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Covering America

A Narrative History of a Nation's Journalism

Christopher Daly

Publication Year: 2012

Today many believe that American journalism is in crisis, with traditional sources of news under siege from a failing business model, a resurgence of partisanship, and a growing expectation that all information ought to be free. In Covering America, Christopher B. Daly places the current crisis within a much broader historical context, showing how it is only the latest in a series of transitions that have required journalists to devise new ways of plying their trade. Drawing on original research and synthesizing the latest scholarship, Daly traces the evolution of journalism in America from the early 1700s to the “digital revolution” of today. Analyzing the news business as a business, he identifies five major periods of journalism history, each marked by a different response to the recurrent conflicts that arise when a vital cultural institution is housed in a major private industry. Throughout his narrative history Daly captures the ethos of journalism with engaging anecdotes, biographical portraits of key figures, and illuminating accounts of the coverage of major news events as well as the mundane realities of day-to-day reporting.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: A Note on Methods

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pp. ix-xiii

A central theme of this book is that in order to understand the news business, it is important to understand the news as a business. I have tried to pay attention, first and foremost, to the economics of this field. The fundamental fact about the news business in America is that it has been conducted, overwhelmingly...

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pp. 1-7

On an early spring night in 1722, a young man hurried along the narrow streets of Boston, trying not to be seen. He was not a spy or a thief. He only wanted to be a writer. Just sixteen years old, Ben Franklin was hoping to get his writing published for the first time, and he had chosen a risky, roundabout route...

Part I: The Press, 1704–1920

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pp. 9-182

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1. Foundations of the American Press, 1704–1763: Franklin and His Contemporaries

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pp. 11-30

When young Ben Franklin was learning the printer’s trade in the early eighteenth century, the business of putting out a newspaper was still a new one in North America. As the early settlers along the Atlantic coast started establishing their farms and towns, they brought with them a cultural inheritance...

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2. Printers Take Sides, 1763–1832

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pp. 31-55

The fate of North America and all its peoples—whether they spoke English, French, or Spanish; Mandinka or Yoruba; Navajo or Cherokee; Creole, German, or Russian—was decided on September 13, 1759, when General James Wolfe and his British troops sneaked up the cliffs of Quebec...

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3. Putting the News in Newspapers, 1833–1850

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pp. 56-85

Deep changes were coming. Without any program or ultimate purpose guiding them, a number of people, acting independently during the first decades of the nineteenth century, came up with inventions or made new social arrangements that, taken together, had the effect of setting...

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4. Radicals All! 1830–1875 : Covering Slavery and the Civil War

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pp. 86-111

The prospect of an American army taking the field to do battle is a dreadful one. Even more terrible to contemplate is the prospect of two American armies taking the field, prepared to slaughter each other unceasingly until one can claim ultimate victory. Such was the military face...

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5. Crusaders and Conservatives, 1875–1912 : Journalism in Yellow and Gray

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pp. 112-150

After the great battlefield triumphs by Northern armies at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in the summer of 1863, the Union’s ultimate victory was practically assured. President Lincoln, however, still faced a pressing problem: his army had suffered so many casualties that summer that he would need many...

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6. Professionalizing the News in Peace and War, 1900–1920

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pp. 151-182

By the time H. L. Mencken pondered that question in his memoir of his early days in the newspaper business, a campaign had long been under way to try to elevate the practice of journalism in America, largely by improving the training of each new crop of reporters...

Part II: The Media, 1920–

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7. Jazz Age Journalism, 1920–1929 : Magazines and Radio Challenge the Newspaper

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pp. 185-214

In the early 1920s, in New York City alone there were seventeen English-language daily newspapers.1 Philadelphia and Chicago each had six. Most cities, and even a lot of small towns, had several, often with more than one edition. The total number of daily newspapers in the country...

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8. Hard Times, 1929–1941 : Three Great Columnists, Two Great Reporters, One Horrible Decade

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pp. 215-254

In the 1930s and early 1940s, the news started off bad and just kept getting worse. Two major stories dominated the coverage. At home, the collapse of the U.S. economy caused misery and dislocation on an unprecedented scale. The New Deal and other attempts by the Roosevelt...

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9. The “Good War,” 1941–1945

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pp. 255-286

In 1941 the Axis powers made two key mistakes. In June, Hitler shredded his treaty with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, an act of arrogance that essentially doomed the Third Reich. Six months later, Japan attacked the United States Navy. On the morning of December...

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10. Creating Big Media, 1945–1963

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pp. 287-321

From the start, Ed Murrow was skeptical about television news. By the end of World War II, Murrow was the king of news on the radio, and radio was riding high. Over the previous twenty years, radio news had arrived. It now had stature, it had immediacy, and it had sponsors. Radio had become powerful and...

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11. Rocking the Establishment, 1962–1972

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pp. 322-351

In the fall of 1962, a young correspondent arrived in Vietnam to take over the Saigon bureau of the New York Times. The new man was David Halberstam, and he was succeeding a reporter who was a living legend: Homer Bigart. Having covered both World War...

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12. The Establishment Holds, 1967–1974

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pp. 352-394

By 1967 the United States was deeply involved in Vietnam. Since the big buildup of forces ordered by President Johnson in 1965, the number of U.S. combat troops had grown to exceed half a million. No longer just advisers, Americans were now fighting the war themselves, and...

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13. Big Media Get Bigger, 1980–1999

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pp. 395-434

By the end of the twentieth century, the news business was, in economic terms, beyond mature. It was almost senescent, having begun in the fifteenth century and having long ago brought to a point of logical fulfillment a business and professional model that appeared to guarantee...

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14. Going Digital, 1995–

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pp. 435-454

By the 1990s, the news media had entered something like a Late Cretaceous period: enormous dinosaurs, having evolved to unprecedented sizes, roamed the landscape. They had adapted magnificently to their environment, and they appeared to be the crowning achievement of all creation. They filled almost every...

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pp. 455-461

In recent years, the economic problems facing most of the mainstream news media grew so severe that many people began to ask, Does journalism have a future? Were we seeing the “end of news”?1 Beneath the “froth and scum” of each hour’s headlines about the news...

Appendix : Major Periods in the History of U.S. Journalism

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pp. 463


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pp. 465-497


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pp. 499-512

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pp. 513-515

In a work of this scale, a writer accumulates many debts. My debts are certainly numerous and deep, and I want to acknowledge them. Covering America builds on many preceding studies, and I am the first to recognize that this book rests on decades of previous scholarship...


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pp. 517-533

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613761953
E-ISBN-10: 1613761953
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499119
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499113

Page Count: 576
Illustrations: 73
Publication Year: 2012