Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Summary - A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years 1690 to 1940

Summary - A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years 1690-1940

Title: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years 1690 to 1940.

Title of chapter: Chapter XXVII Journalism in the West, section 'The rise and fall of Yellow Journalism 1892-1914'.
Pages: 531-539.
Author/initials: Frank Luther Mott (F.M)
Year published: Original in 1941, revision in 2000.
Edition: 2000 Revised edition.
Publisher: Routlege/Thomemmes Press.

Themes: Journalism, hyperbole, war.

Summary of book:

"This is the sixth volume in a set traces the development of American journalism from its early beginnings in the 17th century up until 1940. Together the books outline the enormous changes which the industry underwent, from the production techniques to journalistic practices and changes in distribution methods. Media historians considered Hudson's history, "Journalism in the United States, from 1600-1872 (1873)", to be the authoritative text for the study of the development of American journalism, a subject previously neglected by American historians. The work has remained an important source for modern day scholars. Hudson (1819-75) became known as "the father of journalism" for his innovative news-gathering practices and was managing editor of the New York Herald, which by the outbreak of the Civil War was the most widely read newspaper in the United States. Alfred McClung Lee's "The Daily Newspaper in America. The Evolution of a Social Instrument" is an extensive examination of the newspaper industry from 1710 to 1936, from an economic and sociologically point of view, fully backed by statistical data. Lee provides a general study of the subject, with his work covering such topics as labour, ownership and advertising. Frank Luther Mott's contribution to journalism history, " American Journalism. A History of Newspapers in the United States through 250 Years, 1690 to 1940" appeared in 1941 and has been used by generations of journalism students. The work has been described by one reviewer as a history of "American folkways, as reflected in its press". Through this work and others on academic journalism, Mott (1886-1964) became known as one of the founding giants of journalism education. As a major encyclopedic reference work, the book concentrates on ten major subject areas, with each section containing a selective and briefly annotated bibliography.[1]

Key points:

  • A pivotal birthing factor of "Yellow Journalism' was the reporting of war; exaggerated images, false claims coupled with eye-catching headlines. Even in the Spanish American war (April–August 1898) [2], incidents were blown out of proportion. When the US battleship Maine was destroyed in Havana harbor, its happenings were greeted by "...an answering explosion of black headings, display, and a diagram picture..." by the newspaper 'Journal'.
  • Many newspapers took part in "...war mongering..." tactics, such as the 'Journal' and the 'World'. They freely reported all "...news and rumors... they could gather." - pg 536.
  • There are five key aspects of 'yellow journalism' that Mott identified: 
  1. Scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news.
  2. Lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings.
  3. Use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts.
  4. Emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
  5. Dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.

Key quotes:

  • "It was soon claiming that the Spanish were guilty of the crime, regardless of the investigations of the regular court of the inquiry." - pg 531.
  • "...Pulitzer {the head of 'World'} ... said to have admitted that he liked the idea of a small war which might react on news-paper circulations..." - pg 531.
  • "The circulation of both papers again passed the million mark following the destruction of Maine." - pg 532.
  • "...Hearst, followed by many other publishers, attempted to hold his circulation by the techniques... of yellow journalism." - pgs 538-539.
My response:

Even with the data used being over a century ago, the concepts raised by Mott still ring true in modern day newspapers  albeit, now replaced by 'red tab' newspapers. My previous research on the FOX media empire (and ergo, the News of the World) led me to the concept of 'yellow journalism' and 'sensationalism', both of which can be applied to the Tottenham riots and how they were reported. Near all reports featured the predominate use of: amplified headlines ("Anarchy in the UK"), dramatic imagery (photographs) and made to sympathise interviews. This will definitely be a theory I will investigate further.


[1] http://www.amazon.com/History-Newspapers-United-Through-1690-1940/dp/0415228948 (Accessed 16:09 22/01/12)
[2] http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html (Accessed 16:54 22/01/12)

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