Understanding Frederick Douglass: Toward a New Synthesis Approach to the Birth of Modern American Journalism

By Mindich, David T. Z. | Journalism History, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Understanding Frederick Douglass: Toward a New Synthesis Approach to the Birth of Modern American Journalism


Mindich, David T. Z., Journalism History


Toward a New Synthesis Approach to the Birth of Modern American Journalism

To discover how much the field of journalism history is in need of a fundamental revision, thumb through the indices of all the usual suspects and look up references to Frederick Douglass. It is no exaggeration to say that you will find that nearly all the standard journalism histories fail to place him in the context of nineteenth century political reality.1 The corollary is true, too: mainstream histories can help us understand his politics but fail to explain his journalism. This article argues that a synthesis of journalism and mainstream histories can bring Douglass in particular, and the field of antebellum journalism in general, to a more intellectually challenging and historically relevant plane. This is to say that we need to develop a new approach to the journalism of the Jacksonian age and that this approach must be rooted in the strengths of both journalism history and American history.

To this end, I have looked at how Douglass in particular and nonpartisanship in general are viewed in the synthesis studies of journalism and mainstream history. I have also surveyed many smaller works in article and monograph form, which I refer to in the course of this study, but my main focus will be on the synthesis histories.

The first time Douglass was mentioned in a book about American journalism was probably in Frederic Hudson's Journalism in the United States, from 1690 to 1872. Hudson's single mention of Douglass was, "the New Era . . . is edited by Frederick Douglass."2 In 1920, George Payne noted that "it was not the white man alone" who practiced journalism, and mentioned "Frederick Douglas [sic]."3 Though these early references were scant, Douglass fared worse in later histories: Willard Bleyer (Main Currents in the History of American Journalism) and Michael Schudson (Discovering the News) did not mention Douglass at all.4 The first assessment of Douglass' work in a journalism textbook may have been a brief mention by Mott in 1962: "The ablest of all [`Negro publications'] was Frederick Douglass' North Star, founded in Rochester, New York, in 1847."5

Four recent journalism history books went further than the rest in their coverage of Douglass. The eighth edition of Emery, Emery, and Roberts' The Press and America cited Douglass as a "symbol of black achievement and inspiration" and recounted the various adversities that he had to overcome.6 Mitchell Stephens, in his second edition of A History of News, took a similar approach. Stephens told how Douglass' house was destroyed and his papers burned by mobs, how he taught himself to read, and how he rose to greatness. Douglass "became an eloquent crusader against slavery," wrote Stephens.7 Douglass' life and work were discussed in more detail in the latest edition of Folkerts and Teeters Voices ofa Nation and in William Huntzicker's The Popular Press: 1833-1865. These two went into greater depth on Douglass' life than any other journalism history synthesis read for this study.8 I will discuss these books again later in this article.

The broad outline of the above historiography suggests that our understanding of Douglass has gone through two stages and may be entering a third. The first stage was simply neglect. Douglass was not viewed as important in the history of American journalism. We may explain some of the earlier sins of omission by placing them in the context of their time, as did Arthur Schlesinger Jr. when he looked back at his own Age of Jackson, published in the 1940s: "When I wrote The Age of Jackson," said Schlesinger, "the predicament of women, of blacks, or Indians was shamefully out of mind."9 Douglass was nowhere to be found in Schlesinger's book either.

The second phase, in which most journalism histories are firmly planted, is that of inclusion and accommodation. If Douglass, as I will argue, is useful in understanding the history of his day and is a central figure in nineteenth century journalism, then he should certainly be included in our histories. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Understanding Frederick Douglass: Toward a New Synthesis Approach to the Birth of Modern American Journalism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.