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A Brief History of Journalism <Source url:http://shelleycrutz.

com/a-brief-history-of-journalism> A Brief History of Journalism By SHELLEY | Published: 12 APR 07 “Journalism is storytelling with a purpose. That purpose is to provide people with information they need to understand the world. The first challenge is finding t he information that people need to live their lives. The second is to make it me aningful, relevant, and engaging.” The journalistic principle of engagement and relevance means exactly that – journa lists are asked to present the information they find in interesting and meaningf ul ways, but without being overly sensational. There are two sides to this principle, however, and they must be balanced for th e journalist to be successful. Engagement is what makes the story intriguing and readable. Relevance is what makes it worth the reader’s time, what makes the stor y important to the reader’s life. The industry has struggled to find that balance throughout its history, but studies, such as those conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, have shown that in the long term journalism that tends more toward the engagement (or entertaining) side without adequately addressing the relevant side will not be as successful. During the Penny Press era, news consisted of little political debate and much h uman interest appeal. Stories focused on sex, violence, and features instead; th ey were sensational and engaging, but not always especially relevant to their re aders’ lives. In 1851, however, the New York Times was founded, declaring its comm itment to objective and reasoned journalism, and the swing toward the relevant s ide began. To aid that shift, the inverted pyramid style was developed in respon se to the strategic destruction of telegraph wires during the Civil War. Journal ists had to transmit the most important, or relevant, information first in case the transmission was cut short. This style was then carried through into the pos t-war era. During the period known as the era of Yellow Journalism, newspapers became for-p rofit ventures. Sensationalism still had a hold on the industry, with a focus on high interest stories and attention-getting headlines rather than useful inform ation for the public. Stories focused on the mass appeal of death, dishonor, and /or disaster. In the 1890s, however, relevance made more of a comeback. With imm igrants moving into the middle classes, news became more of a commodity. Sensati onalism began to give way to the sobriety and objectivity of the New York Times. Two story models were in use at that time: the story model of the Penny Press a nd Yellow Journalism eras, and the informational model of objectivity. At the beginning of the twentieth century, even Joseph Pulitzer’s notoriously ‘yello w’ New York Sun had become more literary. By the 1920s, though, objective style wa s beginning to be questioned. Objectivity presented only the facts, the relevanc e parts, without any commentary or color, and the world was becoming too complex for information alone. Parallel to the rise of radio, interpretive journalism w as born to help explain what was happening. From the Depression through the Cold War, tabloids continued to give way to seri ousness in reporting. This trend continued into the 1960s and ‘70s, as the Great N ewspaper Wars whittled down the number of papers in each town. The surviving pap ers were not the tabloids, but the serious papers, and the same was true of tele vision news programs. The news products that people chose in the long term were those that provided them with the more relevant information, rather than enterta inment. During the USA Today era of the 1980s, news was increasingly being produced by c ompanies outside of journalism, and a resurgence of primarily engaging news bega

n. Radio and television had long since replaced newspapers as the dominant news sources, and papers began to add more feature-centered sections. When the indust ry addressed its readership losses, rather than addressing this substitution of entertainment for content, it focused on cosmetic solutions such as layout, desi gn, and color, thus continuing the decline of relevance in newspapers. To illust rate, a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that news magazi nes such as Newsweek and Time were seven times more likely in 1997 to share a co ver subject with an entertainment magazine like People than they had been in 197 7. Whereas in 1977 those covers would have contained a political or internationa l figure 31% of the time and a celebrity or entertainment figure only 15% of the time, in 1997 political figures were down to about 10% of cover stories, and ce lebrities were up to about 20%. “Infotainment,” or the new version of tabloidism, is still a prevalent format for to day’s news, but as a result “avoidance of local news has doubled in the past ten yea rs,” according to data from Insite Research. The public continues to show a prefer ence for relevant information over entertainment-centered coverage. Another stud y by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, conducted between 1998 and 2000, found that stations that produced higher-quality news programs were more likely to have higher ratings, and even rising ratings, than those that produced lowerquality ones. In this Internet era, also, the web has become a vehicle for up to the minute updates on news and information, providing the public with a venue f or relevant and engaging information 24 hours a day, allowing for public and civ ic journalism to get a foothold among the many other choices the public has to c hoose from. Over the decades, the journalism industry has swung like a pendulum between a fo cus on the entertaining and on the significant sides of the news. Whenever it re aches one extreme or the other, the pendulum begins its swing in the opposite di rection. Always, the optimal position for the industry and for the public is som ewhere in the middle.