Journalism 1908: Birth of a Profession

Article excerpt

Winfield, Betty Houchin, ed. Journalism 1908: Birth of a Profession. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008. 356 pp. $24.95.

Journalism 1908 is a proud and earnest volume principally intended to mark the centenary of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and recall its natal year, 1908. The objective is admirably accomplished through the work of the volume's editor, Betty Houchin Winfield, and her seventeen contributors, all of whom have Missouri connections. An impressive and varied lineup it is, ranging from such eminent scholars as Maurine Beasley and William H. Taft, to doctoral candidates completing their studies at university. They offer usually insightful chapters on topics ranging from the politics of the press to sports journalism in 1908.

Winfield has accomplished something of even broader importance to journalism history: Journalism 1908 effectively demonstrates the value and ptacticality of the edited-year study. Journalism 1908 is the first of that sub-genre in journalism research and could well serve as a model for other editedyear studies.

The year study is a promising methodology that has begun slowly to attract the scholarly interest of journalism historians. Year studies are fairly well established in other fields and represent for journalism scholars a compelling and versatile response to periodic appeals for methodological freshness in the field.

There are no shortage of candidates for year studies in journalism, notably years more recent than 1908. The candidates include 1963, the year that confirmed the ascendancy of television news; 1971, the year of the Pentagon Papers and the Supreme Court ruling against prior restraint; and 1995, the year that signaled the emergence of the Internet and profound turmoil in journalism.

Because they typically are sharply focused, year studies can clarify issues, trends, and developments that otherwise may be blurred in the sweep of historiography. Year studies offer impressive flexibility as they can be, in the words of Michael North, the author of Reading 1922, "durational and punctual at the same time."

Year studies, of course, are not without risks, the most acute of which is over-selling: claiming too much significance for a single year while ignoring broader, evolutionary contexts. …