Timeline of Major Events in the Media

The goal of this timeline is to show the foundation of journalism and broadcasting in America, set against major world events. By examining both fictional and real-life happenings, we may begin to properly see a small part of the public perception of journalism through the ages.

Commerical Broadcasting Began on Television (1941)

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) approves eighteen stations to begin commercial broadcasting to the public. At this time, few American citizens own a television, with radio still being preferred.

Journalism in Fiction: Citizen Kane (1941)

This film follows the death of Charles Foster Kane, the owner and publisher of the New York Daily Inquirer.  Kane was presented as a man who began his foray in publishing as a selfless man, but gradually became lost in the power and wealth he acquired. Kane's character was partially inspired by real-life publisher William Randolph Hearst, who tried to suppress the film and frequently libeled Orson Welles, the director.

Kennedy vs. Nixon Debate (1960)

The first televised United States presidential debate. This is noted as a turning point in U.S. politics. Kennedy and Nixon had previously been seen as on equal ground in radio debates, but the added visuals of television swayed the favor to Kennedy, who was seen as young, healthy, and charismatic. By comparison, Nixon appeared sickly and awkward on the screen.

JFK Assassinated (1963)

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, no radio or television stations were broadcasting live, and most news crews were waiting at the end of the motorcade's destination rather than on the route itself. The only footage of the assassination itself was recorded by amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder.

First of the "Pentagon Papers" Published (1971)

The New York Times publishes the first of the "Pentagon Papers," which detailed the U.S.'s involvement in the Vietnam War. The Washington Post soon followed in the Times's lead and began reporting on the Papers. Nixon's administration attempted to stop these publications with an injunction, which was appealed in the supreme court (New York Times Co. v. United States). The New York Times won the case, and were allowed to continue publishing.

Watergate Scandal (1972)

The scandal was a break in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate offices and the Nixon administration's subsequent attempt to cover-up their involvement. The break-in was a plot to take photos of the DNC's campaign documents and install wiretaps. When Nixon's involvement was uncovered, he was forced to resign from office.

The Challenger Explodes on live TV (1986)

The Challenger space shuttle disaster occurred on live television when, shortly after takeoff, the shuttle exploded into several fragments. The launch itself was notable due to Christa McAuliffe being on board, who was to be the first teacher in space. All seven of the crew members on board were killed in the disaster.

The Internet is Made Public (1988-1995)

Originally designed for U.S. military use, the Internet was officially made public in 1988 as commercial internet service providers emerged. The internet was not fully commercialized until 1995, when its popularity, as well as the popularity of at-home computers, increased.

Journalism in Fiction: Newsies (1992)

Disney's Newsies was a live-action musical film set in 1899. It followed the lives of "newsies," newspaper hawkers (typically young boys) in New York City. Real-life news mogul Joseph Pulitzer is portrayed in the film as a villain who raises the prices of papers that the newsies buy for distribution. His greed leads to a strike by the newsies, which shines a light on child labor and Pulitzer's attempt to silence news of the strike. The events of the film were loosely based on the real-life strike that took place in 1899.

Death of Princess Diana (1997)

The death of Princess Diana of Wales and two others occurred in Paris, France in a road tunnel. The paparazzi were following the car Diana and the others were riding in, and were initially blamed for her death, until it was revealed the driver, Henri Paul, was intoxicated and driving and high speeds. However, many believe the paparazzi are still partially responsible for the crash. 

Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter Launched (2004-2006)

Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006) all launched in the early 2000s. These three platforms would eventually grow to be some of the largest social media platforms in the world, with most major news stations having eventually accounts on one or all platforms.

WikiLeaks Founded (2006)

​WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, was created to publish leaks, classified documents, and international secrets. The website routinely reveals information about many different nations, with information from anonymous sources. It provides a place for whistle-blowers to send their information without fear of legal ramifications. The legality of WikiLeaks has been called into question multiple times.

Journalism in Fiction: The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

In this film, and the novel of the same name, a young woman named Andy secures a job as a personal assistant to the editor-and-chief of a major fashion magazine. Andy dislikes the fashion industry, but sees her position as a way of gaining experience so she can become a writer elsewhere. Eventually, Andy begins to conform to the world she previously despised, and which leads to her ruining several of her close relationships.

Journalism in Fiction: Blood Diamond (2006)

This film follows the profiteers and victims of the African blood diamond trade. While not a main character, American journalist Maddy Bowen is central to the plot of Blood Diamond. She is in Africa looking into the illicit blood diamond trade amidst civil unrest in Sierra Leone. She meets and interacts with one of the main characters of the film, Danny Archer, a white African smuggler determined to find a highly valuable pink diamond. Archer and Bowen’s initial meeting is flirtatious and casual, but upon learning she is a journalist, Archer becomes hostile and unwilling to talk, due to his involvement in the illegal diamond trade. The two are eventually forced to work together, with Archer promising her a story if she assists him in getting what he wants.

First iPhone Launches (2007)

Apple's first iPhone, and one of the first smartphones, was released, setting a course that would forever change how people interacted and received information.

Journalism in Fiction: Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac is a film loosely based on the investigation of the real-life Zodiac serial killer. One of the central characters, Paul Avery, is a crime reporter investigating the Zodiac killings. He is portrayed as a heroic, if somewhat obnoxious, character, often mocking Robert Graysmith for the encrypted letters he claims are from the Zodiac. Avery eventually comes to believe Graysmith, as they are both entangled in the investigation and harrassed by Zodiac's letters and threats. Avery eventually moves to a new city and turns to alcohol and drugs due to his paranoia at the hands of the Zodiac.

Virginia Tech Shooting (2007)

In 2007 a gunman entered the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, resulting in the deaths of 33 people. This event was notable not just for the violence perpetrated, but for the reaction of students. Many of the students at the school set out alerts on social media, allowing fellow students, and the world, to know what was happening before any journalists could. This demonstrated one of the benefits of social media, as well as some of the downsides, with misinformation spreading.

Journalism in Fiction: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

This American adaptation of the Swedish novel of the same name has Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and co-owner of a magazine, lose a libel suit in the beginning of the film to billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström. Now disgraced and facing time in prison, he is determined to prove his innocence and expose Wennerström’s guilt. He agrees to investigate a series of murders that occurred decades previously, in exchange for information on Wennerström. 

Snowden Articles Published (2013)

Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and whistle-blower, leaked documents revealing NSA surveillance programs on both foreign countries and American citizens. Snowden fled the United States following the leaks and now resides in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum. 

Journalism in Fiction: Nightcrawler (2014)

This film features Lou Bloom, a petty criminal turned freelance photojournalist who arrives at crime scenes to film the aftermath and sell it, and Nina Romina, the director of a local news station who buys Bloom’s footage. Throughout the film Bloom tampers with crime scenes, films gruesome accidents, and even break-ins and murders. Romina enthusiastically buys the footage, without care for if it is accurate or ethical. Eventually, footage of what as originally thought to be a home invasion is revealed to be a drug deal gone wrong, but Romina refuses to edit the story, as the home-invasion angle is “more interesting.”

Brian Williams Suspended (2015)

Brian Williams, a famous reporter for NBC, was suspended for six months and eventually demoted for misrepresenting events when he covered the Iraq war in 2003. NBC had to deal with a subsequent public relations fallout, and Williams's credibility as a journalist was called into question.

Journalism in Fiction: Spotlight (2015)

This film centers around the Boston Globe and its “Spotlight” team, a team of investigative journalists that take months to uncover intricate stories. They are set to investigate reports of abuse of children in the Catholic Church, and its cover ups. They eventually do uncover and reveal the truth, although on journalist, Robinson, reveals he’d been sent a list of suspected pedophilic priests in 1993 but never followed up on the story.

Clinton vs Trump Presidential Election (2016)

The 2016 presidential election had Hillary Clinton (D) going up against Donald Trump (R). The term "fake news" became much more prevalent at this time, and continued to spread after Trump was elected.

"Alternative Facts" (2017)

The term "alternative facts" was used by Kellyanne Conway when referring to falsehoods told by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in reference to President Trump's inauguration attendance. Many ridiculed the term and viewed it as a spin on outright lies.

Journalism in Fiction: The Post (2017)

The Post highlights The Washington Post’s rivalry with the New York Times, investigation of the Vietnam war, the Nixon administration, and the legal battle in the supreme court the Post and Times had after publishing leaked information damning the American government’s long term involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Although the court finds in favor of the newspaper’s right to publish the leaks, Nixon demands the Post be barred from the White House. The film concludes with the reveal of the Watergate scandal.

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