Chapter 8: Newspapers

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Chapter 8: Newspapers

The Age of Yellow Journalism: Sensationalism and Investigation

Yellow Journalism: Doesn’t present well-researched information — instead, relies on eye-catching headlines and may exaggerate facts.

VIDEO: Yellow Journalism

Characters during the Age of Yellow Journalism:

Joseph Pulitzer: Left Hungary for the United States at age 17 to become a volunteer in the Union army during the Civil War. He had tried to join an army in Europe but was denied because of poor vision. When the Civil War ended he waited tables in St. Louis and finally got his first job as a reporter working for a German language daily. Pulitzer had enormous energy and incredible nerve. He was elected to the Missouri State Assembly and became a lawyer before he became part owner of the St. Louis Dispatch. He later owned the New York World. He was considered very dashing but not quite approachable.

VIDEO: Pulitzer’s biography

William Randolph Hearst: While at Harvard, Hearst was business manager for the university’s humor magazine, The Lampoon. He was suspended from Harvard for setting off a fireworks display after Grover Cleveland won the presidential election, and he was finally expelled for drawing his professors’ faces on public chamber pots. When Orson Welles was making Citizen Kane, a moviemodeled after Hearst’s life, the newspaper magnate campaigned to stop the film’s production. He was later relieved when critics panned Citizen Kane as worthless. Today, the film isconsidered a masterpiece. Hearst used his newspaper to further his political career: he served two terms in Congress and was a presidential candidate in 1904. He is also said to have helped start the Spanish-American War in order to have a good story to cover. Hearst published exaggerated accounts of atrocities suffered by Cubans at the hands of the Spanish. One of the newspaper’s artistswas sent to Cuba, but he found that the situation there was peaceful and he wanted to return home. Hearst reportedly cabled him: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

VIDEO: Hearst

Online Magazine Example:

The online magazine Salon was founded in 1995 by five former reporters from the San Francisco Examiner who felt the newspaper had lost its spark. Deciding to build an audience around talented writers and interesting content, Salon editor David Talbot (now chairman of Salon) said that the idea behind Salon “is to emulate not the newspapers of the present but the newspaper philosophy of long ago. There are things that new media canlearn from old media that old media’s forgotten. How to tell a story, how to do colorful commentary. I think newspapers, daily newspapers, have become so corporate, so bureaucratic, so politically correct—all these things have sucked the life out of them. The Internet can exploit that, take advantage of that, by building a different kind of newsroom.” Salon has received prestigious awards for its innovative journalism, such as the Online News Association award for general excellence, considered to be the Pulitzer Prize for the Web. Writing about Salon’s financial woes, Alex Beam of the Boston Globe said, “This is a shame, because Salon has been undoubtedly the most innovative and ambitious digital print journalism experiment of the past decade.”

The Underground Press Example:

Politically alternative newspapers have a long history in the United States. In the early twentieth century, the country’s largest-circulation weekly newspaper was Appeal to Reason, a socialist paper. Circulation peaked at more than 760,000 copies in 1913, and its readers were largely among the working class and immigrants. During World War I, though, the government suppressed—sometimes violently—leftist newspapers. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, another alternative paper—the Daily Worker, a communist journal—saw its circulationclimb to 100,000. The communist witch-hunts of the 1940s and 1950s later devastated this newspaper’s circulation. The Daily Worker became a weekly in the 1950s, an dafter a series of name changes it became the People’s Daily World in 1986, and then the People’s Weekly World in 1990. Today, the weekly newspaper has a circulation of about 62,000.

During the 1990s, the alternative press made a comeback. The number of alternative newspapers increased dramatically, with cities suddenly supporting three or four papers whereasonly one had existed a decade earlier. Membership in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) experienced an 80 percent increase, and circulation figures doubled from 3 million in 1991 to 7.5 million in 2001. Alternative newspapers generally offer a focuson city issues, opinionated debates, a clear political perspective, and investigative reports—an approach that is indeed different from most middle-of-the-road newspapers. The advertising industry also discovered that alternative-press readers fall in the eighteen-to-forty-nineage bracket, are generally college-educated, and earn more than $50,000 a year.

Challenges Facing Newspapers

Trends in print newspapers in 2007:

  • Layoffs in newsrooms are more prevalent.
  • Print circulation is dwindling.
  • Ad sales are flat or declining (although Internet ad sales are growing).
  • Readers and advertisers increasingly defect to the Internet.
  • Investors are sullen.
  • The mainstream press figures out how to make serious money from the Internet, uses the Web to enrich traditional journalistic forms, and retains its professionalism.
  • Readers are content with part print, part Web; newspapers, it seems, are staying alive as hybrids.
  • At many dailies, reporters are working across platforms, writing breaking news for the Website, posting blog items, adding video journalism to the mix, and making audio slide shows.
  • Interactive feature: Do I Really Belong Here

Readership Declines in the United States

  • A recent survey completed by the Boston Globe showed that the top two reasons people give for not renewing their newspaper subscriptions are (1) “not enough time” and (2) “green guilt” (the guilt that the environmentally conscious feel about throwing away pounds of newspapers without having the time to read them).
  • In an effort to raise circulation and attract readers between the ages of twenty-one and thirtyfour, some newspapers are branching into the alternative market. Gannett has launched alternative weeklies in Lansing, Michigan, and Boise, Idaho, allowing the two weeklies different standards from those of the chain’s daily newspapers (e.g., in the use of profanity). In Chicago, both the Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times are publishing free daily newspapersto target young readers. Such efforts are welcomed by advertisers, but it’s not clear if they’ll manage to turn a profit on a sustained basis. New York’s Daily News had to give up on such an experiment only a few months after it started.
  • Fifty-five percent of USA Today’s circulation comes from newsstand sales, while 25 percent comes from bulk purchases for free distribution in hotels and airlines, which helps to boostits circulation base.
  • Because USA Today is heavily associated with travel, the newspaper isusually loaded with hotel and airline ads, as well as articles aimed at the travel market. Home delivery of the paper is about 320,000 daily, a large volume for most regional papers, but less than 20 percent of USA Today’s total circulation.

Blogging and Credibility

Key moments for bloggers:

  • Matt Drudge, who created the proto-blog The Drudge Report in 1995, broke the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998, very much threatening mainstream journalists by getting the story out first.
  • Bloggers kept the story of Senate Majority leader Trent Lott’s bigoted birthday salute to Strom Thurmond in the blogosphere to the point that it became big news in the mainstream press. Lott resigned under the intense public scrutiny.
  • Bloggers doggedly researched the 2005 CBS News report about Bush’s National Guard service and proved that the story was based on falsified documents. Their persistence incovering this story ended with Dan Rather resigning. The episode is now referred to as “Rathergate.”
  • Mainstream journalists have blamed blogs for lowering journalistic standards. The blogosphere would argue otherwise, stating that they are the “fifth estate,” monitoring journalists and raising standards. Indeed, journalists have turned against bloggers in part because journalistsfeel economically threatened by the blogosphere.
  • Bloggers, who are mostly amateurs, rely on anonymous sources, post news items immediately, can keep a story alive longer than any newspaper, and do not have to worry about paying staff or earning advertising revenue. They often do not work for pay.
  • Journalists operate within an advertising-based, commercial media system that depends on retaining circulation. Readers buy newspapers because they trust what they read, so anewspaper’s entire economic structure is heavily invested in integrity and accuracy.When journalists delay story publication, it is to avoid error. Journalists tend to shun anonymous sources, and they usually require more than one source to verify a story.
  • Meanwhile, bloggers use anonymous sources all the time and are consistently gettin gtheir stories out faster, which is in turn creating a Catch-22 for newspapers. To keep up with the blogosphere, newspapers cut corners, which in turn can undermine the publication’s integrity (as bloggers find and reveal these errors). Bloggers consistently exposenewspaper errors (the blogging mantra is “we can fact check your ass”), which has been draining for the news media system both economically and emotionally.
  • Journalists have accused bloggers of being irresponsible with facts and coarsening public discourse. Bloggers have in turn accused journalists of speaking in phony, unearned voices of authority, being politically biased, suppressing important stories, being stenographers of official sources, and being out of touch with ordinary people. Rebecca Blood, author of the Weblog Handbook, notes that good journalism and good blogging are both dependent uponestablishing trust. She writes: “When a blogger writes up daily accounts of an international conference, as David Steven did at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, that is journalism. When a magazine reporter repurposes a press release without checking facts or talking to additional sources, that is not. When a blogger interviews an author about his or her new book, that is journalism. When an opinion columnist manipulates facts to create a false impression, that is not. When a blogger searches the existing record of fact and discovers that a public figure’s claim is untrue, that is journalism.
  • As Jay Rosen further articulates, “Blog responsibly, and you’ll build a reputation for being a trusted news source. Don’t, and you won’t have a reputation to worry about.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s