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  • The Far-Reaching Legacy of Turn-of-the-Century Newspaper Reporting
  • Nancy L. Roberts (bio)
Newsprint Metropolis: City Papers and the Making of Modern America. By Julia Guarneri. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. 368 pp. $45.00 (cloth, ebook).
Before Journalism Schools: How Gilded Age Reporters Learned the Rules. By Randall S. Sumpter. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2018. 191 pp. $35.00 (cloth, ebook).

These two books bring new insights to our understanding of a vibrant period in US journalism history, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Myriad social, economic, and political developments were transforming the republic from Jefferson's nation of small farmers into a nation of city dwellers. Urban populations mushroomed, with many cities doubling and even quadrupling their populations between 1880 and 1930. Newspapers raced to harness technological advances in paper and printing, and by the turn of the twentieth century, it was not unusual for a major city to boast a dozen or more daily newspapers.

Julia Guarneri's dual focus in Newsprint Metropolis examines both "how cities made newspapers" and "how newspapers made cities" between 1880 and 1930. As she explains, this means studying "newspapers not just as historical records but also as historical actors, not just as repositories of information but also as instruments of change" (4).

Gracefully written, with many appealing historical photos and illustrations, Newsprint Metropolis presents case studies of four different cities: New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Chicago. The book aims to demonstrate and analyze how these cities' newspapers contributed to the development of "distinctive urban cultures." Metropolitan dailies were big businesses that stoked advertising and commerce and also helped communities develop civic pride and responsibility, Guarneri writes. Furthermore, "Newspapers cultivated a new model of urban community, [End Page 183] in which residents understood and interacted with their cities not simply by living in them but by reading about them" (8). Newspapers also educated working- and middle-class readers about how to live in a city, perhaps reminiscent of how, in the eighteenth century, Addison and Steele's Tatler and Spectator instructed the emerging middle class about how to behave.

While many studies of newspapers in this period concentrate on front-page news, Guarneri casts a much wider and deeper net, scrutinizing feature articles, columns, illustrations and photographs, advertisements, and specialized content such as comic strips, sports articles, advice columns, and Sunday magazine sections. Commendably, she does not limit her study to mass-circulation dailies but also gives attention to other, thriving publications such as African American and foreign-language newspapers, neighborhood and religious weeklies, and suburban newsletters. She notes that while these publications were targeted toward their distinctive, specialized audiences, they nevertheless showed strong influences from the metropolitan dailies (in design and style, for example).

In this, Guarneri builds on the work of such newspaper history scholars as Gerald Baldasty, David Paul Nord, and Michael Schudson. It is clear that she pored over innumerable editions of dozens of urban newspapers, which form a rich and extensive base of primary sources, as well as appropriate archival sources, such as the Joseph Pulitzer papers at Columbia University. The book's detailed and lively examination of social history commands interest from both scholars and general readers, though Guarneri may have overemphasized the role of these metropolitan dailies as "instruments of change" (4). After all, besides the newspaper, other institutions such as churches, political parties, and sociopolitical associations also contributed to the rise of the modern city.

In a thoughtful epilogue, Guarneri traces where content found in earlier metropolitan newspapers has migrated in the era of the Internet. For example, the once-robust classifieds section of the daily has moved to Craigslist and other specialized websites in areas such as real estate and dating. She rightly notes that search engines deliver information about topics and products that is narrowly targeted to our interests and viewing habits, which "makes it exceedingly easy to read only the stories we already know we are interested in and to ignore stories we would rather not know about" (246–47). By contrast, newspaper readers typically encountered varied content "that encouraged broad curiosity" (246). Guarneri cites as examples entertainment articles juxtaposed with political articles on the facing...


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pp. 183-186
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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