Academic journal article Nine

Bad Times but Still Swingin': World Series Coverage before and during the Depression

Academic journal article Nine

Bad Times but Still Swingin': World Series Coverage before and during the Depression

Article excerpt

The Great Depression was a time of severe social and economic upheaval for the United States. The hardships precipitated by the stock market crash and subsequent bank and business closings resulted in widespread unemployment, disillusionment, and turmoil.

Though newspapers proved a surprisingly resilient industry during the late 1920s and early 1930s, even they were not immune to the harmful effects of economic decline. (1) Average circulation (and thus newspaper readership) dipped only slightly, but as businesses closed, newspapers lost advertising revenue--45 percent over the four years following 1929. (2)

Even today, newspapers in similar situations, to compensate for the advertising revenue shortfall, often reduce production expenses by decreasing the number of pages they print. The decisions on how to cut content, however, do not come easily. Certain sections are preserved at the expense of others--an agonizing decision-making process that can anger both journalists and readers.

One likely victim of cuts would seem to be the sports section, with its emphasis on diversion and escape over hard news. Previous studies have attested to the popularity of the sports page in the years preceding the Depression, particularly the 1920s. (3) But that decade was a period of economic prosperity, both for the nation and for its newspapers. How well did the sports section survive the economic disaster of the years that followed? Did readers lose their appetite for sports coverage during harsh economic times? Did the growing need for so-called hard news during a critical point in history relegate sports to a smaller portion of the newspaper?

Previous research has not addressed such questions. This paper will help remedy that shortfall by presenting research that examines sports coverage from eight newspapers in 1927 and in 1932. Coverage of a specific sporting event of high public interest--baseball's World Series--will be compared to see whether major newspapers from a variety of geographical regions devoted less space to that sporting event, and to sports in general, when the Depression's effects were being fully felt. Such data can help determine the priority assigned sports during a period when most of the hard news, while bad, was in fact arguably more important news.

More than merely quantifying editorial decisions, however, this paper will also seek to interpret Depression-era culture by using newspapers as a cultural text. As one sports researcher acknowledged: "American newspapers are a mirror in which the nation is reflected in all its complex cultural diversity." (4) Sports heroes such as baseball players were popular (though perhaps not as well paid) cultural icons in the 1930s as much as in the 1920s. A sustained level of sports coverage would demonstrate that, even in the midst of economic depression, newspaper readers valued the diversions of the sports page, and newspaper editors obliged them.

EVOLUTION

The development of sports journalism, starting in the nineteenth century and climaxing in the Jazz Age, the 1920s, has been the subject of extensive previous research. In many ways the evolution of the newspaper sports page paralleled the evolution of baseball and other modern sports, reflecting their symbiotic relationship.

By the early nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution provided Americans with more leisure time, and they began to turn their interest toward sports. (5) The earliest sports journals originated in Great Britain, the first being Pierce Egan's Life in London and Sporting Guide, which began publication in 1824. It was retitled Bell's Life in London four years later. Under that title it gained in popularity, reaching a circulation of 75,000 by the mid-1800s. (6)

Similarly, in the United States, magazines reached enthusiasts more successfully than did newspapers. While James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald reported on horse races and prize fights from the 1840s on, most newspaper publishers looked down on such pursuits and left sports reporting to magazines such as Spirit of the Times. …

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