Giving Meanings to the World: The First U.S. Foreign Correspondents, 1838-1859

By Giovanna Dell'Orto | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3

THE SHAPING OF FOREIGN NEWS: IMPROVING ON THE SINGLE ELECTRICIAN AT A SEAPORT TOWN

Between 1838 and 1859, foreign news increased in the newspapers studied and was a source of pride (and competitiveness) for their editors. Foreign news took two forms: The digests, eventually streamlined by The Associated Press, were mostly written in what today is known as “straight” news style and lacked context, background, and analysis. Because they tended to focus on news of conflict or the sensational, they might have fostered an image of the world as a dangerous, strange place. The other form of foreign news was foreign correspondence, which both editors and correspondents seemed to have envisioned as very different from, indeed complementary to, the news digests (even though both forms shared a focus on bad news). The correspondents, who showed concern about truthfulness, accuracy, and balance, seemed to have perceived their role as political and cultural analysts, not merely descriptive writers.

This chapter provides context for the study of the writings of the first U.S. foreign correspondents, explored in the next chapters. The areas of essential context include the prevalence of foreign news in selected newspapers between 1838 and 1859, and the two forms that foreign news was presented in, news digests and correspondence. The first section integrates measurement with editorial comments and other relevant information to establish how prevalent foreign news was throughout the period studied. The second section discusses differ-

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