- Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism by Christopher B. Daly
Christopher Daly faces the monumental challenge of synthesizing more than three hundred years of press history in Covering America. In this weighty volume, Daly, professor of journalism at Boston University and veteran reporter, represents the nation’s journalism as it played out in several overlapping formats—newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, television news, blogs, and, finally, online magazines and papers. While the book certainly cannot claim comprehensiveness in its own coverage, or even original insights into press history, it does offer a highly readable and practical history of some of the ways journalists and journalism have “covered America” and how journalism has always been “central to the very idea of America” (3).
With attention to developing an engaging narrative, Daly foregrounds the story of the nation’s press and concludes that American journalism is “the story of a recurrent, dynamic tension . . . involving the business of news and the philosophy of journalism” (xii). In Daly’s telling, the industry has, from its inception, witnessed “an uneasy relationship between news and business,” featuring “a recurring tension between the contents of the news and the forms of business that produce them” (ix). As a result, the study of how standards and practices have evolved necessitates a simultaneous assessment of the economics of news gathering and presentation.
Covering America establishes two major periods of journalism: the “press” period of 1704–1920, and the “media” period, covering 1920 to the present. Acknowledging the inevitably artificial boundaries of periodization, Daly organizes the book around these periods, within which he outlines five overlapping sub-periods. According to Daly, politicization dominates the 1704–1832 period, which gives way to commercialization between 1833 and 1900. The decades between 1900 and 1974 see the professionalization of news, an era that leads to conglomeration (1965–1995) and finally, digitization (1995 to the present). The fourteen chapters in this book, in turn, travel through this conceptual framework and illustrate how the “dynamic of change is the story of Covering America” (x).
Chapter 1, “Foundations of the American Press, 1704–1763,” traces how the apprentice model of the news business established a foothold in the colonies and surveys eighteenth-century printing and distribution processes, alongside a discussion of some of the first newsmen. The chapter considers, in depth, Benjamin Franklin, who “not only mastered [the] techniques” of America journalism “and worked to improve the business model but also gave the fields its philosophical foundation” (19). Chapter 2 continues the story of America’s early press through the American Revolution and early republic, when a fledging form of advocacy journalism took root, exemplified by such figures as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson.
Daly places the first true revolution within the profession in the 1830s, and Chapter 3 describes how technological developments generated a new kind of business between 1833 and 1850. After the emergence of the penny [End Page 228] press, “the newspaper became the key element,” Daly contends, “in a web of mass production, mass consumption, and mass communication”—the elements that have “come to characterize life in America” ever since. Chapter 4 examines Civil War and post-bellum news production, drawing upon the careers of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to illustrate how the press “made the issues of sectionalism, union, and slavery impossible to ignore or smooth over” (87). Daly also analyzes governmental control and management during the war, and his concern with political control and censorship serves as a recurring theme in Covering America.
Chapter 5 delves into the phenomenal changes that occurred in the late-nineteenth century with the rise of a “new journalism” spearheaded by Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, also includes brief mention of Nellie Bly and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Adolph Ochs of the New York Times stands in contrast to the new journalism, and the following chapter charts the development of press standards and professional reforms, even as Woodrow Wilson attempted to undermine the bedrock...