History of the Media in America Media Essay

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History Of the Media in America

Media America, a History

Media incorporates mediums such as advertisements, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and now -- the Internet. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was only in the 1920s that people began to actually talk about 'the media,' and a generation later, in the 1950s, of a 'communication revolution,' however, the art of oral and written communication was actually quite important in ancient Greece and Rome. It was studied in the Middle Ages, and with greater enthusiasm in the Renaissance.

Until Johannes Gutenberg invention of the moveable type in 1450, information was spread primarily orally. That is, it was town criers, ministers from the pulpit, and bartenders who disseminated information or news. "Town criers, for example, broadcast royal edicts, police regulations, and important community events, such as births, marriages of princes, war news, and treaties of peace or alliance."

Less than a century after Gutenberg's invention of the moveable type, printing was brought to the Americas -- an area of the world that was unknown fifty years earlier.

When Father Juan de Zumarraga, first bishop of Mexico, arrived in Mexico in 1528, he perceived that if the church could establish a printing press in the new colony, his task of making converts of the Indians would be made immeasurably easier, and the press, the enemy of illiteracy, would be firmly controlled.

It was Father Zumarraga who was responsible for the negotiations that brought Juan Pablos, and Italian from Brescia, to America as its first printer. Pablos' primitive type of equipment had turned out 37 books before he died in the 1560s. He created the kind of "cottage industry in printing and publishing that prevailed in North America for the next 250 years."

In fact, the technology that Pablos used changed so slowly that no substantial breakthrough occurred in printing until the early nineteenth century. The cottage-industry character of publishing didn't change really at all in the American colonies until after the American Revolution transformed them into states. The Roman Catholic Church firmly controlled both printing and learning in the early years of North American Colonial Development.

In the New World, American settlers talked a lot about freedom of the press, but books (the first medium in the colonies), and then newspapers needed the approval of the government before being published. Benjamin Harris was one of the first to be subjected to censorship before publication in the New World. His attempt to print something that looked like a newspaper was stopped after the first issue. James Franklin also attempted to write and publish about local controversies and was thus imprisoned.

But it was William Bradford that was quite possibly the first to be sacrificed for the cause of free press as well as "to the jury's power to decide the law in libel cases.

Once Bradford had become the official printer of New York, he chastised John Peter Zenger, another printer in New York, for having published "pieces tending to set the province in a flame, and to raise sedition and tumults."

The Zenger trial had a very powerful effect on juries, who would now have the courage to uphold critics of the government, no matter what the law might be. This would turn out to be especially important in the decades prior to the American Revolution, when partisan newspapers exhibited little, if any, regard for the truth in their propagandistic zeal. The Zenger trial also encouraged citizens to believe that colonial laws, as laid down and interpreted by the governors and their councils, were not immutable and could be changed by popular demand. In all this, the newspaper had emerged as the vehicle of popular revolt.

Zenger's exoneration in challenging authorities may have been the most significant of all events that are connected with the history of journalism (the case determined that truth was a defense against charges of libel) and it was a very clear sign of what was about to come. It had a great impact upon feelings about how important free press was and how it could be used as a tool of revolt. It also got regular people thinking about the concept of freedom and liberty.

Ordinary Americans affirmed their trust-worthiness through revolutionary acts that were quickly reported in the popular press and the people would come to see that the language of rights and liberty was more than rhetoric. "Within a framework of local groups that came to identify with similar groups in distant places, people translated personal sacrifice into revolutionary ideology."

Parliament enacted the Stamp Act in 1765, thirty years after the Zenger trial. It was then that those seeking liberty would observe the power of the press in manipulating public opinion on a grand scale. "The patriots exhibited extraordinary skill in manipulating public opinion, playing upon the emotions of the ignorant as well as the minds of the educated."

Here were the Americans working as propagandists, using the media to touch the peoples' deepest most fundamental emotions, which the newspapers of that time clearly reveal.

After the American Revolution, influential men exploited the power of the press to mold public opinion and the direction of the nation and its politics. Of course, this was a time of major change in America in terms of politics and this also meant a new era in journalism. "As new printers and publishers appeared on the scene, the revolutionary press gave way to a nation-building press that began to report on the great debates shaping the form and character of the new government."

September 3, 1833 marked the appearance of the New York Sun, drawing a distinct line in media past and present. The Sun's success laid the foundation for three other influential dailies -- James Gordon Bennett's Herald, Horace Greeley's Tribune, and Henry Raymond's Times.

This marked a radical change in media structure as well as influence. From 1833 until the end of the nineteenth century, the newspaper was established as a capitalist institution, completely placed in private hands, free of both government and political parties. The papers were still committed politically, however, now the commitment came from private entrepreneurs who owned their power and the papers were shaped by those men and women who wrote for them. The most prominent of those publishers were also editors and they were all eccentric in their own right.

They were restless, egocentric, and combative, possessed of a certain cynicism, and devoted to the making of newspapers… By today's standards, truth and responsibility were not always their hallmarks, but in comparison with what had gone before, these ethical ideas were now beginning to blossom where nothing had grown before.

By the year 1826 many newspapers were dabbling in gossip, sporting news, and were interested, in general, in cheap press. Many American printers had heard of an English publication -- the Penny Magazine, which was aimed at educating and improving England's poor. Benjamin H. Day was one publisher familiar with this publication and spurred him in 1833 to start the New York Sun as a gamble during the depression. He thought that the penny paper would do well in hard times and that there was an untapped market in the immigrant masses who could not afford the six cents for other newspapers. He proved to be right, as his paper was nearly an overnight success.

Part of Day's paper included new advances in areas like advertising and circulation as well as news. The Sun came to epitomize sensationalism because of its focus on human interest stories. This meant that everyday, ordinary people -- butchers, bakers, prostitutes and shoemakers, etc. -- were news. His whole formula was about blending the stories of murder and catastrophe and love with elements of pathos in order to create the human side of the news. Simply put, the Sun mirrored the life of the urban masses… "Every day the Sun would print some bawdy news or feature story. Nine times out of ten, the stories dealt with crime, which exploited the weaknesses and errors that comprised human life."

In 1920, RCA places its first production order with GE, and just a few months after that Dr. Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse engineer, began transmitting music on phonograph records from his garage in Pittsburgh. To find out if anyone was listening, he asked: "Will any of you who are listening in please phone or write me how the program is coming in. Thank you, Frank Conrad, station 8XK, signing off."

He wasn't the first to offer broadcasting, but most media historians consider Conrad the first to reach the general public with continuous programming. He received requests for specific music to be played and had live music as well. In just the first two years of radio, between 1920 and 1922, Americans spent $100,000 for sets, tubes, headphones, and batteries. In just two more years, home receivers reached 4 million. While many Americans considered the radio a very special gift, the newspaper and film industry did not agree; they were…[continue]

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