The Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment

By Shaw, Donald L. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment


Shaw, Donald L., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


The Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment. Darrell M. West. Boston, MA: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2001.140 pp. $45 hbk.

Professor West, who teaches political science at Brown University, has written an insightful, interpretative, and certainly sweeping history of American journalism. His argument is that there have been five distinct stages in journalistic evolution (with a chapter for each, along with introductory and concluding chapters): (1) the partisan media, 1790s-1840s; (2) commercial media, 1840s-1920s; (3) objective media, 1920s-1970s; (4) interpretive media, 1970s through the 1980s; and (5) fragmented media, 1990s to present.

The story almost tells itself, once you have the structure. The newspapers that emerged with independence attached themselves to parties, giving rise to what journalism historian Frank Luther Mott called the dark ages of partisan journalism until, in West's view, the telegraph and other technologies, along with the rise of independent editors, promoted a media for the marketplace. The aftermath of the Progressive Era-the challenges of covering world wars and the expansion of public education, among other things-resulted in a period in which the news media focused on objectivity. Certainly there were (and are) many efforts to define objectivity and assess whether it is possible, with many journalists, such as Henry Luce, arguing that objectivity might not be possible but fairness was.

The Vietnam conflict in the 1960s and Watergate revelations during the administration of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s were part of the changes related to the rise of the interpretative media.

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