The Reconsideration of American Journalism History

Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM
Sheraton Ballroom IV (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
James L. Baughman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
A heroic narrative long defined American journalism history. Newspapers that had been party organs or the hobby horses of opinionated owners evolved into great metropolitan dailies. Journalists were free to practice “objective” reporting and analysis. Since the 1970s, serious historians of the news media – including magazines and broadcast news – have challenged this narrative, with many insisting that journalism history is best understood as business history. Although economic factors did not always account for editorial content, a profit-and-loss orientation is not, as some contemporary critics insist, a recent trend in media management. Even in colonial times, business considerations affected the content of the newspaper. The decline of the party press in the late 19th century owed much to retailers’ demand that dailies secure the greatest possible circulation. In the late 20th century, the perceived threat of television news caused editors to grant greater autonomy to their reporters.
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