News for All

News for All : America's Coming-of-age with the Press

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"The American," wrote Victorian journalist Edward Dicey, "might be defined as a newspaper reading animal." Nineteenth-century taverns boasted of their newspapers as much as their drinks. Indeed, Americans' news-consumption habits were so obvious that Omaha Indians, on visits to St. Louis, mimicked newspaper reading as a courtesy when in the company of white men. But today, countless papers have closed or consolidated, and magazines built on mass readership seek to limit (or "target") their subscriber base. Now Thomas C. Leonard captures this sea change in American history, exploring the reality and critical importance of print journalism in daily life. In News for All, Leonard provides a fascinating account of the love-hate relationship we have always had with the news, from the early nineteenth century to the present. Reading the news was once a central social function, as citizens eagerly gathered in taverns, inns, post offices, and elsewhere to hear the latest reports. During an era when travel was slow and when geography, religion, class, race, and language divided the nation, all shared the universal habit of taking a favorite paper. Readers formed an alliance with publishers, declaring their politics by what they read in an age of highly partisan editorial policies: there were papers for the women's movement, antislavery, temperance reform, political parties large and small. Men and women courted by exchanging their beloved papers. Other hot-blooded readers protested items that offended them politically, even forming mobs after publication of unfriendly news. The press prospered with the democratization of news: they welcomed the pennies of succeeding waves of immigrants, and engaged in devastating circulation wars that slashed the price of the daily paper. Press barons learned to adjust to the desires of readers (the young William Randolph Hearst, for example, learned that what his subscribers wanted was more advertising). The end of the twentieth century, however, has seen journalists pull back from readers. Magazines seek to limit their readers in order to the affluent public to attract advertising dollars; publishers market subscribers' names ruthlessly, often cooperating with big advertisers. And the development of other major media threatens the role of the printed page as the ultimate word. The idea of news for all, it seems, is a faded dream. America's insatiable appetite for news played a critical role in the growth of democracy, but never before have the readers, rather than the periodicals, been examined in detail. News for All bridges this critical gap, bringing to life the nation's cantankerous love affair with the press.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 303 pages
  • 154.94 x 246.38 x 27.94mm | 498.95g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • halftones, tables
  • 0195064542
  • 9780195064544

Review Text

A loose-knit history of American journalism that promises more than it delivers. Leonard (Journalism/Univ. of Calif., Berkeley; The Power of the Press, 1986, etc.) concentrates not so much on newspapers themselves as on their cultural influence and how they have been variously read and interpreted. For example, one of the bestselling books prior to the Civil War, American Slavery As It Is, was a collection of clippings culled from southern newspapers. These items, unnoteworthy to southern readers, were read by northerners as damning indictments of slavery. As Leonard ably demonstrates, newspapers came to occupy a central cultural position in 19th-century America. Most hotels had a special reading room, taverns boasted of the numbers of papers they subscribed to, and with the democratic intent of widely disseminating information, Congress mandated a significantly reduced postal rate for all newspapers. By 1918, the average household subscribed to 1.4 daily newspapers. From there it was all downhill until the nadir of the 1970s, when most cities were left with only one daily paper and many publications were actively looking for ways to get rid of less affluent subscribers. Leonard blames all the usual suspects but is hardest on newspapers themselves, mainly for forgetting their particular communities and for dumbing down content. And he is certain that technology will continue to play its usual supporting role, in the form of computers and the Internet. There is the core of a fascinating book here - although the incessant journalistic hand-wringing grows tiresome - but Leonard jumps carelessly from idea to idea, making this seem more like a collection of musings and short essays than any kind of serious, developed history. Flashes of insight, but few scoops or exclusives. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Thomas C. Leonard

About the Author: Thomas C. Leonard is Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Director of the Mass Communications program. He has written widely on the role of media in shaping American life.show more

Review quote

"A wide-ranging social history of how readers have approached the press and how newspapers and magazines have tried to attract audiences."--Publishers Weekly"News for All offers an astonishing storehouse of facts about the press and its readers, past and present. Thomas Leonard's ability to bring nineteenth century news, news distribution, and news readers to life is a great achievement. His wise and richly informed commentary on today's vanishing newspaper circulation is equally important. His message--that the press will serve its civic duties better if ti recaptures its former commercial verve and risk-taking--deservers a broad hearing."--Michael Schudson, Professor of Communications, University of California, San Diego"By examining newspapers as cultural symbols and as artifacts, News for All offers an original and fresh perspective on the history of American journalism. It combines impressive scholarship, vivid writing and high moral purpose."--Leo Bogart, author of Commercial Culture and Preserving the Press"Traditionally, we think of 'journalism' as what journalists do. Thomas Leonard shows us the other, hidden half: what people do as they read and rage at the news. This book should open a whole new territory of press scholarship: how 'journalism' looks and feels on the receiving end, which is where it ultimately matters."--Jay Rosen, Director, Project on Public Life and the Press, New York University"The story of the creation of the voracious American appetite for news is both fascinating and surprising. News for All traces in riveting detail the role news has played in the development of the American character and its politics. Professor Leonard shows how the politicians who learned to master whatever new techniques and technology of the spreading of news, inevitably rose to power--a process that continues with increasing speed today. The news in this book is how this has been and is accomplished."--Clay Felker, founding editor, New York magazine"An exceptional piece of research that will set a standard of historical scholarship on the press. News for All is an original history of the press. Tom Leonard tells a compelling story, our story, the story of the readers of news, and simultaneously reveals, as in no other work, the complicated and ambivalent relationship between journalism and democracy. A must for everyone interested in the history of democracy and journalism."--James W. Carey, Professor of Journalism, Columbia Universityshow more

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