Journalism Research Paper

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Journalism is the gathering, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting of information through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, or the Internet by any news organization as a business. Just as journalism reports dayto-day news and current affairs, its attributes change with the times. Journalism’s history is closely associated with democracy and business. Not only does journalism derive its financial strength and power from mass audiences purchasing the product, but it also attains its political strength by swaying the masses. Thus while many may decry the commercialization of information, the mark of success, whether financial or political, is seen in the number of people who access that information and therefore support the endeavor. It is described as the lifeblood of democracy. The intersection between politics and journalism has important and fundamental effects on the stability and legitimacy of democratic regimes.

Early Journalism

Newsletters contained news that was written for merchants, businesspeople, and politicians during the seventeenth century. The newsletters exchanged sporadic information about friends abroad or in other colonies between people with common interests. This created an organized circulation, which eventually led to the development of the newspaper.

Pamphlets were published papers that dealt with public questions, while ballads were accounts written in verse. These were distributed in public houses, coffeehouses, and taverns. Such information was printed on broadsides, meaning it was printed on one side of a single sheet. These sheets were sold on the street for a few pence.

Journalism’s popularity and influence in the political process emerged at about the same time as the European discovery and colonization of North America. Johannes Gutenberg (1400–1467) created the first moveable type press in 1455, yet it was not until Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) sailed from Spain in 1492 that the printing press was popularized in Europe. Columbus wrote many letters describing his discoveries of the “Indies.” In 1620, around the time the Mayflower landed at Plymouth, the first “coranto,” or pioneer newspapers, appeared for sale in the streets of London. The first printing press was imported to America in 1639. Over the next forty years, journalism became established in England with the first newspaper, the Weekly Newes.

In England, the popularization of such materials represented the first clash between government and journalism, with authors and importers of imported books being subject to censorship and harsh prosecutions as well as other impediments, such as high taxes. Undeterred by those punishments, the business of journalism grew. It is estimated that between 1640 and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, more than 30,000 political pamphlets and newspapers were issued. The beginnings of journalism also coincided with the rise of political parties in England. Political groups realized that if they could get endorsements from newsletters and pamphlets, their interests would be more easily disseminated to the public. This eventually led to the partisan press in both the United Kingdom and America.

The first continuous American newspaper began publishing in Boston on April 24, 1704. It was founded by the city’s postmaster, John Campbell, and was called the Boston News-Letter. It carried news from London journals and focused on English politics and foreign wars. Local content was limited to the arrival of ships, deaths, sermons, political appointments, storms, crimes, and misadventures.

The modern newspaper progressed over the next 200 years, evolving from the broadsheets and pamphlets to weekly sheets and eventually the daily press. Notable figures in the early days of newspapers include Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), who, with his brother James, published the New England Courant. Seeking new sales, Franklin established the publishing tradition of letters to the editor. Initially Franklin himself wrote letters under pseudonyms to create controversy and arouse interest in his own editorials. The first daily newspapers tended to be highly partisan. This partisan press eventually was replaced by the penny press.

Economies of scale figure prominently in the evolution of newspapers. As presses became larger, the need for greater capital also increased. Those with the most capital were able to secure larger presses and larger audiences, thereby pushing out of business the small, independent producers and creating larger, more standardized formats. The larger scale of the modern newspaper helped develop the craft and techniques of journalism. Tenants of modern journalism are objectivity, the inverted pyramid, and other conventions of standardized writing. The formatting of news in specific ways, such as the inverted pyramid, means that the most important information, the five Ws (who, what, when, where, and why), are placed at the start of the story. This allows readers to find the most important facts quickly. It also means that if the story has to be edited because of space limitations, the last paragraphs are easily cut without losing the main story elements and without the need to rewrite the story.

In addition to movable type, other advances occurred in the creation of the newspaper that influenced the way in which news is reported. The stereotype was invented in 1725 by the Scottish goldsmith William Ged (1690–1749). This consisted of a printing plate of a whole page of type cast in a single mold. These stereotypes were mass produced and were thin enough to be sent through the mails. Large presses purchased the stereotype and sent it to various newspapers. Subscribing newspapers could simply take the stereotype of the news or of cartoons and reproduce them for local readers. The stereotype proved to be so successful that by 1877 nearly eight out of ten newspapers in America provided their readers the same political cartoon more cheaply than they could write and set their own. The term stereotype is now used to describe how ideas and public opinion were formed through a consistent message, often one that is simplistic and erroneous.

Newswires, the Penny Press, and Yellow Journalism

As competition increased, so did the need to be the first to break the news. Many technological advances in the nineteenth century facilitated news-gathering competition. These included the steamship, the railroad, and the magazine telegraph. The telegraph proved to be the most efficient means of conveying information over long distances, and the newspaper helped to popularize and ensure its success. While the telegraph was a boon for the speed of news, it was also expensive.

The first newswire, Agence Havas, was started in 1835 by Charles-Louis Havas (1783–1858), considered the father of the press agency. Havas translated material from abroad for the French national press. In 1940 the company was taken over by the state and renamed Agence Française de Presse (AFP). Twelve years later the first North American press agency was created, starting with an agreement between the publishers of the Journal of Commerce and the New York Herald. In 1848 the Associated Press (AP) was founded at a meeting of ten men representing six New York newspaper publishers. They pooled their efforts in collecting international news. Horace Greeley (1811–1872), the founding editor of the New York Tribune, was also a founder of the AP. Having a news wire license would mean a great deal to future newspaper barons because it would ensure their success against competitors who did not have access to the wire. By October 1851 the German-born Paul Julius Reuter (1816–1899) was transmitting stock market quotes between London and Paris over the Calais-Dover cable. His agency, which eventually became known as Reuters, extended its service to the whole British press and to other European countries. Other news wires that emerged were the United Press Association, set up by E. W. Scripps (1854–1926), U.S. Newswire, and Bloomberg, whose focus remains business news. Most countries have some form of newswire service. Newswires helped move newspapers away from partisan declarations. To be a successful news agency, one had to have many subscribing newspapers. The ability to get the story meant stripping the copy of its editorial content and focusing on the facts.

As newspapers became more powerful, their partisan nature extended their impact. Journalism was said to be so powerful that it could elect presidents as well as ruin political careers. One figure who changed the power structure of the partisan press was Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911), whose career in publishing began inauspiciously with his account of being taken in as a scam artist, written for the Westliche Post, a German-language paper in St. Louis, Missouri. After establishing himself, he purchased the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at auction for $2,500 (Brian 2001, p. 31). Pulitzer had an inherent sense of social justice, which he brought to his paper. His editorial position was that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would not be a tool of partisan politics. Denis Brian (2001) noted Pulitzer’s pledge: that the paper “opposes all frauds and shams wherever and whatever they are, will advocate principles and ideas rather than prejudices and partisanships” (Brian 2001, p. 32).

Pulitzer is also associated with yellow journalism. Once the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was an established and successful paper, he moved to New York and purchased the New York World. Within a few years, he took a derelict paper and made it one of the most profitable newspapers in the most competitive U.S. market. To do this he made the paper affordable, cutting the price to 2 cents an issue, and focused on stories that attracted the mass public. Much of this centered on reporting crime and scandal. Later William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951), who admired Pulitzer’s business acumen, copied his success and launched the New York Journal to compete against the World. The competition for readers between the two New York papers culminated in the dueling Sunday supplements containing the Yellow Kid cartoons, the first cartoons published in color. The New York Press editor Ervin Wardman dubbed this competition “yellow journalism,” and the phrase soon became a metaphor for any kind of salacious reporting.

Yellow journalism is the reporting of scandal, divorce, and crime alongside sports. Yellow journalism also refers to false reports, faking of news or interviews, and heavy use of graphic pictures. The battle between Hearst and Pulitzer raged with misleading headlines and each accusing the other of false reports. While the era of yellow journalism reigned from 1892 to 1914, many of its features still linger in contemporary journalism: big headlines, the use of pictures to present information, and the colored comic Sunday supplement.

Despite being associated with the worst of journalism, Pulitzer is also associated with its best. His penchant for accuracy, brevity, and persistence became hallmarks of journalism. While at the time of his death Pulitzer’s estate was in excess of $18 million, he remained interested in the common good. His core journalistic credo was that journalism should never worry about the profits of the owners but rather about telling the truth and uncovering injustice. To this end he provided $2 million for the creation of the Columbia School of Journalism, which opened on

September 30, 1912, just under a year after Pulitzer’s death. While journalism had been big business for some time, the height of its power began at the end of the nineteenth century. As the investment in presses became larger, so did the business of journalism and the realization that more money could be made if one owned several small papers rather than one large paper. The person who pioneered this type of capital investment in newspapers was E. W. Scripps, who purchased established papers rather than start new ones. He would choose a city with 50,000 to 100,000 in population and purchase a paper already in operation. Most every year from 1893 until his death, he added nearly a half dozen papers to his holdings. In 1926 the Scripps chain owned thirty-four papers. Hearst too amassed a newspaper empire. The difference was that Hearst established himself in the largest American cities. By the end of 1922 Hearst owned twenty daily papers and eleven Sunday papers in thirteen markets. At his peak Hearst had bought or established fortytwo daily papers.

Modern Innovations: Radio, Television, Cable, and The Internet

Newspaper journalism began to wane in popularity as other communication technologies emerged. Radio had a unique ability to transmit wire information directly to the public. This challenged newspapers, which feared they would lose their influence. Initial attempts by newspapers to prevent radio from taking over journalism included blocking radio from receiving newswire stories.

Nonetheless, there was little to prevent radio stations from reading the news from competing newspapers. When limiting information to radio did not work, newspapers tried to discredit radio journalism by claiming that radio could not uphold the ideals of objectivity, could not provide public service, or was bad for democracy. All these issues were resolved when AP lifted its ban on radio in 1939, allowing radio to compete with newspapers.

Just as radio challenged and changed the nature of journalism, so too did television news. Not only was information equally available, but television news provided better pictures than newspapers with the timeliness of radio. The focus on images in television news changed the nature of journalism, with images reigning paramount over content. From 1950 to the 1980s television news was the most popular means by which the public received information on current events. Television’s success was in part due to the ease of receiving the information as well as the visual nature of the medium.

The American networks created bureaus in countries around the world and furnished firsthand accounts of history unfolding. While newspapers were severely challenged by radio, both radio and television eventually lost part of their audience. While newspapers declined, they still maintain significant readership. Radio journalism has suffered the most and is used less frequently than other forms of journalism.

Despite the technical innovations of getting the message out, the period between the 1920s and 1970s saw journalists become more routinized and codified in their presentation of material. Journalism schools were created, and the occupation of journalist was elevated from a technical or trade occupation—one that was also low paying—to a profession characterized by higher education, social status, and eventually pay.

As journalism became more standardized, so too were complaints of perceived bias in the media. Those who supported more government intervention in the economy argued that because journalism is a big business, it focuses on protecting the elites and avoiding stories that might embarrass advertisers. Others, those who supported less government, charged that because journalists were becoming more educated, their views were more in keeping with left-wing intellectuals. At the height of the cold war Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) led the charge by accusing many prominent journalists (as well as entertainers) of being Communist sympathizers. In particular he took issue with the popular former war correspondent and radio and television journalist Edward R. Murrow (1908–1965) as evidence. Murrow fought back, exposing McCarthy’s false accusations and setting the standard for hard-hitting investigative journalism. His documentary on McCarthy is considered the most famous ever broadcast, and it signaled the end of McCarthyism. When one considers that television news was still in its infancy, with relatively few people having direct access to television, and that it was a program not promoted by the network, it spoke to the potential impact of the medium. That impact was developed during the 1960s and 1970s with domestic events such as race relations and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert Kennedy. All these events were given heightened sense of crisis and immediacy in part because television news was able to provide the pictures to go along with the information.

In addition to broadcasting local events in North America as well as Europe, television news could provide pictures from faraway places such as Africa and Southeast Asia. Walter Lippmann’s 1922 depiction of “the world outside and the pictures in our heads” (Lippmann 1922, p. 1) was never more true than with television news broadcasting images from faraway places.

Walter Cronkite, the managing editor and anchor of CBS News from 1962 to 1981, was a trusted and wellrespected journalist in part because he maintained the CBS News policy of independent, nonpartisan reporting. Some argue that it was not the continuing pictures and stories of the war from Vietnam that changed the majority view on the conflict but the fact that Cronkite, a former World War II (1939–1945) correspondent, stepped aside from the neutral anchor to present his opinion on the war.

That legacy continued and culminated with the Washington Post’s reporting of a break-in in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., in 1972. Relatively junior reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are credited with investigating the story in a series of newspaper articles that revealed that the break-in was linked to the Republican Party, whose officials were seeking information about the Democratic Party. President Richard Nixon eventually resigned rather than face impeachment. While many point to the Watergate reporting as the high-water mark for investigative journalism, others argue that the role of journalism in bringing down the president is more myth than fact. Edward Jay Epstein, for example, argues that Woodward and Bernstein were only slightly ahead of the prosecutors and relied on leaked information from the prosecutor’s case. As such, Epstein argues, the information would have come out anyway. It was not Woodward and Bernstein who uncovered the link between the burglars and the White House and traced the illegal activities to the Nixon campaign, it was the FBI. Epstein charges that Woodward and Bernstein “systematically ignored or minimized” the work of law enforcement officials to “focus on those parts” of the story “that were leaked to them” (as quoted in Feldstein 2004, p. 3).

Nixon aide Howard Dean states that the role of the journalists in the Watergate story was not investigative reporting but keeping the story alive long enough to legitimize law enforcement agents who were doing the investigation. The media coverage and subsequent frenzy is what kept the Watergate story in the public eye. The press coverage also helped to keep the public’s interest alive during the televised hearings about the scandal. Ultimately, however, the business of journalism is sustained by the routine gathering of news rather than by investigative journalism. While television became dominant in news gathering and dissemination, the investigative model is ultimately time consuming and expensive. The day-to-day news business is focused on feeding the news cycle with short, easily digested information. As a result investigative articles are more rare than routine.

Only with the emergence of cable news networks did network television news begin its decline. Despite the pressures from other communications technologies, public opinion surveys indicate that local television news remains the most frequent source of information, followed by local newspapers.

Cable news networks challenged traditional television news in several ways. First, providing one service on cable was significantly cheaper than having to supply stations in every market. These savings allowed cable networks such as CNN to establish more bureaus around the world at a time when network television news had to close down bureaus or cut staff. The twenty-four-hour format gave CNN an advantage on stories with great public interest, such as the 1991 Gulf War. CNN not only changed the way international news is covered but also increased interest in and the scope of international affairs on public policy. Thus it is seen as a catalyst for Western governments to intervene in humanitarian crises, subsequently dubbed the “CNN effect.” The extent to which governments react to media coverage of suffering people is debatable, but the public’s awareness of humanitarian crises are much more extensive as a result of the twenty-four-hour news format. By shifting the focus from local topics to international issues, the focus of the public has become more globalized.

The popularization of the Internet has blurred the lines of journalism and public comment. The Internet not only allows for on-demand news, which traditional media have adopted, but it also allows for individuals not normally considered journalists to present their interpretations of current affairs. The Web log, or blog, is a Web site on which individuals write their views on any subject. Blogs have been associated with breaking publication bans, providing critical commentary on accepted journalistic stories, and popularizing certain political interests. Just as challenges to newspapers were discredited as not being proper journalism, traditional journalists also question and try to discredit blogs. The current definition of journalism disavows blog writers in that they do not typically write for commercial interests. The Washington Press Gallery, for example, limits membership by stipulating that to qualify as a journalist, one must be employed by “a periodical that is published for profit and is supported chiefly by advertising or by subscription” (United States House of Representatives, Periodical Press Gallery, Rules and Regulations).

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