“The ultimate story behind all the stories… In an age when the press is alternately villain or hero, Pressman serves as a kind of medicine man of journalism, telling us how we got from there to here.”Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair
In the 1960s and 1970s, the American press embraced a new way of reporting and selling the news. The causes were many: the proliferation of television, pressure to rectify the news media’s dismal treatment of minorities and women, accusations of bias from left and right, and the migration of affluent subscribers to suburbs. As Matthew Pressman’s timely history reveals, during these tumultuous decades the core values that held the profession together broke apart, and the distinctive characteristics of contemporary American journalism emerged.
Simply reporting the facts was no longer enough. In a country facing assassinations, a failing war in Vietnam, and presidential impeachment, reporters recognized a pressing need to interpret and analyze events for their readers. Objectivity and impartiality, the cornerstones of journalistic principle, were not jettisoned, but they were reimagined. Journalists’ adoption of an adversarial relationship with government and big business, along with sympathy for the dispossessed, gave their reporting a distinctly liberal drift. Yet at the same time, “soft news”lifestyle, arts, entertainmentmoved to the forefront of editors’ concerns, as profits took precedence over politics.
Today, the American press stands once again at a precipice. Accusations of political bias are more rampant than ever, and there are increasing calls from activists, customers, advertisers, and reporters themselves to rethink the values that drive the industry. As On Press suggests, today’s controversiesthe latest iteration of debates that began a half-century agowill likely take the press in unforeseen directions and challenge its survival.
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About the Author
Matthew Pressman worked for eight years at Vanity Fair, where his articles about the news media won the 2010 Mirror Award for Best Commentary (digital media). He has also written for The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Time. At Seton Hall University, where he is Assistant Professor of Journalism, he teaches writing for the media, the history of American journalism, and a course known informally as World War 2.0, in which students report on the Second World War as if it were happening today.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Liberal Values, Not Liberal Bias 1
1 Opening the Door to Interpretation 23
2 Objectivity and the Right: A Worthy Ideal Abandoned 45
3 Objectivity and the Left: An Ideal Worth Abandoning 77
4 The Reader-Oriented Newspaper 111
5 Minorities and Women in the Newsroom: A Two-Pronged Struggle 149
6 The Press and the Powerful: From Allies to Adversaries 184
7 American Journalism and Its Values, 1980-2018: Validation, Devastation, Alteration 219