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Journalism

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Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Journalism, the collection and periodical dissemination of current news and events, or, more strictly, the business of managing, editing, or writing for journals, or newspapers, the broadcast media, or, more and more, online audiences. Despite the increasing importance of online Web sites, the daily newspaper is still considered a basic news medium. Many journalists in broadcast media—radio and television—received their training in newspaper work. They have adapted the methods and principles of traditional journalism to the requirements of the newer media. The study of journalism is constantly changing with the advent of new technologies, and the current crop of students have access to training in everything from traditional storytelling to writing, shooting, editing, and broadcasting news and commentary in a digital environment.

There are no hard-and-fast rules separating journalism from other communications activities. Online news sites generally emphasize shorter stories and breaking news, whereas traditional magazines and newspapers may deal more with background materials. Newspapers, broadcast media, and the Internet all offer breaking news coverage, editorials, and commentary. Coverage may range far and wide in subject matter and approach. It is sometimes difficult to draw the line between news and entertainment programming in most popular media. Motion pictures overlap with the field of journalism through documentary films. See also Internet; Magazine; Motion Picture—Documentary Films; Newspaper; Radio—Radio as a Medium of Communication; Television.

Newspapers—as well as television, radio, and online news sites—not only have provided news but also have often carried on their own investigations. In a sense, they have made their own news—whether done in a responsible fashion or otherwise. News organizations have often been campaigners for a cause that they have considered just. It is frequently difficult to determine at what point objective reporting leaves off and crusading begins. Nevertheless, one point to note is the effort to achieve reliable reporting without abandonment of the right to conduct campaigns in what is regarded as the public interest.

Early History

Journalism in the modern sense is one of the younger professions. The first prototype of the modern newspaper was the series of public announcements. This was known during the Roman Empire as Acta Diurna and later in Venice as the Gazzetta. Similar official reports were made in China. There the earliest newspaper, the Tching-pao, or News of the Palace, began its daily appearance in Peking in the middle of the 8th century A.D. Until the invention of printing, the dissemination of news was largely dependent on private correspondence or word of mouth. The invention of printing from movable type by Johann Gutenberg in Mainz in about 1450 revolutionized the spreading of news. According to one tradition, the first printed newssheet appeared in Nuremberg in 1457. The letter of Christopher Columbus announcing in 1493 the results of his first expedition to the New World was distributed as a news broadside. The announcement of the British triumph over the Spanish Armada in July 1588 also was a news broadside. Some 800 of these occasional news sheets (all printed before 1610) are extant in libraries. This kind of publishing became a profitable business; as a result, the reporting of news spread rapidly throughout Europe.

For some generations during the reign (1558–1603) of Queen Elizabeth I in England, the newswriter was generally a kind of retainer in the service of the great nobles. Newswriters were supplied with the special type of intelligence they required. But with the spread of learning came a heavy demand for a regular and accurate supply of news. Organizations arose for the interchange of letters between London and the provinces; news stories were disseminated in a manner similar to modern syndication. At the time of the restoration of the Stuarts (1660), there were more than 20 English newspapers in the form of gazettes, courants, and newsbooks. In the meantime the periodical publication of the news of the day began on the Continent.

Mercurius gallobelgicus (1594) was perhaps the earliest magazine; the first issue was published in Cologne. Booksellers' lists with comments were frequently circulated and led to the development of literary journals. There were many other periodicals during the 17th century in Europe, where French influence was strong.

Journalism was more a business or an adjunct of politics than a recognized profession by the early 18th century. Comment as an accompaniment of the news—especially the political news—began at this time. Yet some writers had much in common with modern muckrakers or gossip columnists. Along with these gifted literary wits were many printers and hacks who also used newspapers and periodicals as mouthpieces for their personal views.

Freedom of the Press

Closely associated with the rise of early journalism was a long and eventually successful battle for freedom of the press. In June 1643 the English Parliament reestablished censorship of the press. English journalists found their profession a rough one. Some editors spent almost as much time in jail as in the printing office. Oliver Cromwell announced in 1655 that "no persons whatever do presume to print any matter of public news or intelligence without leave of the Secretary of State." For three decades after the Restoration a stringent licensing act handicapped journalists in England. In 1712, probably as a countermeasure to the venomous tone of the press, a stamp duty was imposed on newspapers. Parliament rigidly opposed any reporting of its proceedings or reference to any of its members. It promptly jailed any journalists who stepped out of line.

American colonial journalists fared no better. The first American newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Forreign and Domestick, was published by Benjamin Harris on Sept. 25, 1690. It was suppressed four days later because it reported that English armed forces had allied themselves with "miserable savages." James Franklin founded the New England Courant (1721) in Boston but was quickly jailed for attacking the colonial government.

The cause of journalistic freedom in colonial America was best served by German immigrant John Peter Zenger. His The New-York Weekly Journal (first issue in 1733) revealed an independent and truculent spirit. In April 1735, Zenger was brought to trial for criminal libel for criticizing the colonial governor. His counsel was successful in his demand for a jury trial, which took the issue from hostile court to friendly jury. Zenger's acquittal was the first great victory for freedom of the American press; it led the way to many later jury verdicts.

During the administration of John Adams the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed in 1798; they placed restrictions on the public press. Ten persons were tried and convicted under the acts, but fierce opposition to these prosecutions did much to overthrow Adams's Federalist party. The American tradition was—and remained—opposed to any such muzzling of a free press.

Similar liberating influences may be noted in England and on the Continent. The right to report Parliamentary proceedings was established in England in 1771. The stamp tax of 1712 was gradually abolished, since the authorities found themselves unable to cope with the enormous multiplication of prosecutions or the appearance of hundreds of unstamped newspapers with their fiercely revolutionary tone. On the Continent the liberating effects of the French Revolution extended also to the field of journalism. See also Press, Freedom of the.

Modern Journalism

By 1776 there were more than 50 newspapers published in London and nearly 40 in the United States. The rise of the penny press in London, New York, and elsewhere was a response to a continuing demand by the public. Among other factors leading to mass circulation were the enormous reduction in the cost of wood pulp, introduction of machinery for typesetting, improvements in printing, and great reductions in the cost of obtaining news.

The widening process was in part a reaction to a profound change that took place in the nature of journalism itself—the divorce of the press from political party opinion around the first quarter of the 19th century. Until this time the press was generally regarded as an extension of politics. Journalists were regarded as supporters of governmental opinion. The union of politics and journalism broke down when it became obvious that great rewards awaited those entrepreneurs who could sell fresh and comprehensive intelligence without slavish regard for political platforms.

A distinguishing feature of 19th-century journalism was the emergence of a series of great editorial molders of public opinion. The influence of these men often matched or surpassed that of leading political figures. In England there were John Thaddeus Delane, Edward Levy Lawson (Baron Burnham), Peter Borthwick, and Edward Sterling; in the United States, James Gordon Bennett and his son James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, Charles A. Dana, and Henry J. Raymond; and in France, Lucien Anatole Prevost-Paradol. These great editors succeeded in lifting a profession once held in ill repute to a new level of dignity and independence.

The constantly growing demand for news rather than opinion led eventually to the disappearance of individualistic leadership in journalism. The profession now became also a branch of finance. Journalism took on all the characteristics of big business—impersonality, departmentalization, standardization. Companies took over ownership and control of groups of newspapers in giant amalgamations. In the process luxury and fringe publications fell by the wayside. Newspapers—though fewer in number—became greater and greater in influence.

The progress of production techniques was facilitated by the formation of worldwide news agencies, founded to serve the increased reading public. Paul Julius Reuter started the foreign news agency (1849) that still bears his name. The Associated Press was established in 1848, the United Press in 1907, and the International News Service in 1909. See also News Agency.

In the 1980s there were some 1,800 daily newspapers in the United States, with a total circulation of approximately 65 million. There were also about 7,500 nondailies as well as thousands of periodicals published annually. The largest news magazine was Time, with a single-issue circulation of about 4.5 million.

The number of daily newspapers had begun its decline by the beginning of the 21st century. That number was down to 1,422 by 2008. Total daily circulation was at approximately 44 million in that year, the lowest since the 1940s. There were several reasons for the drop in sales: a rising Internet readership and the recession notable among them. Young people in the age groups of 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 had the lowest readership levels of daily newspapers.

Standards

There were two distinct trends in journalism through the centuries. On the one hand there were the elevated standards of such organs as the Times of London, the New York Times, and the Frankfurter Zeitung. On the other hand, the possible great rewards and the consequent competition for circulation led to the sensationalism of the "yellow press" and tabloid newspapers. This feverish form of journalism was conducted with little sense of responsibility or verification. It used lavish "scareheads," dramatic photographs, and questionable methods and pandered to the lowest tastes by emphasizing scandals and murder. To some extent this type of journalism was a vestigial remainder from the early days, when journalism accented brutality and vulgarity and maintained a disgraceful relationship with bribery and blackmail. The struggle to maintain dignity and independence in journalism has continued despite the low standards of much of the world's journalism. Some segments of television and radio news also have become sensationalized, especially with ratings "sweeps" period, when advertisers gauge audience numbers. The problem was exacerbated with the popularity of Internet news. Stories could be posted—on many seemingly professional sites—by almost anyone with access to a camera and a computer.

Radio and Television

Radio station KDKA of Pittsburgh inaugurated the broadcasting of news programs in 1920 by transmitting the election returns that carried Warren G. Harding to the presidency of the United States. Radio could provide direct reporting while an event was in progress. This gave the listener a sense of being present at the making of history. In World War II the radio coverage of the landing on the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944, is a spectacular and significant example of this type of broadcasting. The direct appeal of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, broadcast from England on June 18, 1940, calling on the people of France to resist the Nazis is an example of the power of this medium to overcome national frontiers and military barriers. The broadcast itself was just as much a part of the event as was the content of the message.

Television also has its "live" broadcasts. They sometimes have the same dual effect of both reporting the news and shaping the course of events. The television coverage of the Republican National Convention of 1952 is frequently credited as playing an important role in the selection of Dwight D. Eisenhower as the presidential nominee over Robert A. Taft. Other notable broadcasts that have shaped events include the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954; the Nixon-Khrushchev Moscow "kitchen debate" of 1959; the four Nixon-Kennedy debates of the 1960 presidential campaign; the intimate battlefield coverage of the Vietnam War; the Senate Watergate hearings beginning in May 1973; and Katie Couric's interview with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on CBS in 2008. Programs using interview or magazine format have often deliberately attempted to elicit newsworthy responses from interviewees, many of whom have themselves demonstrated skill in taking advantage of such air time.

News is also conveyed by broadcasts in which an announcer reads bulletins with little or no comment. There are also radio and television commentators who correspond to columnists on a newspaper—which they sometimes are—and offer their own interpretation of the news. With the success of certain television news shows, network news coverage was expanded—mostly notably, with the popularity of such television magazine news shows as CBS's 60 Minutes (1968–    ). In the mid-1960s, when evening news programs grew to 30 minutes, it was estimated that the content of a typical broadcast would not fill one newspaper page. But by the early 1980s the encroachment of headline-news services and 24-hour news and weather programming on cable television encouraged considerable expansion of network television news. In the 21st century, news is constant and ubiquitous on the Internet.

Through the years, there has been considerable discussion as to the proper limits of news reporting. Television attracted significantly larger audiences in the 20th century than did newspapers or radio news. And television news could show events in ways that newspapers could only describe. Some people believed that television cameras belonged in the halls of Congress itself, or even in the courtroom when there was considerable public interest in a case. This was justified as an extension of the principle of freedom of the press. It was claimed that any denial of this right to report all news (except in obvious cases of military security) was a denial of the right of the people to be informed. Others believed that legislative and judicial processes were necessarily complex and that a public insufficiently aware of the complexities would be more confused than informed; also, they believed that individuals would be exposed to unfair publicity.

These concerns continue to challenge the media in the 21st century. The line between news and entertainment has become even more fragile. Especially, public figures are fair game for personal and private exposes by traditional news organizations as well as a growing number of "citizen journalists." As news gathering and dispersal changes, the Web has become a source of blogs, tweets, multimedia storytelling, and citizen-submitted content. This digital mix reflects some vexing ethical challenges and diminished quality control standards at a time when they are certainly needed.

But these new ways of gathering and reporting news can also bring some successes. Eyewitnesses can easily upload video of news events and disperse it all over the world. The success of such technology was underlined in 2009 after Iran's disputed presidential elections. Protesters provided videos of postelection violence where traditional news coverage was banned.

Most traditional news gatherers have been concerned with avoiding partisanship—with a growing number of exceptions. Commercial sponsors who are seeking the widest possible public acceptance are not always willing to risk alienating a sector of that public; on the other hand, controversy brings in more viewers. A considerable amount of programming has become devoted to controversy.

Regulation

There is some variation in different countries on the legal relations of the press to the public. In England the editor is solely responsible for everything that goes into his or her newspaper, even including advertisements. Libel laws are strict in England; there have been many instances of editors going to jail. In the United States there is a more liberal character in libel legislation as it affects the press. Efforts to force reporters to reveal the source of their information have generally failed. The trend for newspapers in the United States has been toward reasonable liberality with fair accountability in reporting the news. The theory is to avoid permitting punitive damages to hamper the free expression of opinion.

The picture is less clear in the broadcasting world. Most countries recognize that the public has a stake in the airways. Consequently, whether stations are private and commercial, state controlled, or a combination of the two, they are always subject to regulation in the public interest. The particular type of regulation reflects the general nature of the political system. In totalitarian countries all legal forms of journalism are essentially instruments of the state. On an international level, the growth of the Internet has challenged and radically changed access to local, national, and international news.

The Profession of Journalism

News editors and reporters are the most familiar kinds of journalists. Editors may direct editorial operations or be responsible for specific news departments. They may be responsible for reporters' assignments, or they may work on the copy produced by them. There is much specialization among reporters, who may be expert in politics, science, economics and business, foreign affairs, literature, media, sports, fashion, or other fields. Journalism venues also employ writers, commentators, and photographers as well as layout, design, and graphic artists. They also need people trained in advertising, promotion, and business management. Print and broadcast reporters often write for Web sites or their stories are made available online. Online news sources also need programmers, designers, and business staff.

Since the turn of the century there has been a debate on the method of training professional journalists. One view holds that the most satisfactory school of journalism is the newspaper office or the television station; this school believes that reporting techniques can be acquired best through actual experience. Another view believes that the journalist is prepared best for his or her profession by a special course of study at a school of journalism. Academic training for journalism has been most highly developed in the United States. The first school of journalism equal in rank with other schools of the university was founded at the University of Missouri in 1908 by Walter Williams. In 1903, Joseph Pulitzer agreed to give $2 million to Columbia University for the foundation of a school of journalism (1912). A similar trend of professional education in journalism appeared in European and many other countries. Many schools of journalism today offer training in the special techniques of radio and television. A growing number of colleges and universities provide training in digital media. One such example is the Knight Digital Media Center, a partnership between the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley. This program specializes in delivering content training to leading new-media journalists as well as new-media training to traditional journalists.

In addition to a foundation in the liberal arts and perhaps a specialty (such as a science), a student interested in a career in journalism should select courses in techniques and practices. Some of the courses offered on U.S. campuses include: news writing and reporting; television and radio news or, more recently, digital news; photojournalism; editorial writing; management; history of journalism; press rights and responsibilities; magazine editing and publishing; structure of the mass media; government and mass communication; and international press practices and concepts. Online journalism students must be able to tell stories on all digital platforms, from desktops to iPhones and Kindles. Students study Web site production in addition to the fundamentals of writing and editing.

Contemporary journalism is recognized as an ethical and dignified profession still plagued by faults. In the 21st century, growing audiences are attracted to the World Wide Web and to other forms of electronic media. Much of the nation’s news collection system is still organized around printed daily newspapers, whose numbers are continuing to shrink.

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