Academic journal article Journalism History

Journalism's Counterinsurgency against "Free Space": The ANPA Anti-Publicity Bulletin, 1921-26

Academic journal article Journalism History

Journalism's Counterinsurgency against "Free Space": The ANPA Anti-Publicity Bulletin, 1921-26

Article excerpt

Journalists, disheartened in the decade after World War I by their role in spreading domestic wartime propaganda, attempted to restore press integrity through new, professional principles and practices. These efforts to re-assert the press' standing included an active resistance to the contemporaneous rise of propaganda offered by the domestic public relations industry. In particular, newspaper publishers and editors, through the American Newspaper Publishers Association's anti-publicity bulletin, aggressively called on news workers to resist publicity seekers who undermined the advertising-based economic model of the paper. This movement against space-seeking propagandists provided additional momentum for the advent of a modern professional journalism that ironically finds itself predisposed to use propaganda materials.

The years immediately after World War I revealed two associated dynamics concerning the professionalization of communication in the American public sphere. First, as an outgrowth of successful war propaganda practices pursued by the U.S. government's Committee on Public Information (CPI), professional mass persuaders, who were gradually becoming known as public relations practitioners, began to integrate propaganda strategies and tactics into their publicity efforts.1 Second, American journalists, disheartened in the 1920s by the manipulations of the wartime propaganda, began to articulate and incorporate professionalized work routines, which were based on the principle of objectivity, to safeguard the press' integrity.2

This article explores how the anti-publicity bulletin of the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA) from 1921 to 1926 became in two ways a vehicle to thwart the penetration of propaganda into news stories.3 It not only operated as a selfpolicing mechanism for publishers and editors regarding the potential and actual appearance of propaganda in newspapers, but it provided a forum for journalists to articulate a counterinsurgency against the threat of escalating publicity. Although the bulletin has been studied as the industry's attempt to protect the advertising base of the newsroom, this exploration emphasizes how its efforts helped amplify the journalistic professionalism movement during the 1920s.4 This study closes with a review of two crucial implications. It discusses how the ANPA bulletin fell short of grasping the emerging synergies between press professionalization and the rising PR industry, and it asserts that these synergies are foundational to the continuing conundrum of pre-packaged propaganda as news.

Journalists during the 1920s acknowledged they had found a sense of mission and purpose - even honor - in working with the CPI to sell World War I.5 By working with the propagandists, news workers realized they had tainted the news with "large-scale lying," wrote journalist Will Irwin in 1936.6 A newspaper ethics text of the time noted "the press has everything to lose by becoming propagandist," and the press could not maintain its unique position as a public trust if it were to act as "the mere mouthpiece of the irresponsible and selfish agents of propaganda."7 Accordingly, news workers embraced professionalization in an attempt to provide more accurate representations of reality. In his 1922 book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann said journalism needed a more rationalist approach for the gathering and reporting of news. The war had shown journalists that the powerful and privileged, if unchecked, could lead a democratic society into an ill-advised effort. But journalism could provide a route to moderaring rhe power of authority by encouraging news workers to focus on a more objective approach to reporting that centered on facts contextualized through experts.8 Concurrenr with this emphasis on a more scientific approach to news gathering, journalism throughout this decade also increasingly professionalized with the development of national and state-level organizations, the creation of codes of ethics, and the establishment of more journalism schools. …

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