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, entertainment-moved 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 controversies-the latest iteration of debates that began a half-century ago-will likely take the press in unforeseen directions and challenge its survival.
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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.
An excellent account of where journalism has been, is now, and possibly will go in the twenty-first century. Pressman deftly demonstrates how print journalists decided that reporting the facts was no longer sufficient in an electronic age where interpretation and analysis of events were desperately needed.--Joe Saltzman, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California An original, deeply researched, and engaging examination of the fundamental changes in American journalism from the 1960s up to the rise of the digital. An indispensable work.--Michael Schudson, author of Why Journalism Still Matters The stories behind the stories are often more interesting than the stories themselves. On Press is the ultimate story behind all the stories. In tracing the evolution of news over the past half century, Matthew Pressman has produced an account that's deeply historical and not a little troubling. 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 and warning us what must change.--Graydon Carter, former editor, Vanity Fair Matthew Pressman helps us understand how we came to our current, troubled media moment with his deeply researched, engagingly written history of America's press in the 1960s and '70s. This is an important and original contribution--and a needed one.--Margaret Sullivan, media columnist, The Washington Post
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