Covering America

Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation's Journalism

Christopher B. Daly
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Covering America
    Book Description:

    Today many believe that American journalism is in crisis, with traditional sources of news under siege from a failing business model, a resurgence of partisanship, and a growing expectation that all information ought to be free. In Covering America, Christopher B. Daly places the current crisis within a much broader historical context, showing how it is only the latest in a series of transitions that have required journalists to devise new ways of plying their trade. Drawing on original research and synthesizing the latest scholarship, Daly traces the evolution of journalism in America from the early 1700s to the “digital revolution” of today. Analyzing the news business as a business, he identifies five major periods of journalism history, each marked by a different response to the recurrent conflicts that arise when a vital cultural institution is housed in a major private industry. Throughout his narrative history Daly captures the ethos of journalism with engaging anecdotes, biographical portraits of key figures, and illuminating accounts of the coverage of major news events as well as the mundane realities of daytoday reporting.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-195-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface A Note on Methods
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On an early spring night in 1722, a young man hurried along the narrow streets of Boston, trying not to be seen. He was not a spy or a thief. He only wanted to be a writer. Just sixteen years old, Ben Franklin was hoping to get his writing published for the first time, and he had chosen a risky, roundabout route to do so. He had waited until dark, and it was darker still in the shadows of the close-set shops, sheds, barns, and houses along Milk Street. Young Ben was skulking around the shop of theNew-England Courant,...

  5. PART I The Press, 1704–1920
    • CHAPTER 1 Foundations of the American Press, 1704–1763 Franklin and His Contemporaries
      (pp. 11-30)

      When young ben franklin was learning the printer’s trade in the early eighteenth century, the business of putting out a newspaper was still a new one in North America. As the early settlers along the Atlantic coast started establishing their farms and towns, they brought with them a cultural inheritance from Europe. Among English speakers, that legacy included newspapers such as those that were already flourishing in London by the late seventeenth century.¹ During the first decades of settlement and well into the 1600s, the colonists found themselves much too busy with more pressing matters to bother publishing newspapers of...

    • Chapter 2 Printers Take Sides, 1763–1832
      (pp. 31-55)

      The fate of north America and all its peoples—whether they spoke English, French, or Spanish; Mandinka or Yoruba; Navajo or Cherokee; Creole, German, or Russian—was decided on September 13, 1759, when General James Wolfe and his British troops sneaked up the cliffs of Quebec and defeated the French forces under the Marquis de Montcalm. There was no mention of the momentous event in the next day’s newspapers along the Atlantic seaboard, although the journalists of the day were hardly to blame, since there were no journalists present to see it. From the moment of Wolfe’s victory, a succession...

    • Chapter 3 Putting the News in Newspapers, 1833–1850
      (pp. 56-85)

      Deep changes were coming. Without any program or ultimate purpose guiding them, a number of people, acting independently during the first decades of the nineteenth century, came up with inventions or made new social arrangements that, taken together, had the effect of setting the stage for the creation of the modern newspaper. From those separate and uncoordinated acts there arose a major manufacturing industry, a vessel of popular culture, and a pervasive institution that changed the flow of information, broke down barriers of isolation, and—sometimes—challenged the powers that be. After 1833, the newspaper became the key element in...

    • Chapter 4 Radicals All! 1830–1875 Covering Slavery and the Civil War
      (pp. 86-111)

      The prospect of an American army taking the field to do battle is a dreadful one. Even more terrible to contemplate is the prospect oftwoAmerican armies taking the field, prepared to slaughter each other unceasingly until one can claim ultimate victory. Such was the military face of the Civil War, a conflict of unparalleled moral, political, legal, and social consequence for Americans. At stake, ultimately, was nothing less than the definition of what it meant to be human. In all its fullness, the great conflict, which sundered churches, political parties, the military, and even families, was for Americans...

    • Chapter 5 Crusaders and Conservatives, 1875–1912 Journalism in Yellow and Gray
      (pp. 112-150)

      After the great battlefield triumphs by Northern armies at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, the Union’s ultimate victory was practically assured. President Lincoln, however, still faced a pressing problem: his army had suffered so many casualties that summer that he would need many, many more men to fill up its battered ranks. But where would he find them? The draft riots in the summer of 1863 proved that it would be difficult. So the Lincoln administration sent recruiting agents far and wide, and they were none too particular about the kind of men they signed up. In...

    • Chapter 6 Professionalizing the News in Peace and War, 1900–1920
      (pp. 151-182)

      Can journalism be taught?

      By the time H. L. Mencken pondered that question in his memoir of his early days in the newspaper business, a campaign had long been under way to try to elevate the practice of journalism in America, largely by improving the training of each new crop of reporters. Some even hoped to—someday, somehow—make journalism into something approaching an exact science. If they could not accomplish that lofty goal, at least they might be able to address practices like reporters’ faking the news, drinking on the job, and taking payoffs from people being covered. Maybe...

  6. PART II The Media, 1920–
    • Chapter 7 Jazz Age Journalism, 1920–1929 Magazines and Radio Challenge the Newspaper
      (pp. 185-214)

      In the early 1920s, in New York City alone there were seventeen English-language daily newspapers.¹ Philadelphia and Chicago each had six. Most cities, and even a lot of small towns, had several, often with more than one edition. The total number of daily newspapers in the country reached an all-time high of 2,461 in 1916, and the number of weekly papers was still climbing.² News couldn’t wait until the next morning, so many publishers offered evening editions. They were able to compete with the morning papers by providing a mix of updated news, stock market results, and the latest baseball...

    • Chapter 8 Hard Times, 1929–1941 Three Great Columnists, Two Great Reporters, One Horrible Decade
      (pp. 215-254)

      I in the 1930s and early 1940s, the news started off bad and just kept getting worse. Two major stories dominated the coverage. At home, the collapse of the U.S. economy caused misery and dislocation on an unprecedented scale. The New Deal and other attempts by the Roosevelt administration to mobilize the federal government to address the economic crisis generated more news from Washington than had ever occurred before in peacetime. Overseas, the rise of fascism in Europe and militarism in Japan generated a steady drumbeat of stories that pointed toward a growing menace and a revived threat of global...

    • Chapter 9 The “Good War,” 1941–1945
      (pp. 255-286)

      In 1941 the axis powers made two key mistakes. In June, Hitler shredded his treaty with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, an act of arrogance that essentially doomed the Third Reich. Six months later, Japan attacked the United States Navy. On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes staged a successful surprise attack on the American fleet as it lay at anchor at Pearl Harbor. In the space of several hours, fourteen warships were sunk or crippled, about two hundred planes were destroyed (most, as FDR lamented to Murrow, without ever taking off), and some 2,344 American sailors...

    • Chapter 10 Creating Big Media, 1945–1963
      (pp. 287-321)

      From the start, Ed Murrow was skeptical about television news. By the end of World War II, Murrow was the king of news on the radio, and radio was riding high. Over the previous twenty years, radio news had arrived. It now had stature, it had immediacy, and it had sponsors. Radio had become powerful and profitable. So why would a serious newsman like Murrow want to get involved with television, which seemed like a novelty? Television threatened to undermine serious journalism by elevating images over substance, pictures over facts. Television looked promising as a medium for dramas and variety...

    • Chapter 11 Rocking the Establishment, 1962–1972
      (pp. 322-351)

      In the fall of 1962, a young correspondent arrived in Vietnam to take over the Saigon bureau of theNew York Times. The new man was David Halberstam, and he was succeeding a reporter who was a living legend: Homer Bigart. Having covered both World War II and Korea, Bigart had seen more combat than most of the U.S. military officers serving in Vietnam. Bigart was eager to leave, but first he sat down and typed out a three-page letter to Halberstam. It was a classic handoff from a veteran to a rookie, full of advice on everything from news...

    • Chapter 12 The Establishment Holds, 1967–1974
      (pp. 352-394)

      By 1967 the United States was deeply involved in Vietnam. Since the big buildup of forces ordered by President Johnson in 1965, the number of U.S. combat troops had grown to exceed half a million. No longer just advisers, Americans were now fighting the war themselves, and throwing everything they had at it. The press corps was growing, too. From the small handful of correspondents in 1962, the number of journalists of all types—U.S. and foreign, print and broadcast, freelancers and full-timers—was building to a peak in the late 1960s of about 650.¹ Some seventy women—including the...

    • Chapter 13 Big Media Get Bigger, 1980–1999
      (pp. 395-434)

      By the end of the twentieth century, the news business was, in economic terms, beyond mature. It was almost senescent, having begun in the fifteenth century and having long ago brought to a point of logical fulfillment a business and professional model that appeared to guarantee high profits in perpetuity. After a shakeout in the middle of the century, the newspaper industry had mostly slipped the bonds of competition. Most daily papers serving small and medium-sized cities existed as local monopolies, and a fair number of papers serving bigger cities had no real competition either. Even theNew York Times,...

    • Chapter 14 Going Digital, 1995–
      (pp. 435-454)

      By the 1990s, the news media had entered something like a Late Cretaceous period: enormous dinosaurs, having evolved to unprecedented sizes, roamed the landscape. They had adapted magnificently to their environment, and they appeared to be the crowning achievement of all creation. They filled almost every niche. Their sheer mass was astonishing. They seemed to be the greatest accomplishment that Earth was capable of.

      But … what if that environment changed?

      What if, say, an asteroid struck and the climate changed very rapidly?

      In that case, the dinosaurs would not survive. The great hulks would come crashing down into the...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 455-462)

    In recent years, the economic problems facing most of the mainstream news media grew so severe that many people began to ask, Does journalism have a future? Were we seeing the “end of news”?¹ Beneath the “froth and scum” of each hour’s headlines about the news field—the latest merger or bankruptcy, the freshest outrage over partisanship, the newest online startup—there ran deeper currents and tidal movements. If we look at the history over a long enough stretch of time, we can see some of these larger patterns. In my view, the three hundred years and more of human...

  8. Appendix Major Periods in the History of U.S. Journalism
    (pp. 463-464)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 465-498)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 499-512)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 513-516)
  12. Index
    (pp. 517-533)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 534-536)