American Journalists: Getting the Story

American Journalists: Getting the Story

American Journalists: Getting the Story

American Journalists: Getting the Story


In 60 essays, this volume profiles American journalists from colonial times to the present--reporters, editors, publishers, photographers, and broadcasters--whose careers reflected major developments in their profession and in the history of the United States. In a speech to Newsweek correspondents in 1963, publisher Philip Graham described journalism as "the first rough draft of history." These journalists confronted and helped to shape the discussion of major issues and events in American history, from the American revolution through abolition, westward expansion, the Civil War, the civil rights movement, immigration, and the women's movement, as well as major constitutional issues involving the First Amendment protection of freedom of the press. Biographies of well-known journalists, from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine to Walter Cronkite and Rupert Murdoch, appear alongside some who may be less familiar, such as Elias Boudinot, founder of the first Cherokee language newspaper; Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward ; and Daniel Craig, who in the 1830s used carrier pigeons to ferry the news. Other subjects include Margaret Green Draper, the revolutionary printer; Claude Barnett, founder of the Associated Negro Press; photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White; war correspondent Ernie Pyle; and Allen Neuharth, founder of USA Today. Illustrations, fact boxes, and quotations from the subjects themselves make this volume an indispensable reference for students of American history as well as a fascinating read. Journalists profiled include: Horace Greeley Frederick Douglass Mark Twain Thomas Nast Joseph Pulitzer Nellie Bly William Randolph Hearst Ida Wells-Barnett H. L. Mencken Dorothy Thompson Walter Winchell Red Smith Edward R. Murrow Walter Cronkite Bernard Shaw Cokie Roberts Manuel de Dios Unanue and many more


Who decides what’s news?

Reporters gather facts for news stories that are published or broadcast, but they get their assignments from editors. Editors choose what to print or how much time to give a story, but they must answer to their publishers and producers. Because news is a business seeking customers, you as the purchaser of newspapers and magazines or as a viewer of television news broadcasts also help determine the types of stories that get reported.

Technology further shapes the news: printing presses made newspapers possible, and improvements in the presses spurred the mass-circulation magazine. The telegraph and the telephone accelerated the speed at which news traveled. Radio and television added spoken words and pictures. Computers are further revolutionizing how news is gathered, written, and spread.

From colonial printers to modern reporters, men and women have been drawn into the journalism profession for various reasons. Most sought a stimulating and rewarding career and wanted to shape public policy. Most thrive on competition for “scoops” and the glory of a headline story. Some journalists have been crusaders driven by a sense of mission for which they have been willing to risk their lives. Some have been entrepreneurs and media empire builders, seeking to gain power and profits.

In a speech to Newsweek correspondents in 1963, publisher Philip L. Graham described journalism as a “first rough draft of a history.” Historians, like the general public, rely on journalists to get the story first, track down the leads, frame the issues, and shape public opinion about people and events. But journalists can report on only a small fragment of what happens on any given day. They concentrate on what they consider the most meaningful, unusual, or entertaining information—stories that people want or ought to know about. Although the media seek to be a mirror on society, a mirror may distort according to the angle at which it is held.

Journalists strive to be objective, but their own backgrounds, experiences, and identities determine how they view the world, whom they chose to interview, what questions they ask (or do not ask), and how they interpret the facts they collect. In their quest for news, the media have often ignored or overlooked significant events, ideas, and whole groups of people. Who reports the news therefore makes a difference.

In this volume you will find profiles of 57 American journalists whose lives span the past 300 years. They are grouped into four time periods. These individuals were included because they achieved some fame, had a significant impact on their profession, or were in some way representative of the different kinds of reporters, editors, publishers, and broadcasters of their eras. Eighty other shorter biographies suggest the wide variety of American journalists who have shaped the news. If you want to know more about American journalists, a Further Reading list is provided with each profile, and a general reading list follows at the end of the book.

Donald A. Ritchie U.S. Senate Historical Office . . .

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