The Scripps Newspapers Go to War, 1914-1918

Article excerpt

Zacher, Dale. E. The Scripps Newspapers Go to War, 1914-1918. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 285 pp. $45.

Wars of any consequence test not only nations but also news gatherers. Aside from the logistics of covering war and dealing with propaganda and censorship, questions arise about a news organization's role in reporting on the war. Does it hold to the defining notion of objectivity? Or does a war kick-start a kind of press nationalism out of a sense of patriotism or under the duress of a government that has rejected established press freedoms?

Those were the questions at the core of newspaper policy decisions before and after America entered World War I. This is an old story that has been told before. But in this well-researched and well-cited history, The Scripps Newspapers Go to War, 1914-1918, Dale Zacher has dug deep into the Scripps archives to tell another story. It is one about the tensions surrounding the coverage of war - or of any national crisis - and how they can affect the ideals to which journalists cling. The author uses the letters back and forth among the members of the Scripps family and editors, as well as the news stories and editorials of the time, to outline how the Scripps Concern put in jeopardy its reputation for independence, its bottom line, and the progressive advocatory policies of its founder, E. W Scripps.

Indeed, this book is much more than a history of a journalism organization going to war. It has a relevant correspondence to our own time in that it is also about the conflicting notions of objectivity and jour- nalistic advocacy and independence and how that independence can be imperiled when an organization supports - on both its editorial and news pages - a politician it believes embodies its advocatory ideals. Zacher, an assistant professor in the School of Mass Communication at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, does a good job of elucidating the Concern's internal conflict over its support of President Woodrow Wilson and its need to be an independent voice and leader of national policy, especially when it came to the war.

Zacher explores the tension surrounding the issues of neutrality in not taking sides early on in the far-distant conflict that the Scripps Concern - which included its string of newspapers, the Newspaper Enterprise Association, and United Press - decided as policy as E. …

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