Book Reviews -- Gods within the Machine: A History of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1923-1993 by Paul Alfred Pratte

Article excerpt

Pratte, Paul Alfredi Gods Within th Machine: A History of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1923-1993. Westport, Conn,: Praeger, 1995. 248 pp. $55.

This first independent history of one of the most elite groups in American journalism tells in straightforward style the role ASNE played in relating to, and sometimes inspiring, the main currents in print media. Alfred Pratte, a professor of communications at Brigham Young University, starts with the organization's founding in 1922 by five midwestern editors and brings its history into the 1990s, when at the time of the book's writing there were 877 members, representing all fifty states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada, and France. Probably best known for promulgating journalism's major code of ethics, adopted at its first meeting in April 1923, ASNE became involved in so many controversial issues that its history reads like an overview of twentieth-century journalism.

Relying heavily on the organization's official "proceedings" of annual conventions and minutes of board meetings, as well as correspondence and interviews, Pratte takes the reader through many of those issues decade by decade. Among those discussed ate voluntary censorship during World War II, followed by a less exemplary stand during the McCarthy era; the beginning of a freedom of information campaign and a fight against school segregation in the 1950s; concern about inadequate coverage of the 1960s civil rights movement and a growing suspicion of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Pratte also looks at attempts to increase the number of women members from only one percent in the 1970s and the editors' post-Watergate concerns about the sometimes inadequate training of college journalists; the creation of editors-turned-publishers through certain chain ownerships; and the interlocking directorates of print and broadcast media in the 1980s and 1990s. …