Journalism is an age-old industry built upon a foundation of information and working in the public’s interest. Journalism has been around for centuries, but the focus of this project is to examine a smaller section of the industry. Thus, the primary focus of this website is to look at the present state of affairs in American journalism. But before looking at the present, the past must first be examined.
One of the first official journalistic documents in America was published in 1690 by Benjamin Harris, an English journalist native who immigrated to New England with hopes of expanding his career in America. His newspaper, “Publick Occurrences,” was meant to be published weekly with news from both the colonies and England being printed within it. However, the paper had not been approved, and was cancelled after one edition.
Eventually journalism in America would begin to take off. Newspapers and magazines would be published and circulated throughout the colonies detailing fairly mundane goings-on. But, as time progressed, the press would come to serve another purpose. Before American unrest came to a boiling point, those in favor of independence used newspapers to criticize politicians and the injustices the colonies suffered under British rule. Due to the 1765 Stamp Act, many newspaper publishers sided with the revolutionaries, and papers loyal to Britain soon began to fall out of favor.
The founding fathers’ use of the press as an avenue of their independence is made evident in the first article in the U.S. Constitution: Freedom of the Press. This is the right for journalists to report on any subject without interference from the government.
Freedom of the press still exists today, although it may seem as if certain government officials would prefer it did not. But journalists are, at their core, meant to be champions of the people rather than criers for those in charge. They have a duty to report on injustices and lies perpetrated on by the government onto its citizens, even if such reporting may make them unpopular.
This was not always the case. For years after the American Revolution, newspapers took very public stands on differing political sides. Leaders of these parties would encourage their supporters to subscribe to any publication that supported their platform. But by the 1800s, news giants realized by appealing to a broader audience, they would be able to earn more through ad revenue. This changed the way most major newspapers looked at reporting, creating the more “unbiased” system seen today.
Looking at modern reporting, it is evident that not all major networks and newspapers have remained nonpartisan. These networks have fallen back into the old ways of relying on similar-thinking groups to remain loyal. By appealing to one specific end of the political spectrum, news organizations can count on a reliable viewer base that will not migrate over to rival channels.
There are many more events that pave the road to modern journalism, but now we must examine exactly what modern journalism is. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but the major ones are technology, competition, and ethics and credibility.
There is an entire section of this website dedicated to the part technology has played in journalism, so the explanation here will be brief. Technology has always been a major factor in journalism; the telegraph paved the way for the radio, which in turn helped create the television. All of these platforms have created new eras in the way the news is presented. However, as technology has grown, new issues have come about.
This leads to the next piece: competition. In a time before the internet and smart phones, access to news was reserved for those who bought a paper or tuned into news networks. Starting these networks and publications were expensive and risky, and newcomers were routinely crushed or bought out by giants in the industry. But with the creation of the internet, the distribution of information has never been easier. Media giants must now compete with online-only websites that can rapidly get out news stories and reel in traffic from across the globe. By comparison, these websites are cheaper and easier to run than traditional media outlets. Ease of access also plays a large role; rather than take time to pick up a physical paper or watch a news report, consumers can simply scroll through their smartphones and read the easily-digestible stories they wish to see while ignoring those that do not interest them. Major media outlets have had to adapt to this changing consumer base as well as a new medium unlike those that have prevailed for years before.
The final piece to talk about is ethics and credibility. If asked, any respectable journalist will tell you that these are two of the most important pillars in the career. A journalist has nothing but their credibility; if the public thinks someone is dishonest, why would they be trusted to deliver important information? That is why ethics are so important. Even in small publications fact checking multiple times is not optional. Even the slightest bit out doubt or misinformation can lead to distrust, and in the worst cases, libel suits. Although libel cases are difficult for the accuser to win, they can make a reputable source of information lose credibility. Even if the information within a story is correct, if the facts were gained through lies, threats, or coercion, the story may also be in jeopardy, as it violates ethical code.
In this modern era of journalism, ethics and credibly are called into question often and usually with little evidence. The “fake news” epidemic has readers that disagree with a particular view call into question its factual nature, even if there is evidence supporting the claims. This is a type of willing ignorance by the public, who do not wish to be faced with views in opposition to their own. However, this is nothing new, although it may seem more prevalent than in years before.
This website aims to take all of the information presented here and expand on it, completing the path of American journalism, to its current state.