Christopher Daly’s Covering America is one of the thickest textbooks I’m reading this semester. Yet, all the pages between these two covers are still insufficient to fully “Cover America,” thus Daly writes a blog dedicated to his “thoughts on journalism and history.” An added benefit of the blog is Daly’s ability to reach beyond those in possession of the textbook. Clearly, journalism is still evolving, both being influenced by, and influencing, shifts in culture.
Journalism may be evolving, but it continues to draw from its fundamental and historic roots. Journalism retains, and expands upon, its’ original functions. The boundaries have been stretched, but contemporary journalism parallels historical means and methods of relaying, amplifying, and uncovering news.
Pressures of censorship and the press have a universal impact. Censorship affects journalists and their audiences; censorship affects citizens’ understandings of, and reactions to, both domestic and international events.
As Chapter 9 suggests, more media does not necessarily lead to a freer or more open system of communication of news. Senator Joe McCarthy, through his utilization and manipulation of the press (as well as through his work in the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations) to instill a fear of the communist presence in America, executed the blacklisting and censorship that has become an infamous part of the 20th century. This extreme censorship corresponded with additional – and more powerful – means of communication. By 1942, “there were more than 900 commercial radio stations,” and television was quickly beginning to power and influence public opinion (Daly 264). Radio was already established as a significant tool of communication, and television was proving to be a formidable force that had strong potential to influence the public.
Daly outlines the differences between radio and television by stating: “everything about television was bigger. There were bigger audiences, bigger profits, bigger potential and impact, bigger egos and salaries, bigger problems, scandals, and regrets” (Daly 289). These advances of the television industry are comparable to the rise of Facebook in the internet industry. Daly writes of television: “Station owners and the networks did not charge viewers to watch, so the broadcasters had to rely for revenues entirely on the money coming in from advertising” (Daly 289). Reading this, I was reminded of the recent controversy over whether Facebook was going to charge users for access to the site, despite earning billions of dollars in advertising revenue.
Furthermore, in Chapter 11, Daly writes of several newspapers that went public in order to maintain a large profit in wake of shifting culture. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg took his company public on May 18, 2012. Both instances led to a loss in control for the owners, but represented the change and growth in the mediums of communication and a “change in the [traditional] business model” (Daly 337).
While the internet and television serve distinct journalistic purposes, there is still much overlap; in a sense, Zuckerberg shares much in common with the pioneering faces of television. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Walter Cronkite are/were recognized as forces in their industries. Zuckerberg’s work with Facebook launched him into the public eye, whereas Cronkite’s widely recognizable face and name contributed to his influence. Cronkite was so visible that Sig Mickelson of NBC News advised him: “You’d better get an agent” (Daly 292). Zuckerberg’s fame exploded through not only his company, but through the film The Social Network about the company’s – and the founder’s – successes and controversies.
Boundaries of journalism have not only extended, but also overlapped and intertwined with various mediums. Daly writes that “new journalists” of the 1960s such as John Hersey and Truman Capote began to “cross literary boundaries,” interconnecting various styles of writing to create new, innovative genres (Daly 339). Today, this interweaving of media has become even more prevalent; journalistic practices often combine mediums to utilize recent technological advances. The introduction of blogging, video blogging (“vlogging”), YouTube, and social media sites (such as Twitter and Facebook) has led to more interactive, accessible, and widely broadcasted journalism. John Green, for example is known for his video blogging and journalism in addition to his works of fiction. Recently, Green used his video blogging (and his fame) to reach out to President Obama, inquiring as to potential names for Green and his wife Sarah’s child through video chat. Obama’s response – that reminding the child that it is awesome is more important that the name – went viral on the internet. Obama’s response, “don’t forget to be awesome,” galvanized video and blog responses, as well as Twitter discussion (#DFTBA).
Furthermore, the context of Green videoing the President provides insight into the cultural implications of technology. The screening was part of a “Google+ Fireside Hangout.” “Fireside chats” were originated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt; they were radio addresses given by the President to sway public opinion in favor of patriotism, his New Deal, and support for WWII. Clearly, the fireside chat has evolved. The new fireside chat not only utilizes Google+ and video blogging, but also spurs dialogue and reactions outside of the household; people take to the internet or other forms of media in order to express their reactions an address.
Daly says of new journalism itself – referring to the new journalism of the 1960s – “it actually had roots in old journalism” (338). Similarly, the modern fireside chats have roots in the old; Obama uses the fireside chats to both build patriotism and communicate messages just as FDR had done.
In the years following FDR, presidents continued (as in the above example) to utilize television in order to sway public opinion. Daly refers to President John F. Kennedy as “the media president,” who “introduced live television coverage of presidential news conferences and proceeded to thrive in the new forum” (Daly 318). #NDJED recently tweeted an article about Obama’s increased interviews on television and decreased interviews for newspapers. Perhaps Daly would find Obama to be the next “media president” because of his shift away from traditional newspaper interviews.
Obama is not the only public figure to engage and utilize new technological resources. His wife, Michelle, has teamed up with Beyonce as a part of the Obama administration’s Let’s Move! campaign to reduce childhood obesity.
Daly writes that the Roosevelt administration during WWII assembled “an army of communicators, eventually including writers, poets, admen, photographers, filmmakers, singers, radio announcers, actors, translators…” (Daly 259). While the war against childhood obesity does not carry the same gravitas as WWII, there is an overlap of tactics on the part of the administration working to sway public opinion.
At the recent Oscars ceremony, as well, Michelle used media to gain both visibility and pop culture exposure.
Referring to civil rights movement, Daly stated that news has “amplified the message many-fold” (Daly 314). This amplification extends beyond the civil rights movement; it is at the root of journalism – old and new – and is evidenced through the influence of radio, television, and the internet. Journalism has clearly extended its boundaries. How much can journalism stretch? How will future technological advances affect the future of news? With smartphones and devices like iPads, the future lies in our hands.
While one may question whether traditional newspapers will eventually fizzle away and replaced with more innovative technologies, there is perhaps one piece of advice we can take from the President’s recent “fireside” video chat with John Green: Journalists should never forget to be awesome. Respond to the changes, and don’t be defined by the label. #DFTBA.