A(nother) review of “Covering America”

Shameless commerce division: Here’s a review I just came across.

[FYI, I use a “Google alert” to tell me about new mentions on the Web of the phrase “Covering America.” Turns out, they miss a lot of stuff. If you are using a google alert for something important, don’t assume that it’s catching everything. Do an active search once in a while.]

Here goes:

Information & Culture: A Journal of History

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

By Christopher B. Daly.

[Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. 546 pp. $49.95.]

From the earliest days of European colonization of North America, the settlers were by

and large literate and able to afford reading materials. That was the backdrop for the

birth of the press in what eventually became the United States. Historian and one-time

reporter, Christopher B. Daly provides a narrative history of journalism, of its major

figures, institutions, and industry from 1704 to the early 2000s. He devotes much of his

narrative to the lives of individual publishers, such as printer Benjamin Franklin,

publisher James Gordon Bennett, and editor William Randolph Hearst, describing the

organizations they built, the publications they produced, and the effects they had on the

profession of journalism. The book is organized in two parts, the first covering events

from 1704 to the 1920s, the second where he focuses on the media from the 1920s to

the present. The first was all about print publications, from broadsides to newspapers

and magazines, while the second in addition included radio, television, and most

recently, the Internet.

While narrating the evolution of the press into the profession of journalism, he pays

considerable attention to their business organizations: how they made money and who

bought their products, because the vast majority of the work done by this sector of the

American economy was conducted by private enterprises. As with other industries,

media evolved in response to changes in the American economy, political attitudes,

desires of their customers (readers), and events in the life of the nation. Technologies

came that also altered the events of this industry, from the introduction of the telegraph

in the nineteenth century to the arrival of the Internet in the twentieth.

Daly argues that the history of journalism went through five cycles. The first (1704-

1832) involved a highly politicized and partisan press, while the second (1832-1900)

saw the commercialization of a national news industry with large newspapers, a national

readership, and the development of specialized workforces, such as full-time reporters.

The third era (1900-1974) witnessed the professionalization of news gathering and

reporting, both of which occurred during a time when electronic media came into its

own. The fourth period (1965-1995) Daly characterizes as the time when media

businesses conglomerated, with newspapers and radio and television becoming parts of

much larger enterprises, often run by executives with little or no background in

journalism. The fifth era (since 1995) introduces the period of the PC and the Internet.

Most readers familiar with the history of American newspapers, magazines, and

journalism will find no surprises in this synthetic well-written history up through World

War II. The chapters covering the next six decades, however, are some of the best in this

book, providing a history of journalism through the Cold War, the Vietnam period, and

recent national developments, most notably the arrival of the Internet. It is these later

chapters that provides much new material, and offers a synthesis of developments on

the part of the media, but that also contributes an analysis on the expanding role of

citizens in using their content. Consistent across all periods is his attention to

technological innovations, the economics of the media industry, the culture of the

profession, the political environment in which they operated, and finally on the work

values of the profession. He includes discussions about the African-American press and

the role of women in each period, beginning after the Age of Jackson and extending to

the present. In the process, he demonstrates that these communities initially had an

alternative, yet parallel, development alongside mainstream journalism that during the

twentieth century increasingly became more intertwined with the activities and

institutions of American journalism. This was particularly the case with African American

journalism. However, he barely discusses Hispanic journalism of the late twentieth

century, possibly because it may not yet have developed sufficiently to warrant attention

in such a broad treatment of American journalism.

This is a useful, very up-to-date one volume narrative summary of the story. It is not a

book based on archival research; rather, Daly relies extensively on secondary literature,

which he documents in notes and in a bibliography. For students of the history of

information, this is a welcome addition to the literature on who supplied many types of

publications to the American public and how they functioned. It is a practical volume for

both students of American history and for participants in American media, such as

journalists, editors and publishers. In the vernacular of today’s media, it is also “a good

read.”

James W. Cortada, IBM Institute for Business Value

Information & Culture

info@infoculturejournal.org

Published by University of Texas Press

Website © The University of Texas at Austin

School of Information

The University of Texas at Austin

 

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Filed under Journalism, journalism history

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