The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What's Right and Wrong with the Press

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Recent History of the Press

The press as it exists, is not, as our moralists sometimes seem to assume, the willful product of any little group of living men. On the contrary, it is the outcome of an historic process in which many individuals participated without foreseeing what the ultimate product of their labors was to be.

-- Robert Park ( 1923)

To understand the flaws of the press today, we must first examine several trends in journalism during this century. The dismaying shortcomings as well as the encouraging strengths we see in U.S. news media today have their roots in the past.

The 20th-century history of American journalism has been dealt with in all its complexity and fascination by numerous scholars and writers, some of them journalists. Among other things, press history is a morality tale with plenty of sinners and bad guys, some high-minded heros, and even a few saints.

This historical overview, focuses on several topics related to the main concerns of this book: the rise of the great metropolitan newspapers; trends toward group or chain ownership of daily newspapers; roots of the gossip or scandal-mongering tabloids and their obsession with celebrities; the advent and growing influence of radio and television journalism; new technologies for reporting the world; and criticism of the press.


BIG CITY NEWSPAPERS

By 1900, the press was poised to become big business -- the leading papers had attained large circulations, high capitalizations, and profits. Highspeed rotary presses that made possible automated printing on both sides of the paper at once, the linotype machine, which speeded typesetting, the typewriter, and the telephone helped create the big city dailies.

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