly in remote areas, far from the main capitals.

Government harassment of the press can be fierce. Some 98 newsmen were killed in Argentina during the Dirty War (1976–1983), and some 400 fled the country. Brazilian newsmen also suffered abuses during dictatorship in the 1970s. Journalists also have been on the front lines, sometimes paying with their lives, in the drug wars of Colombia and the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist terrorist activities in Peru.

Direct censorship, such as that wielded by the Sandinistas of Nicaragua against La Prensa in the 1980s, is rare because media watchdogs and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) disseminate alerts immediately. More insidious, however, is auto-censura (self-censorship) by which governments or corporations indirectly intimidate journalists, who might not be aware of their adversarial potential against those who rule.

The first journalism school in Latin America was created by the Círculo de Periodistas (Circle of Journalists) in La Plata, Argentina, in 1934, but widespread instruction in the field did not exist until after World War II. In 1994, Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez created Fundación Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (New Iberoamerican Journalism Foundation), currently the main journalism training organization for practitioners in the region. Based in Cartagena, it promotes quality journalism through workshops and the presentation of annual Nuevo Periodismo (New Journalism) awards. In 2004, there were 1026 departments, schools, and communication programs in 22 countries across Latin America. Most of them offer journalism as a career path; as an example, Brazil had 297 courses recognized with the title "Journalism," while Chile had more than forty public and private universities teaching journalism courses. Investigative journalism (periodismo de investigación) started reporting on corruption, violence, and drug trafficking in the 1980s. Investigative journalism often seeks to make state institutions accountable, especially in weak democracies. There are several national and independent investigative journalism networks that maintain vigilance. Some stories have had strong political impact, especially in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, México, and Peru.

The Ecuadorian newspaper Hoy in 1994 and Peruvian weekly magazine Caretas in 1995 offered on-line versions of their publications before the New York Times and El País (Spain) announced their Internet versions.

Blogs (diarios de referencia) have been an online feature for leading newspapers since 2005. The authors of the blogs can be either staff or nonstaff journalists. Ricardo Noblat, a Brazilian journalist who independently started a blog, had his work co-opted by the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo because it successfully exposed government corruption. In January 2007, Noblat's abandoned the Estadão (a colloquial name for the Sao Paulo paper) and moved to O Globo, the most important in Rio de Janeiro.

Such literary periodicals as Etiqueta Negra, based in Lima (Peru), and Gatopardo, based in Bogotá (Colombia), have contributors from Latin America, United States, and Europe and combine writing with innovative design.

See alsoAllende Gossens, Salvador; Barbosa de Oliveira, Rui; Batista y Zaldívar, Fulgencio; Batlle y Ordóñez, José; Castro Ruz, Fidel; Chaco War; Díaz, Porfirio; Dirty War; Echeverría Álvarez, Luis; Excélsior (Mexico City); García Márquez, Gabriel; Internet; Journalism in Mexico; Machado de Assis, Joaquim Maria; Madero, Francisco Indalecio; Martí y Pérez, José Julián; Mercurio, El; Mitre, Bartolomé; Nación, La (Buenos Aires); Perón, Juan Domingo; Pinochet Ugarte, Augusto; Prensa, La (de Nicaragua); Radio and Television; Scherer, Julio.


Good historical overviews are Gustavo Adolfo Otero, El periodismo en América (1946); and Michael Brian Salwen and Bruce Garrison, Latin American Journalism (1991). Significant treatments of the Latin American press in the twentieth century are Robert N. Pierce, Keeping the Flame: Media and Government in Latin America (1979); and Marvin Alisky, Latin American Media: Guidance and Censorship (1981). Elizabeth Fox, ed., Media and Politics in Latin America: The Struggle for Democracy (1988), gives more attention to radio and television. For critical national studies, see Juan Gargurevich, Historia de la prensa peruana 1594–1990, Lima: La Voz Ediciones, 1991; Jerry Knudson, Bolivia: Press and Revolution, 1932–1964 (1986); The Chilean Press During the Allende Years, 1970–73 (1986); Nelson Werneck Sodré, A História da Imprensa no Brasil (1966). Twenty-first century journalism analyses include Catherine Conaghan, Deception in the Public Sphere, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006; Silvio Waisbord, Watchdog Journalism in South America: News, Accountability and Democracy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.

                                          Jerry Knudson

                                       Jacqueline Fowks


views updated May 21 2018



Since the early 1950s, computers have played a major role in journalism and mass communication. As early as 1956, computers were used to analyze political polling data and national election returns.

In the beginning, only the largest media organizations could afford computer-based technology. Today, computers are present in virtually every newsroom in the country. Journalists use computer technology in three major areas: (a) gathering information to be used in news stories; (b) producing newspaper and magazine articles and television or radio newscasts; and (c) distributing news stories and programs to the general public. Prior to the introduction of computers in journalism, news deadlines had to be set early enough for the material to be produced, published or recorded, and disseminated in a timely manner. The use of computers in journalism now allows the very latest news to appear in print or on the airas well as in online form via the Internet.

Computers Enter the Newsroom

Newspapers began using computers in the early 1970s. These were large mainframe machines designed specifically to be used for copyediting and typesetting to produce the actual newspaper pages. Initially, computers were not used to gather the news, whether for print or for broadcast use.

Computers first appeared in television newsrooms in the early 1980s. As was the case in print journalism, the first television news computers were proprietary machines that, unlike today's personal computers, were designed to perform a single function. One of the first proprietary television newsroom computers was manufactured by Dynatech Newstar. It allowed broadcast reporters to write scripts and read wire stories. Later versions of the program added the ability for newscast producers to organize newscasts and create detailed rundowns of the news program's content.

In the late 1980s, the computer systems shifted from proprietary hardware and software to personal desktop computers as PCs and Macintosh computers became more powerful. Today, virtually all newspaper, television, and radio news content is produced using computer terminals or notebook computers. These computers connect the newsroom with other parts of the media production process. Page layout softwaresuch as Quark Express, Adobe PageMaker, and InDesignhas streamlined the production of newspapers by making it possible for entire pages to be created easily on the desktop. In television, computers can transmit production information, including on-screen graphics and closed-captioning text, directly to the control room for use on the air.

In the mid-1990s, desktop computers became powerful enough to handle the creation of multimedia products such as pictures, graphics, video, and sounds. Just as desktop publishing changed the way page layouts were created, programs like Adobe Photoshop changed the way in which media companies created graphics and pictures. Prior to the use of computers, newspapers used traditional photographic film and chemicals in "wet" darkrooms to create pictures. By the early 2000s, many newspapers used digital cameras to capture photographs and "digital" darkrooms to process them.

Digital Graphics and Audio

In television, the first computer-based graphics and video editing systems appeared in the early 1990s. Like other computer applications, the first systems were based on propriety hardware and were extremely expensive. It was not uncommon for a television graphics computer hardware and application to cost more than $250,000. Early computer-based, or non-linear, video editing programs were equally expensive. Now, programs such as Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere are affordable for many hobbyists, as well as television stations and video production companies.

Non-linear video editing is replacing traditional tape-to-tape editing in which scenes were physically recorded from one videotape recorder to another. With computer-based editing, the pictures can be assembled electronically on a computer screen. Some television stations, such as the Gannett Corporation's WKYC in Cleveland, Ohio, are instituting an all-digital workflow. Video for news stories is converted to a digital format as soon as the reporter gets back to the station after covering an event. The digital video is then available to everyone in the news production process (reporters, photographers, editors, producers, and promotions department) via networked desktop computers. This speeds up the production process and makes it possible for last minute changes to be made in the news programs.

Computers are also used by radio stations to create digital audio. News reporters can edit interviews with newsmakers and add commentary from reporters without having to splice the audiotape physically or record it from one tape recorder to another.

Computer Assisted Reporting

Journalists also use computers to gather information for stories. The term for this function is "computer assisted reporting." For example, reporters can sift through complicated databases, such as census information supplied by the U.S. government to gather specific information about individual communities. Computer assisted reporting can help journalists to spot trends in a community, such as an increase in cancer rates among a certain segment of the population or a decrease in the number of young people who are planning to attend college. Computer assisted reporting can also be used to examine and investigate police statistics, such as the number of traffic citations that have been issued to public officials for which the fines were never paid.

The Internet provides a major source of information for journalists, particularly when they are working on a breaking story. For example, there are several aviation-related web sites that reporters can turn to for current and background information after a major airplane crash. These web sites can help reporters collect technical information about the type of airplane involved and its maintenance history. Many sites are also available to help reporters gather scientific, geographical, historical, and health-related information.

News Online

The latest use of computers in journalism is to disseminate information via sites on the World Wide Web. Most major newspapers, television networks, local television stations, and major radio stations have web sites that feature news content. It is possible to "read" almost any newspaper in the world if it is available on the Internet. Newspaper and television companies have tried several business models to make money with their web sites. In early tests, however, most journalism web sites have not been profitable. Surveys indicate that most people are, as yet, unwilling to pay for web-based news content. Many media web sites rely on on-screen advertising for their revenue. In most cases, however, the advertising revenue does not support the cost of producing the web material.

The Future

It is difficult to determine what effect computers will have on journalism in the future. A generation ago, only large newspaper companies had the economic muscle to publish a daily newspaper. Today, anyone with a page layout program and access to the World Wide Web can reach readers around the world. Likewise, the high cost of video production used to mean that only television stations and networks could afford to produce programs. The development of affordable desktop video has changed that, too. As Internet bandwidth increases, more and more companies will be able to produce their own video programs and distribute them over the World Wide Web. This is a far cry from those early mainframe computers used on election night in 1956.

see also Architecture; Desktop Publishing; Document Processing.

Gary Hanson

Internet Resources

Himowitz, Mike. "Computer-Assisted Reporting." <>

JournalismNet. <>

"Today in Journalism." Poynter Institute for Media Studies. <>


views updated May 29 2018

JOURNALISM The enterprise of producing newspapers and magazines (including reporting, writing, editing, photographing, and managing) as well as the styles of writing used in such publications. The term came into use some two centuries after the practice had started. From the 18c, there were basically two styles: the elegant and ornate ‘high’ style of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Samuel JOHNSON, and the other essayists, and the ‘low’ style of the so-called Grub Street hacks. Daniel DEFOE is often regarded as the first journalist, as distinct from the man of letters. With the rise of the popular press in the 19c, the more fashionable alternative terms were the higher journalism ( Matthew Arnold's term) and the gutter press. To a large extent these modes are perpetuated in the division of modern British journalism into the quality press and the tabloids. By the mid-19c, the term was starting to fall into disrepute, to imply rather superficial social and political commentary and a style which was less than exemplary. In England in 1879, George Eliot commented rather scornfully on ‘Journalistic guides to the popular mind’, while journalese, recorded from 1882, was defined by the OED c.1900 as ‘“newspaper” or “penny-a-liner's” English’. The term journalism continues throughout the English-speaking world to retain a tinge of disapproval, and most of the epithets applied to the profession (such as hacks, muck-rakers, rat packs, reptiles, scribblers) are uncomplimentary.

It was, however, from the early 19c to the First World War that journalism enjoyed its greatest influence. Editors were raised to virtually legendary status, their editorials or ‘leaders’ being regarded as models of stylistic elegance and political authority, with an impact on current affairs which has never been surpassed. Especially under the editorship of Thomas Barnes, The Times became such a powerful voice in Britain (promoting the Reform Bill and condemning the Corn Laws) that by 1829 it had earned the sobriquet The Thunderer. Both Samuel Coleridge and Benjamin Disraeli served as leader-writers for the Morning Post, which also published poems by William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and Rudyard Kipling. Although editors are not so strongly associated with newspapers in the US as in the UK, the names of Ambrose Bierce, A. J. Liebling, H. L. MENCKEN, Lincoln Steffens, and Tom Wolfe are especially notable in American journalism.

Newspapers will do whatever is necessary to catch and hold readers at the level at which they operate. ‘Serious’ or ‘quality’ newspapers cater to a minority with a higher level of education and interest. This minority is willing to read lengthy articles and expects a quasi-literary quality in what it reads. ‘Popular’ newspapers are aimed at the un-literary majority in any area. Many of their readers have no special interest in language and little time or inclination for detail. They also often have a great interest in social events and sport, and in the human side of the entertainment business. There is therefore a greater emphasis on ‘gossip’ and ‘inside stories’ than in the ‘heavies’ (the serious papers), although these also carry more muted versions of the same thing, often in the form of reviews. Adapting to their markets, newspapers differ in physical terms (with preferred formats such as broadsheet or tabloid; preferred headline styles; longer or shorter stories and features) and in the linguistic style that appeals to their target readerships.

The tradition of trenchant freelance political journalism founded by Defoe and continued by John Wilkes in the 18c was maintained in the 19c by William Cobbett and Charles DICKENS. In the 20c, the emphasis has moved from the editors who run newspapers to the entrepreneurs who own them, while new kinds of journalism have developed, contrasting print journalists with radio journalists and television journalists. See HEADLINE, JOURNALESE.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic