Roundtable The Business of Media History: Technology, Journalism, Advertising

AHA Session 95
Business History Conference 1
Friday, January 6, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Sheraton Ballroom IV (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Pamela W. Laird, University of Colorado Denver

Session Abstract

The history of American communication technology and its related industries is inextricably bound up with the history of entrepreneurialism, business organizations, commercialization, government regulation, and industrial research. Scholars from the interdisciplinary field of communication have made important contributions to our historical understanding of such technologies and industries. This roundtable, which includes leading figures from communication, addresses the intersecting interests of communication historians and business historians in three key areas: communication technology, journalism, and advertising. The business of media history is essential to understand the complex, often contradictory, and at times unexpected impact of communication technology and media industries over time and, crucially, in the present.

The social, political, and cultural significance of communication technology and media industries is a central concern for communication scholars. Representatives of this field have produced pioneering historical studies of American media—from telegraphy and radio to television and the Internet—and documented the profound influence of such technologies on journalism and advertising. Significantly, these historical investigations often draw special attention to the commercial, regulatory, and organizational forces that shaped their development. Thus, the concerns of communication historians and business historians often overlap. This roundtable aims to address this fertile and under-appreciated overlap. Additionally, the comparative historical perspective offered by each panelist provides insight into the development of twenty-first-century new media, journalism, and advertising.

In his discussion of the telegraph and telephone, Richard John challenges long-held assumptions regarding the economic and technological imperatives of nineteenth-century American telecommunications industries, drawing attention to the influence of political economy and its implications for contemporary regulatory debates. Lynn Spigel addresses the impact of media on the American family and everyday life, from television to contemporary new media, arguing for a broader understanding of media history that considers the penetration of business interests in the domestic sphere. In light of recent breathless praise for the transformative powers of social media, Anna McCarthy interrogates seemingly settled issues of technological determinism and asserts that models for understanding the diffusion of communication technology can be applied to business histories of all technologies. James Baughman challenges the conventional idealized narrative of American journalism and recent hand-wringing over its future, arguing that commercial interests—in addition to political interests—have influenced American newspaper content since its origins in the eighteenth century; he suggests that journalism history may essentially be a genre of business history. Joseph Turow examines the development of digital advertising during the late twentieth century and highlights the role that media buying and planning firms have played in shaping the “industrial logic for the digital interactive world,” a world in which consumers are increasingly segmented, tracked, and labeled.

Together the panelists illustrate the parallel concerns of communication and business historians and suggest common thematic, analytical, and conceptual frameworks. Each panelist will speak for 10-12 minutes and then the Chair, Pamela Laird, will open up the floor for questions and discussion so that the audience can become a full participant in the session, sponsored by AHA’s new affiliate, the Business History Conference.


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