The National Observer, 1962-77: Interpretive Journalism Pioneer

By Landers, James | Journalism History, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

The National Observer, 1962-77: Interpretive Journalism Pioneer


Landers, James, Journalism History


In an era when many newspapers resisted opening their news columns to interpretive articles because editors held to the concept of objective journalism, the National Observer demonstrated a commitment to news interpretation of cultural, political, and social events and issues. For fifteen years it prominently displayed interpretive articles on its front page and often on its special-focus back page without labeling them "news analysis," which was the custom of the time. The articles explored and explained the causes and effects of some of the major events and issues of the era, emphasizing good writing and solid reporting. Although the weekly newspaper failed to attract advertisers and eventually ceased publishing, it appealed to a sizable number of subscribers throughout its lifetime and received recognition for its quality journalism.

Technological innovation and journalistic savvy had made Dow Jones & Company enormously profitable by the early 1960s. The company's ticker-teletype service was the dominant provider of financial news, and Barren's, a weekly tabloid devoted to finance, circulated among an elite readership of investors and fund managers. Then, there was the Wall Street Journal, which distributed 800,000 copies coast-to-coast each business day. It was the only truly national daily newspaper of the era, an achievement made possible by regional printing plants connected to a network of electronic typesetters and an embryonic facsimile transmission system. As a result, at the start of 1962, Dow Jones had $20 million in the bank, a nationwide system of printing presses available on weekends, and a plan for a new weekly newspaper, which would require only a portion of the company's cash reserve to launch.1

Bernard Kilgore, the president of Dow Jones and the former editor of the Wall Street Journal, wanted to create a national newspaper for younger, affluent urban and suburban adults who were not regular readers of their local newspapers.2 His premise was that a new generation of readers wanted more than the traditional fare published by most daily newspapers, which reported events and issues without perspective. He planned to take the formula for the Journal, which regularly provided front-page articles that explored the causes and consequences of economic and social issues for readers from the worlds of business and finance, and apply it to a newspaper for a general readership.3 "His original idea was simple-that there is a great deal of information around about current events but little understanding," said William E. Giles, a Wall Street Journal colleague of Kilgore. "The emphasis would be on making sense of things, or at least try."4

Kilgore launched the National Observer, a weekly newspaper that would emphasize coverage of cultural, economic, political, and social issues.5 It intended to provide a mix of well written news stories and lively features, plus in-depth articles that would offer perspective on the news in a style demonstrably different from the interpretive journalism practiced by weekly newsmagazines. "Newspapers had a tradition of straight reporting, solid writing, and certain attitudes about where opinion should be and where it shouldn't be," said Giles, the top editor of the National Observer for its first nine years. "We decided there would be a wide chasm between the National Observer and Time and Newsweek."6

Soon after the debut of the National Observer in February 1962, Columbia journalism Review referred to the newspaper as "a welcome addition to the journalism of summation and interpretation," CJR also commented that the National Observer's newspaper format and writing style "set it apart from the country's three major newsmagazines."7 Some newspaper editors disliked the interpretive journalism style of the newsmagazines, which had created a hybrid of commentary and reportage, but millions of subscribers and newsstand buyers considered them worth reading.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The National Observer, 1962-77: Interpretive Journalism Pioneer
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.