Academic journal article Journalism History

Book Reviews -- Partisans of the Southern Press: Editorial Spokesmen of the Nineteenth Century by Carl R. Osthaus

Academic journal article Journalism History

Book Reviews -- Partisans of the Southern Press: Editorial Spokesmen of the Nineteenth Century by Carl R. Osthaus

Article excerpt

Osthaus, Carl R. Partisans of the Southern Press: Editorial Spokesmen of the Nineteenth Century. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994. 294 pp. $39.95.

"The history of Southern journalism has yet to be written," Carl R. Osthaus aptly observes in this significant scholarly contribution to that unwritten history. Partisans of the Southern Press examines the region's journalism from the Old South through Sectionalism, Civil War, and Reconstruction to the emergence of the New South.

The author, an associate professor of history at Oakland University, concentrates on the South's colorful and powerful "editorial giants" in each era because "the editor completely dominated journalism and monopolized the dissemination of news (or what passed for 'news')" and because "their work, considered collectively, illuminates key aspects of Southern daily newspaper history in the nineteenth century."

His essays begin with Thomas Ritchie of the Richmond Enquirer (1804-1845) and the Washington Daily, Union (1845- 1851). He was a partisan editor who, an admirer said, had taught Virginians "to think his own thoughts, to speak his own words, to weep when he wept, to wreath their faces with his smiles, and, over and above all, to vote as he voted."

In the nation's third largest city, the New Orleans Daily Picayune between 1837 and 1850 was "the first of its kind in the South," a paper that modeled itself on the penny press of the Northeast with large doses of local, human-interest news in a brash, flippant style, and a penchant for sensationalism. "We leave profundity to those who prefer profound sleep," the paper once remarked.

The Charleston Mercury, edited by fire-eater Robert Barnwell Rhett, Jr., and Aaron Willington's and Richard Yeadon' s politically moderate unionist-leaning Charleston Daily Courier represent "the triumph of sectional journalism" in the years leading to the bombing of Fort Sumter 1861. Rhett's style "helped mold the Northern view of Southern journalism," Osthaus writes, "and yet the rival Courier was always the more successful newspaper, having greater circulation, larger profits, and better news coverage."

John M. Daniel's Richmond Examiner illuminates "the role of the editor in the Southern cause and the limitations and paradoxes of Confederate press freedom" in wartime. The paper's extremism, intolerance, and "swaggering hotheadedness" publicized "every flaw, real or imaginary, in the [Jefferson] Davis administration's management of the war effort," Osthaus writes. …

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