News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844-1897

News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844-1897

News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844-1897

News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844-1897

Synopsis

News over the Wires tells the story of the development of the news wire service as a business operation strategically positioned between the telegraph industry and the press. This unique history of telegraphic news gathering and news flow evaluates the effect of the innovative technology on the evolution of the concept of news and journalistic practices. It also addresses problems of technological innovation and diffusion. Menahem Blondheim's main concern, however, is the development of oligopoly in business and the control revolution in American society. He traces the discovery of timely news as a commodity, presenting a lively and detailed account of the emergence of the New York Associated Press (AP) as the first private sector national monopoly in the United States and Western Union as the first industrial one. The book assembles, in a narrative parade of compelling personalities and colorful episodes, a wide-ranging body of primary sources, many of them previously untapped. It reconstructs the career of AP's maverick manager, Daniel H. Craig, and highlights his achievements as one of the most creative and effective, if least appreciated, of America's great system builders. The Associated Press and Western Union provide a novel perspective on processes of modernization and national integration in America. News over the Wires demonstrates the significance of the monopolistic structure of the news business and its important impact on economic development, on the political process, and on social integration in general.

Excerpt

“He actually wields more power for good or evil, more power to raise or depress the fortune of the country, more power to make men and women rich and famous or poor and infamous, than any man in America.” Thus was William Henry Smith, joint general manager of both the New York and the Western Associated Press, introduced to the readers of the San Francisco Post during a visit to the West Coast in 1885. the account enumerated Smith’s powers: he could bring “railroad presidents to…their knees” and mighty politicians “to grovel for his favor,” or even be kissed by “those most imperious of all human beings,” the country’s great prima donnas.

The San Francisco Post reporter explained the source of Smith’s considerable power quite simply: “William Henry has got the attentive ear of more men and women than any other man in the country.” When Smith impressed a point on the minds of 13,000,000 newspaper readers, “it [came] pretty near being crystallized into the history of the country.” a less deferential account, using more modern terminology, would claim that the power of the Associated Press and its officers was based on a monopoly of knowledge. Communication systems, by nature, allow the accumulation of information in certain strategic junctures. By 1885 the Associated Press commanded these key positions in the country’s system of news flow. It had exclusive possession of the confluence of news in America—local, national, and international—before it reached anyone else. By virtue of this monopoly it had the attentive ear of that important segment of the American public that wanted to know the news.

“Let a man only tell you his story every morning and evening,” proposed Edmund Burke, “and at the end of a twelvemonth he will have become your master.” From a broader perspective, the media scholar . . .

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