Academic journal article Journalism History

Picturing Sports: Finding the "Actual" in Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Sporting News

Academic journal article Journalism History

Picturing Sports: Finding the "Actual" in Nineteenth-Century Illustrated Sporting News

Article excerpt

In 1885, the March 21 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper featured a two-thirds-page illustration depicting scenes from the newly opened New York Athletic Club on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fifty-Fifth Street. Explaining the offerings at this new facility, the reporter for Leslies described the "luxurious new headquarters" with the superlatives of early sports writing: "to the extent of the $150,000 that has been lavished upon it, and it is probably the handsomest and most thoroughly equipped club-house possessed by any athletic society in the world."1 The accompanying article indicated that the establishment was meant to compete with-and perhaps emulate-the opportunities of "English Gentlemen" who participated in amateur sports. Further, the three-hundred-person waiting list, $50 enrollment fee, and $30 annual dues suggest that membership was limited to an exclusive class of New Yorkers.2

By the mid-1880s, Leslies was well established as a popular pictorial publication in the United States. Reporting on affairs in New York and beyond in illustrated form was Leslies raison d'être, and the paper's profile on the New York Athletic Club was typical of what readers had come to expect. Reporting on this elite sporting venue offers one side of the dichotomy that sports historians have observed in nineteenth century sports culture between amateur athletics preferred by the upper classes and professional sports that were portrayed as unrefined or lacking virtue.3

Sports journalism, as well as the illustrated press in the nineteenth century, share a common fate: a lack of historical examination. While attention to the illustrated press is gaining ground in scholarly circles, concerns persist over the lack of inquiry into this often overlooked area of journalism history. In addition, the lack of knowledge about sports reporting is equally concerning. Amber Roessner's 2010 Journalism History article, "Remembering 'The Georgia Peach'" added to the contributions of Michael Oriard's 1993 book, Reading Football, by studying the influence of the sporting press in shaping the public perception of players and sports. However, both authors, writing almost twenty years apart, cited the relative dearth of sport media history research. Addressing that absence, the present study builds on their work to offer further understanding of how sports journalism developed during the late nineteenth century.4

Considering the current influence of sports in the United States as well as todays image-saturated culture, a greater knowledge of its antecedents is needed. This research seeks to better understand the historical development of visual sports reporting in the U.S. by sampling news coverage in Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper (FLIN) over a ten-year period in the late nineteenth century. As cultural artifacts, these press images of sports performed a role in shaping public perceptions about life in the late nineteenth century. As an exploration in visual rhetoric, the aesthetic nature of these illustrations is examined through a theoretical framework proposed by journalism historian Thomas Connery: the "paradigm of actuality." This study also draws on Stuart Hall's theory of representation to further interpret the pictorial content. By examining selected images during the period under study, the authors offer an interpretation of the nature and frequency of pictorial sports reporting, what forms that reporting took over time, and how the degree of actuality used influenced messages found within that reporting.

Simply put, scholarly attention to the transition from illustrations to photographs in U.S. newspapers is deficient. To help fill this gap in research, this exploratory study sets out to better understand how the shift from illustrations to photographs presented readers with more realistic-looking representations of news events. Using Connery's paradigm of actuality thesis to study pictorial sports reporting, the authors offer an interpretation of how "the actual" manifests in pictorial news coverage of sports during the transition from illustrated-only content to photographic reproductions of pictorial news by the century's end. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.