Community of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers

Article excerpt

Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers. David Paul Nord. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001. 293 pp. $29.95 hbk.

In this book, twelve articles produced across twenty years reflect arguments about American engagement with community and about the inextricable link of communication with community. Author David Paul Nord says curiosity about how journalism relates to community, how newspapers are "made," and how readers use them, shaped an overarching question driving the research: What is the function of a newspaper? Concluding that a two-fold press function, fact and forum, has persisted across history, he argues that journalism builds communities. But the fact model, alone, does not do so: It provides materials for doing so-through the forum model (participation and conversation).

Representing fresh perspectives on events from mid-seventeenth to early twentieth century and reflecting diverse methods, the chapters tell "stories of some ... communities and their members, some ... newspapers and their readers" in American history, including reinterpretation of the John Peter Zenger case; analysis of readers of, and content in, a late-eighteenth-century New York magazine; exploration of William Lloyd Garrison's views of press function (counterpoint to conventional interpretations of the penny press); and analysis of manuscript letters to a Chicago editor. Three chapters about late nineteenth-- century Chicago (and recurring references to the Progressive Era) draw reader attention to provocative arguments about a transformation point in journalism toward a collectivist orientation. A strong introduction clarifies the articles' genesis and commonalities, cites relevant scholarship since their original publication, and offers rich discussions of newspaper function and of the civic journalism movement in relation to the book's conceptual foundation. A brief "Afterword" relates Internet communication also to the books' conceptual basis.

Nord, journalism professor at Indiana University, says newspapers were becoming "part professional ethos and part industrial procedure" while also becoming identified with "objectivity" during the Progressive Era, when, some have suggested, the fact model displaced the public forum model. Nord, however, finds the former at least as early as America's beginnings and finds classic expression of the latter in John Milton's 1644 plea for open exchange of ideas (a plea essentially defining a public debate function). Asserting, however, that neither model explains how power works, Nord says Americans have used both models "to build groups and communities in their own interest and image-and to tear others down." And such organized "mobilization of bias creates and maintains groups and communities," a cultural work accomplished, at least in part, through newspapers. …