- The Year that Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms
In his examination of American journalism's watershed era, W. Joseph Campbell performs a micro-analysis of the pivotal year 1897 while tracing the historical threads that lead to and away from this point in time. In this project Campbell, an associate professor in American University's School of Communication, is clearly building upon—even paralleling—research for an earlier book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies (Praeger, 2001). Even so, the narrower focus of the year study allows Campbell to isolate specific trends in journalism within a clearly defined historical framework. The result is a meticulously documented argument that newspaper journalism was so deeply implicated in and influenced by the profound social change on which it reported in 1897 that its profession was transformed.
Campbell focuses his historical analysis at the confluence—he prefers the more dramatic term "clash"—of three journalistic paradigms: the journalism of action practiced by William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's New York World; the nascent objectivity of Adolph Ochs' New York Times; and the literary journalism approach of Lincoln Steffens' New York Commercial Advertiser. While Ochs' model would become dominant, Campbell's narrative is most engaging in its detailed accounts of Hearst and Pultizer's rivalry and exploits.
Throughout the book, Campbell anchors his discussion of the news stories and conflicting journalistic styles that marked 1897 within their social, economic, and political context. His examination of journalism is embedded within detailed discussion of such defining events and trends as the bicycle's expanding popularity, the Klondike gold rush, and greater educational and professional opportunities for women. As a result, Campbell is effective in presenting 1897 as a year of extraordinary change, one in which a redefinition of journalism as requiring the critical distance entailed in the concept of objectivity, is both logical and necessary.
Campbell also breaks ground in his research. Echoing his substantial career with the Associated Press prior to entering academia, Campbell offers a bit of breaking news by re-examining and debunking the longstanding suspicion that the jailbreak rescue of Evangelina Cisneros was a hoax perpetrated by Hearst's staff in order to sell papers. Sell papers it did, but Campbell makes a persuasive case that the Cuban prisoner's rescue was no hoax. Drawing on newly released evidence in the papers of Fitzhugh Lee, the U.S. consul-general to Cuba, Campbell unpacks the plot, the logistics of the jailbreak, and the motives of the players to argue that the rescue was authentic.
If the book has a flaw, it lies in the wide scope of the material Campbell attempts to cover, even within the framework of a single year.
At the same time, this study is an engaging read. Even as he tackles his broader themes, Campbell offers an integrated narrative that explores the personalities of the prominent New York editors of the day; the work of such journalistic celebrities as Sylvester Scovel [End Page 165] and Richard Harding Davis; and the lasting yet accidental significance of such routine journalism as the New York Sun's editorial to young Virginia O'Hanlon on the existence of Santa Claus.