Book Reviews -- Truth in Publishing: Federal Regulation of the Press's Business Practices, 1880-1912 by Linda Lawson

Article excerpt

Lawson, Linda. Truth in Publishing: Federal Regulation of the Press's Business Practices, 1880-1912. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. 229 pp. $29.95.

The period from 1880 to 1920 was one of rapid growth in the American newspaper business. E.W. Scripps and William Randolph Hearst built their newspaper chains during this era. The number of daily newspapers nearly tripled and newspaper markets neared saturation. For those interested in this period, Linda Lawson's book should be required reading. It is well written and well documented. It sheds new light on an important era in press history and is highly informative.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part details some of the business practices of the press in the late nineteenth century with particular emphasis on business excesses. For many, journalism was a business built on deception. Some publishers lied about their circulation, others hid the ownership of their sheets and many disguised advertisements to look like news articles. Lawson provides the best existing analysis of reading notices, circulation abuses, and patterns of hidden ownership.

The second part examines the reaction to these business excesses by focusing on the Newspaper Publicity Act of 1912 and the Supreme Court decision a year later that upheld it. Lawson provides a careful analysis of the congressional debates over the act in 1912 and devotes chapters to each of its major requirements: disclosure of ownership, identification of advertisements, and truthful circulation statements.

This analysis alone makes the book an important one. But Lawson's sophisticated study of the roots of the Newspaper Publicity Act -- and of the rationale for its success in the Supreme Court -- makes this book essential for anyone interested in government-press relations. The key to all of this is the second-class mailing rate for newspapers and periodicals.

The Postal Act of 1879 created the well-known second-class mailing privilege so vital to the press. It was through this privilege that the government was able to force disclosure of ownership and circulation, and to mandate labeling of advertising. …