Newspapers and the Making of Modern America: A History

By Bernt, Joseph | Journalism History, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Newspapers and the Making of Modern America: A History


Bernt, Joseph, Journalism History


Wallace, Aurora. Newspapers and the Making of Modern America: A History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005. 214 pp. $49.95.

In Newspapers and the Making of Modern America, Aurora Wallace narrowly focuses on the role that a variety of archetypal newspapers play in creating, building, developing, improving, and reinforcing communities and their distinct spaces, infrastructures, values, and lifestyles, which is a symbiotic relationship basic to the growth of the American newspapers in the twentieth century. This thematic history views newspapers as instruments of social change rather than tools of social control and the status quo. This is a history of the modern newspaper as the underlying, often subtle, force promoting schools, public spaces, healthcare facilities, transportation systems, arenas, urban renewal projects, and economic development.

Wallace, who teaches in the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University, arranges this themed history by newspaper types beginning with the emergence of tabloid newspapers in urban America and their development of celebrity news, crime coverage, and sports reporting that created a new urban lifestyle and culture, particularly in New York. She then turns to the reaction of small-town, rural American newspapers to the new urbanism from such heartland locations as Emporia, Kansas, and Des Moines, Iowa, where publishers championed civic virtue, family values, political reform, protection of small farms, and expansion of passable roads. In presenting a short history of the black press, Wallace emphasizes the role of the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, and Baltimore Afro-American in building black communities in northern cities through campaigns fighting for civil, economic, and political rights.

Newspapers and the Making of Modern America is loosely chronological in structure as Wallace moves from the 1920s through the arrival of new media technologies of the twenty-first century. Following her description of the growth of the black press and their respective communities through World War II, Wallace focuses on the growth of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday and the bicoastal suburban communities and lifestyles these newspapers unabashedly created and promoted following the war. Similarly, she reviews the growth and promotional role newspapers in Miami and Tampa played in creating Florida's land rush and tourism economies while downplaying the inconveniently frequent destruction wrought by hurricanes.

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