Journalism, gathering, evaluating, and distributing facts of current interest. In journalism, reporters research and write stories for print and electronic distribution, often with the guidance of editors or producers. The earliest journalists produced their stories for news sheets, circulars, newspapers, and periodicals. With technological advances, journalism came to include other media, such as radio, documentary or newsreel films, television, and the Internet.
The Ladies’ Home Journal
By the 19th century affordable production costs and a demand for national advertising led to an increase in the number of magazines available in the United States. The Ladies’ Home Journal was founded in 1883 and circulation quickly swelled to nearly 1 million readers. Other publications such as Life appeared at the same time. This is the 1929 cover of The Christmas Ladies’ Home Journal.
The earliest known journalistic effort was the Acta Diurna (Daily Events) of ancient Rome. In the 1st century bc, statesman Julius Caesar ordered these handwritten news bulletins posted each day in the Forum, a large public space. The first distributed news bulletins appeared in China around 750 ad. In the mid-15th century, wider and faster dissemination of news was made possible by the development of movable metal type, largely credited to German printer Johannes Gutenberg. At first, newspapers consisted of one sheet and often dealt with a single event. Gradually a more complex product evolved.
Germany, The Netherlands, and England produced newsletters and newsbooks of varying sizes in the 16th and 17th centuries. Journals of opinion became popular in France beginning late in the 17th century. By the early 18th century, politicians had begun to realize the enormous potential of newspapers in shaping public opinion. Consequently the journalism of the period was largely political in nature; journalism was regarded as an adjunct of politics, and each political faction had its own newspaper. During this period the great English journalists flourished, among them Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, and Sir Richard Steele. Also at this time the long struggle for freedom of the press began.
In the English colonies of North America, the first newspaper was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, published in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1690; it was suppressed, and its editor, Benjamin Harris, was imprisoned after having produced the first issue. The trial of publisher John Peter Zenger in 1735 set a key precedent regarding freedom of the press in America more than 50 years before the First Amendment to the United States Constitution would secure it. Zenger was acquitted of charges of criminal libel stemming from articles he printed that were critical of the colonial authorities in New York, his defense being that his reports were factual. Provisions for censorship of the press were, however, included in the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798. After provoking a great deal of opposition, these acts were allowed to expire. See also Trial of John Peter Zenger.
Journalism in the 19th century became more powerful due to the mass production methods arising from the Industrial Revolution and to the general literacy promoted by public education. The large numbers of people who had learned how to read demanded reading matter, and new printing machinery made it possible to produce this inexpensively and in great quantities. In the United States, for example, publishers Joseph Pulitzer, Edward Wyllis Scripps, and William Randolph Hearst established newspapers appealing to the growing populations of the big cities. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, news agencies exploited the invention of the telegraph by using it for the rapid gathering and dissemination of world news via wire services. These services included Reuters, based in England; the Associated Press and United Press (later United Press International), based in the United States; and the Canadian Press, in Canada.
At the same time, new popular magazines were made possible by new technologies, improved transportation, low postal rates, and the emergence of national brands of consumer goods that required national media in which to advertise. The Ladies' Home Journal, founded by Cyrus H. K. Curtis in 1883, soon had a circulation of almost a million—a prodigious figure for that day. In 1897 Curtis bought for $1,000 the old Saturday Evening Post, which rapidly achieved a circulation in the millions. Numerous other magazines appealing to the general reader appeared in the 20th century, including Reader's Digest, Collier's, Life, and Look.
Over time, some general magazines became unprofitable and ceased publication when they lost advertising to television and to more specialized magazines, such as Sports Illustrated and TV Guide. The newsmagazines Time, Newsweek, Maclean’s, and U.S. News & World Report have continued to occupy an important place in journalism, as have The Ladies’ Home Journal and other so-called women's service magazines.
In the early 20th century two new forms of news media appeared: newsreels and radio. By the 1920s, newsreels in the United States alone reached about 40 million people a week in about 18,000 film theaters, but they were displaced by television in the 1950s. Radio news survived more successfully. Stations in the United States and Canada started to report current events in the 1920s, borrowing most of their information from local newspapers. They soon developed their own newsgathering facilities.
By World War II (1939-1945), radio had amassed a huge audience. American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt appealed to his nation through his “fireside chats,” and radio was usually the first to bring reports on the war to the public. Popular radio reporters and commentators were heard by millions of people. Television later attracted much of radio’s audience, but radio has retained a loyal following for music, news, and talk shows.
Television became commercially viable in the 1950s, and by the 1970s nearly every household that wanted a television had one. (In 2000 there were 835 televisions for every 1,000 people in the United States and 710 per 1,000 in Canada.) Network evening newscasts, originally 15 minutes long, were extended to 30 minutes, and local news broadcasts in major cities expanded to an hour or more. Network newscasters gradually became national figures. Since the introduction in 1951 of the first major documentary series, See It Now, featuring commentator Edward R. Murrow, television documentaries and video newsmagazines such as 60 Minutes have become important news sources. The Cable News Network (CNN), operating in a news-only format 24 hours a day, reached 77 million U.S. and Canadian households by 2000, and its CNN International broadcasts were relayed by satellite to more than 200 other countries.
Reporters must gather the facts about a story through research, interviews, and first-hand observation. In this photograph, a television news reporter conducts an on-camera interview, which may be aired live or taped and edited for broadcast at a later time.
Largely for economic reasons, including competition from television, the number of local daily newspapers in the United States declined in number from 2,200 in 1910 to less than 1,500 in 2002. Canada, with just over one-tenth the population of the United States, had about 100 daily newspapers in 2002. Weekly newspapers, which generally have lower circulation numbers than daily newspapers, are more numerous: In 2002 more than 9,200 of them were published in the United States, and about 900 in Canada.
A major trend affecting newspapers in the 1980s was their incorporation into newspaper chains—ownership of a number of newspapers by a single company. By 2000 only about a dozen cities in the United States had separately owned competing newspapers, and in 2002 Canada had only eight cities with competing newspapers under different ownership. Similarly, major radio and television stations, even when independently owned, have become affiliated with networks that provide much of their news and other program materials.
The rise of cable television and public broadcasting has reduced uniformity of programming somewhat. By 2000, 67.7 million U.S. households and 11 million Canadian households were wired to receive cable television. Because cable can bring in more channels than are generally available over the air, opportunities for the expression of diverse viewpoints increased. Public television, also called educational television, is likewise gradually expanding its audience. In the mid-1970s it accounted for only a small part of the time Americans spent viewing television; by the 1990s, during the average week, public television was watched in more than half of all homes with television sets.
New technologies continue to bring about changes in journalism. Television satellites, for example, enable viewers in one part of the world to witness live events occurring in another (see Communications Satellite) and facilitate new forms of video news distribution. Reporters can summon from data banks information that previously would have taken them days or weeks to assemble. Wire-service copy can be set in type automatically at a subscribing newspaper without the services of a local editor or printer (see Office Systems).
Full-color weekly and monthly publications such as The New Yorker, Wired, and Newsweek have huge circulations through subscriptions and newsstand sales. Hundreds of publications targeting general topics as well as specific interests—from doll collecting to windsurfing—are regularly issued in the United States.
In the mid- and late 1990s the Internet became a major force in journalism. Most of the major journalism companies—including those involved in newspapers, periodicals, wire services, radio stations, and television stations—began to publish material on the World Wide Web. One of the advantages of the Internet is that readers can find continually updated information on a variety of subjects, without waiting several hours for a new edition or the next news broadcast. Another advantage is the ability of news organizations to publish more in-depth information on the Internet, such as background documents, detailed maps, or previous stories. One of the disadvantages of the Internet is that, because information can be published almost instantly, companies occasionally release stories without subjecting them to the same quality controls and fact-checking processes common in other media. Nevertheless, people have flocked to the Internet as a news source. The percentage of Americans getting news from the Internet at least once a week continues to grow, having surpassed 35 percent in 2000. More than 40 percent of those obtaining news from the Internet say they go online to get more information about stories they first encountered in other media.
JOURNALISTS AS SOCIAL CRITICS
Reporting the Watergate Scandal
Headlines from the Washington Post call attention to events of the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. Investigation by journalists helped reveal the extent of the president's involvement in illegal activities and illustrated the importance of freedom of the press in a democratic society.
During the 19th century more and more newspapers and magazines began to campaign for social and political reforms as a method of attracting mass audiences. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, while often engaging in sensationalism, also spoke out against social evils of their day. Some of the mass magazines of the time, such as McClure's Magazine and Everybody's, built their reputations largely on the exposure of abuses. Newspaper and magazine editorials exerted some influence, but even more important was the ability of news stories to focus public attention on social problems or political corruption. Crusading journalists, the so-called muckrakers, helped to bring about a number of reforms—for example, antitrust legislation (see Trusts) and the passage of pure food laws (see Pure Food and Drug Acts).
Journalists have continued to serve as watchdogs for the public. In the 1960s television brought civil rights demonstrations in the United States—and the brutal means sometimes used to control them—into people’s living rooms. Reporters covering the Vietnam War (1959-1975), having become convinced that officials were not telling the truth about U.S. involvement there, were instrumental in turning public opinion against the war.
In 1972 and 1973, led by investigative reporters from the Washington Post, the press exposed links between the administration of President Richard M. Nixon and a burglary of the Democratic Party national headquarters (known as the Watergate scandal, so-named for the building that housed the burglarized office). Senate hearings on the scandal and preparations by the House of Representatives for impeachment proceedings were carried live on television and attracted large audiences. President Nixon resigned soon thereafter. Some investigative reporters then turned their attention to alleged abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), charging, for instance, that these agencies had spied illegally on American citizens.
Except during World Wars I and II, freedom of the American press was not seriously abridged in the 20th century. Governmental efforts to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers (a collection of secret documents on the Vietnam War) were struck down by the courts in 1971 as a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Broadcasting stations, which must be licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate, have generally been more cautious in their criticisms of government than have newspapers.
Traditionally, reporters had learned their skills on the job, but this began to change in the 20th century. The first school of journalism in the United States was established at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, Missouri, in 1908, and a bequest from Joseph Pulitzer led to the creation in 1912 of a graduate school of journalism at Columbia University, in New York City. More than 100 schools and departments of journalism now exist, and reporters frequently receive some of their early training on school or college newspapers.
Not all journalism graduates seek employment in the news media. A substantial proportion engages in public relations, advertising, teaching, or other communications occupations. Courses in journalism education programs frequently include reporting, newswriting, editing, broadcasting, new media, and related courses, as well as public relations, advertising, marketing, and social science research dealing with the process and effects of mass communications.