Academic journal article Journalism History

Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps

Academic journal article Journalism History

Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps

Article excerpt

Ritchie, Donald A. Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 432 pp. $17.95.

The role of the press in informing citizens about the people, process, and events of national policymaking has been debated for a long time by journalists and historians. Alexander Hamilton wrote confidently in Federalist 84, "The public papers will be expeditious messengers of intelligence to the most remote inhabitants of the Union." But how journalists convey that intelligence is as controversial now as it was in 1787.

Donald A. Ritchie, the associate historian of the U.S. Senate, wrote about the first 130 years of the dynamic and complicated relationship between political journalists and national leaders in Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents. He portrayed the Washington press corps in 1931 as an insular, homogeneous group of white, male, and middle-class reporters based in the congressional press galleries, just beginning to comprehend the shift of governing power to the presidency and the potential impact of radio broadcasting on their livelihoods.

In Reporting from Washington, which begins in 1932, Ritchie documents and analyzes the dramatic growth and transformation of this newspaper "press corps" to a technologically, professionally, and socially diverse "media" whose primary focus at the beginning of the twenty-first century is on the presidency. However, Reporting from Washington is much more than a sequel. He traces the diversification of the political "press" into "media" through generally chronological chapters on Washington, D.C., bureaus for newspapers, radio, wire services, columnists, network television, international correspondents, Washington newspapers, and, most recently, "anyone with a modem."

Using an impressive collection of archival materials, memoirs, and interviews, he provides informed accounts of how these news organizations were shaped internally by individuals and ownerships and externally by national policies and historical events. The book includes a short note on sources, extensive endnotes, and an index.

In addition to the thoughtful professional history, Ritchie presents provocative discussions of how the press corps reacted to the challenges of the New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, Watergate, and 2001 terrorism. …

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