Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression. Editor: Richard C Hanes & Sharon M Hanes. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
The increasing concentration of the American population in cities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led to major cultural developments. More and more children had access to education and the literacy rate skyrocketed. Better education spawned a thirst for knowledge and the American public looked to newspapers, magazines, and books to satisfy it.
Newspaper circulation increased dramatically both in large cities and smaller communities. Giants in the journalism field such as Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and Edward Wyllis Scripps purchased and merged big city newspapers. Advancing printing techniques, expanded communication, improved newsgathering efficiency, and increased advertising revenues turned huge profits for the newspaper organizations that quickly became big corporate businesses.
The onset of the Great Depression in late 1929 hit the newspaper business hard largely due to a major decline in advertising revenue. Loss of the revenue meant less money for wages for employees and less money for production costs. Between 1929 and 1933 advertising revenue decreased by approximately 40 percent. Most newspapers reduced operating expenses by firing reporters and editors, lowering wages, and increasing workloads of those that stayed. The economic difficulties caused many newspapers to fail or merge with larger, healthier papers or newspaper chains.
For those newspapers that survived the early years of the Great Depression, the 1930s brought major changes to news coverage. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (served 1933-1945) policies of reform and relief, also known as the New Deal, gave government far more power to reach into the lives of citizens than in any previous period in United States history. The interest in and coverage of government by journalists expanded accordingly. In an effort to help the public better understand the complex issues of the 1930s, reporting began to include interpretation of the news in addition to presentation of the facts. Published nationwide, syndicated columnists wrote columns that explained the news from their particular point of view and wrote to the nation as a whole rather than a particular community. Predominately conservative, the columnists could express themselves more freely than local editors on politics and such sensitive topics as government relief efforts and unemployment. Each gathered a faithful following from across the country. As an example of the influence they wielded, when columnist Walter Lippmann turned against the New Deal, many of his readers went with him.
Specialized News Coverage of Government
Following the stock market crash in October 1929 action or lack of action by President Herbert Hoover’s (served 1929-1933) administration became a standard topic of news reporting. As President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs began to make government a force in the lives of all Americans news coverage increased dramatically and reporters were forced to take new approaches to gathering the news. The New Deal consisted of a combination of diverse federal economic and social programs designed to bring relief to those most affected by the Depression. Rather than a few individuals covering the entire spectrum of government for a newspaper, a full reporting staff developed. Business and economic policies, agriculture, labor, and social work each came to be covered by reporters specializing in each particular area. For example two journalists became the first news specialists in agricultural affairs. Alfred D. Stedman, a reporter from St. Paul, Minnesota, and Theodore C. Alford, reporter for the Kansas City Star came to Washington, DC, in 1929 ready to exercise their expertise as correspondents on the agricultural scene. Likewise the rise of labor issues and New Deal labor policies moved labor news coverage to the forefront. Louis Stark, reporter for the New York Times became the dean of U.S. labor reporters. John Leary of the New York World along with Stark set up their base of operations in Washington, DC, in 1933.
With the increasing complexity of the nation’s affairs during the Depression and the pre-World War II years, journalists realized that merely reporting the facts did not adequately cover the issues. The “why” became as important as the “who did what and when.” The American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1933 issued statements explaining that in the light of rapidly evolving national and world events men and women were expressing an interest in public affairs to a greater extent than ever before. The society urged newspaper editors to set aside more and more space for interpretation and explanation of the news to better enable the average reader to understand the important events of the time.
The rise of the syndicated political column was a response by the journalism profession to increasingly interpret national and world news. Syndication of a column means selling a piece or column written by one journalist to many newspapers across the country for publication at the same time. The signed columns were often printed on the editorial pages and became commonplace in most newspapers.
Before the late 1920s syndicated columns tended to be humorous columns or concentrated on reviewing literature. By the end of the 1920s, however, journalists Frank Kent of the Baltimore Sun, David Lawrence writing for various Washington, DC, publications, and Mark Sullivan of the New York Herald Tribune had established columns commenting on economic and political affairs. Walter Lippmann joined the trio by 1931 as a columnist with the New York Herald Tribune. By 1940 Lippmann’s column appeared in some 165 larger papers and he was the highest paid columnist in America.
During the 1930s numerous other syndicated columnists caught the public’s attention for their interpretation of the politics of the Depression. Raymond Clapper’s “In Washington” column, for the Washington Post presented a balanced interpretation of the political scene of Washington, DC. Based on his excellent reporting abilities Clapper’s opinions on national and foreign problems were highly respected. Conservative Westbrook Pegler delivered a personalized type of political column that seemed to speak directly to the reader. His writing attacked labor unions, New Dealers, who were supporters of New Deal policy, and members of President Roosevelt’s family. The affable Heywood Broun began his newspaper days in 1910 as a reporter for the New York Morning Telegraph. In 1921 he went to the New York Worldwhere he began writing his column, “It Seems to Me.” Writing on a wide array of national matters, Broun usually leaned to the liberal side of political issues. His friendly writing style, a departure from the more cold, less friendly styles of previous years, gathered a large reading audience in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dorothy Thompson, a widely syndicated woman columnist, was an expert in international affairs. She served as the European correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger and the New York Post in the 1920s and early 1930s. Upon her return to the United States Thompson joined the New York Herald Tribune where in 1936 she began her syndicated column, “On the Record.” She generally criticized Roosevelt for not going far enough with his social reforms and wealth redistribution. Thompson, however, supported him for a third term as president because in her opinion he would be able to stand up to Adolf Hitler’s aggression in Europe.
Meanwhile in 1932, a second type of political column emerged—a personalized or gossip type column. This type of column was greatly welcomed by readers as they were looking for more ways to escape from the bad news of the Depression whenever possible. A spin off from the best seller Washington Merry-Go-Round published in 1931, the column was written by the book’s authors, Drew Pearson of the Baltimore Sun and Robert S. Allen of the Christian Science Monitor. The co-authors developed the column into a political behind the scenes column. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were both increasing government’s role in people’s daily lives as well as making government more accessible to the public. As a result interest in the day-to-day affairs of government was greatly increasing. Roosevelt’s warmth and charm expressed in his speeches and fireside chats on the radio were mirrored by some of their new columns. It gave people a greater sense of security. By 1940 this syndicated column, given the same name as the book, appeared in about 350 papers.
More of a news item itself, George H. Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion surveys began appearing in many newspapers in the later 1930s. Gallup’s Institute, founded in 1935, covered various social and political questions. In the 1936 presidential election Gallup’s final poll accurately reflected the popular vote while other polls predicted Republican candidate Alfred Landon to be the victor. Landon carried only two states, overwhelmingly losing to Franklin Roosevelt.
Criticism of the Press
Many journalists, including major syndicated columnists, tended to be for the most part quite conservative and often reflected the big business and management viewpoint. As a result the press came under a great deal of criticism by the American public. Many newspapers were criticized over their reporting of the Great Depression when much of the public perceived that the papers were downplaying the hardships. Especially in the early Depression years of 1929 to 1932 the newspapers responded to calls by politicians not to panic the American public. After the collapse of the stock market in the fall of 1929 President Herbert Hoover pressured journalists to report only the positive side of government relief efforts and to assure Americans the crisis would end quickly. He cautioned reporters to not overdo their coverage of the worsening economic circumstances that he argued would only make the situation more difficult. Complying, many newspapers of the day appeared to divorce themselves from Depression hardships and attempted to maintain a discreet silence until the Depression passed. As a result the public believed the press did little more than issue propaganda that served the special interest of business. Consequently the press was never more distrusted by the American people.
Those Americans who supported Roosevelt believed his sweeping victories of 1932 and 1936 should signal to journalists that Americans by and large supported Roosevelt’s proposed socioeconomic reforms. Those same Americans often viewed the press bitterly, seeing it as undemocratic and stuck in a conservative mode not at all reflective of the general public. In 1936 more than 80 percent of the press had opposed Roosevelt yet he won the reelection to the presidency by a landslide. A group of publishers known as the “press lords” were most heavily criticized. Reading about the “press lords” proved very interesting for many Americans. Those “press lords” included publishers William Randolph Hearst, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, and Roy W. Howard.
Conservatism and the Press Lords
Hearst by 1935 oversaw a publishing empire of 26 dailies (newspapers published every day) and 17 Sunday editions in 19 cities. These newspapers represented 13.6 percent of the total daily circulation and 24.2 percent of Sunday circulation in the United States. Hearst also controlled several news service agencies, 13 magazines, and eight radio stations. He had helped to elect Roosevelt in 1932, but by 1935 Hearst called the New Deal a “Raw Deal.” Believing the government was wrongfully intruding into business and American lives, Hearst views turned radically conservative and very anti-government. Anyone who happened to disagree with Hearst, he immediately labeled a “communist.” He denounced the new Social Security Act and supported Republican presidential candidate Alfred Landon in 1936. Critics denounced Hearst but his empire was powerful and he weathered public attacks.
Colonel Robert R. McCormick pushed the Chicago Tribune, founded in 1847, toward an ultra-conservative stance competing with Hearst’s conservative Chicago Examiner. On the front page of the Tribune he printed daily boxes that called on American voters to save the United States from President Roosevelt. In 1937 Washington correspondents voted the Tribune the second least reliable and least fair newspaper. They voted the Hearst papers as having the most unfair reportage of all major newspapers.
The third press lord receiving a great deal of criticism in the 1930s was Roy W. Howard of the Scripps-Howard dailies. The predominately Midwestern dailies established by Edward Wyllis Scripps in the early twentieth century had been known as “people’s papers.” As Howard came to dominate management of the chain, however, the papers took a very conservative turn. Although the Scripps-Howard dailies ranked third in circulation behind Hearst and McCormick papers, many Americans became dismayed that their “people’s papers” had turned away from the people’s president—Roosevelt.
Books abounded in the 1930s that sought to expose the “press lords.” Publications included Ferdinand Lundberg’s Imperial Hearst (1936), The Changing American Newspaper (1937) by Herbert Brucker, George Seldes’ famous Lords of the Press (1938), and American House of Lords (1939) by Harold L. Ickes. Ickes was an influential New Dealer, as those who supported Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were called, who served in numerous government capacities under President Roosevelt.
The Everyday Reporter of the 1930s
Despite the growing influence of the syndicated columnists and the wealth of the “press lords,” the life of the everyday reporter was generally neither particularly adventurous nor glamorous. The profession had become, during the Depression, one of the most crowded and poorly paid of all white-collar occupations. Between 1929 and 1933 newspaper advertising revenue fell 40 percent and radio, offering more exposure for less cost, seized much of advertisers’ business. Those newspapers that did not fold reduced operating expenses by firing reporters and editors, lowering pay of those they retained, and increasing workloads. Working hours were very long, six days a week for ten to twelve hours each day, and job insecurity was a constant worry. Being dismissed during the depth of the Depression was frightening since finding another news job would most likely be impossible.
While other workers such as typesetters in newspaper plants were unionized and able to work for improved benefits by the beginning of the 1930s, men and women reporters, columnists, and desk workers remained unorganized and underpaid. This in part was the fault of the reporters themselves who in better days had resisted unionization. They resisted because they feared the loss of the freedom of their unconventional and “romantic” profession. The economic crisis of the Depression in the summer of 1933, however, had many reporters talking of a newspaper writers’ union. Then on August 7, 1933, a syndicated columnist for the New York World-Telegram, the liberal maverick Heywood Broun, called for the formation of a newspaper writers’ union and dedicated himself to the task. The timing was right and newspaper people rallied to the call. Reporters in Cleveland formed the first local in what came to be known as the Newspaper Guild on August 20, 1933. In Washington, DC, on December 15 of that same year, representatives from various cities officially founded the Guild. By the next convention in June 1934, the Guild had eight thousand members. During the next five years the Guild was actively involved in about 20 strikes, the most bitter lasted 508 days and was against the Hearst newspapers in Chicago. The Guild joined the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1937, extended its membership base to office employees and had negotiated 75 newspaper contracts by 1938. By the end of the 1930s newspaper employees within the Guild saw their economic conditions stabilize.
President Roosevelt and the Journalists
Irregardless of a particular journalist’s political persuasion, as soon as Franklin D. Roosevelt assumed the presidency of the United States in March 1933, it was obvious to all reporters that the new president would pursue a “new deal” relationship with the press. President Roosevelt clearly enjoyed the give and take of a news conference. Against his staff’s advice Roosevelt’s press conferences were undertaken with no prior written questions. He was lively, serious, happy, or somber, whatever the news of the moment dictated, and his voice was always reassuring and sincere. President Roosevelt’s conferences were informal in tone and he often met with reporters in his White House office. This informality and honest informativeness prevailed throughout his 12 years in office.
Meeting the press an average of 83 times a year, Roosevelt held a total of 998 presidential news conferences. This average was twice the number of press conferences President Harry Truman (1945-1953) held, and almost four times the combined number of conferences held by Presidents Eisenhower (1953-1961), Kennedy (1961-1963), and Johnson (1963-1969).
President Roosevelt’s news conferences became the regular show in Washington. He knew how to “break” a story as well as any journalist. In longer conferences he would thoroughly answer up to 30 different questions, all the while masterfully managing the group of reporters.
Gradually rising worries over the growth of government brought by New Deal policies and America’s involvement in foreign affairs triggered increasingly critical questioning of Roosevelt by journalists. Whether supporting Roosevelt’s views or not, journalists considered Roosevelt a newspaperman’s President. Not only was he skillful with the traditional newspaper journalists, but he seemed to instinctively understand the potential and power of radio broadcasting. Although in its infancy radio journalism would begin in the early 1930s to impact the perspectives of Americans across the nation.
Between 1930 and 1938 radio news broadcasting matured and reached into the everyday lives of most Americans. By 1938 more than 91 percent of urban American households owned radios. Largely because of President Roosevelt’s rural electrification program, electricity extended to an increasing number of rural homes allowing approximately 70 percent of rural homes to use radios. A well developed news broadcast system was crucial by the spring of 1938 as Americans were able to follow the disturbing events in Europe which led to the start of World War II in 1939.
By the summer of 1930 only one daily news broadcast reached across the United States to serve an ever increasing national audience. It was under the sponsorship of the weekly newsmagazine Literal Digest and was read by the Chicago Tribune correspondent, Clyde Gibbons. Wearing a white patch over an eye the flamboyant Gibbons delivered the news at a rapid fire pace, always beginning with a boisterous, “Hello, Everybody.” Gibbons commanded a $10,000 per week salary, an astronomical sum in the early days of the Depression. In September of 1930 Literary Digest’spublisher R. J. Cuddihy had arranged to hear Lowell Thomas, a veteran newsperson, read the news on Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) ahead of Gibbons show carried on National Broadcasting Company (NBC). After listening to both, Cuddihy fired Gibbons and hired Thomas. Thomas’ program, always captivating, lasted remarkably from his first broadcast on September 29, 1930 to May 14, 1976.
In 1931 Henry R. Luce the magazine journalist who founded Time magazine in 1923 began a radio program series, the March of Time that did not shy away from stories of the effect of the Depression on Americans. Drawing attentive audiences with dramatic reenactments of the week’s news, over 100 stations carried the series. Despite the Depression, increasing numbers of American families found a way to purchase a radio so as not to miss out on the latest news. Radio audiences were also built up by the desire to hear President Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” begun in March 1933 explaining, over radio broadcasts, his actions and programs.
As the Depression deepened it affected the radio business much as it did other industries. Small radio manufacturers and broadcasters were forced out of business but larger ones remained. Major networks such as National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) continued to post profits even in the Depression’s worst year, 1932. Those wealthy businessmen unaffected by the Depression continued to found local radio stations, then formed chains of networks. Some argued the Depression was actually good for radio since advertisers looking for the most exposure for the least cost increasingly chose radio over newspapers.
By 1934 NBC had 127 affiliated radio stations to which it fed news stories while CBS had 97 affiliates.
Four independent stations established the Mutual Broadcasting System, a cooperative to sell radio time to advertisers and to contract with American Telegraph and Telephone (AT&T) to connect its affiliate stations to phone lines. The Mutual System had 160 affiliated stations by 1939.
As President Roosevelt took charge of the United States government in 1933 and his administration formulated New Deal legislation radio commentators attempted to assist Americans in understanding the new policies. One of the most famous of the commentators to emerge in the 1930s was Hans von Kaltenborn.
Kaltenborn worked as a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper from 1910 until he lost his job in 1930 due to the financial crisis of the Depression. As a sideline, beginning in 1922, he broadcast a series of talks on current events for radio station WEAF in New York. CBS hired Kaltenborn in 1930 to do weekly broadcasts. With a perfectly pitched radio voice and an ability to ad lib endlessly, he made sense of the day’s news.
Conservative leaning radio commentators with large audiences were Boake Carter, Upton Close, and Fulton Lewis, Jr. Boake Carter, a close friend of conservative radical Father Charles Coughlin, known as the radio priest of Detroit, broadcast news and commentary each weekday from January 1933 to August 1938. He harshly attacked President Roosevelt’s programs and was eventually pulled off the air for increasingly irrational statements. Upton Close analyzed the news over NBC stations from 1934 to 1944. He was sympathetic to right-wing politics, and espoused hatred of Jews and Russians. Fulton Lewis, Jr. began broadcasting commentary over the Mutual Network in 1937 and followed the Republican Party, always opposing Roosevelt.
The more liberal commentators, in addition to Kaltenborn were Dorothy Thompson, Raymond Gram Swing, and Edward R. Murrow. Their commentary generally concerned international issues and whether or not the United States should involve itself in European affairs. Already a respected syndicated newspaper columnist, Dorothy Thompson while living in Europe began radio broadcast commentaries for NBC in 1937. Thompson firmly believed the United States needed to be involved in international affairs and was interested in women’s issues. Raymond Gram Swing began regular commentary in 1936 over the Mutual Network and quickly ranked third behind Kaltenborn and Thomas as a top radio journalist in a poll of radio editors. Edward R. Murrow, a CBS program arranger vaulted to fame in 1938 as a European correspondent and thereafter as a radio war reporter. Thompson, Swing, and Murrow hated Hitler, feared for the Jewish people, and were in sympathy with Great Britain believing the United States must indeed become involved in the European conflicts.
One other leading commentator who began his career in the 1930s was Walter Winchell. Although his career was predominantly involved with scandal and gossip about Hollywood and gangsters, he helped educate Americans about German actions and strongly supported President Roosevelt. Winchell built a huge audience and his familiar words were, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press…” (Emery and Emery, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media. p. 328).
Women in Journalism
By the 1930s, hard work, willingness to take on varied and difficult tasks, competitive spirits, plus talented and skillful writing had won women an increasingly prominent role in the field of journalism. Two of the most prominent newswomen, both of whom began their careers in the 1920s, were Dorothy Thompson and Anne O’Hare McCormick. Thompson became the first American woman head of a European news bureau. McCormick became the first woman on the New York Times editorial board. Nevertheless women reporters were generally excluded from the “hard news,” that is political and economic news that was covered almost solely by men. When Roosevelt moved into the White House, both the president and first lady developed outstanding relationships with the press. A reformer and women’s rights advocate, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt scheduled press conferences every Monday at 11 o’clock AM for women journalists only. From 1933 to 1945 the first lady opened her “new deal” conferences to women reporters but barred men. This meant that the major newspapers and newsgathering services had to have a newspaperwoman in Washington.
The conferences attracted 20 to 30 reporters each week including regulars May Craig, who wrote a column for the Portland, Maine Press-Herald; Bess Furman of the Associated Press (AP); Marie Manning Gasch reporter for the International News Service (INS), who was the original Beatrice Fairfax, advice columnist; Genevieve Forbes Herrick of the Chicago Tribune; and journalist Lorena Hickok, reporter for the AP, who would become the first lady’s close confidant. Hickok would resign the AP job to take positions in the Roosevelt New Deal programs. Marie Manning Gasch, who had been a news reporter before writing her advice column, had returned to the news world out of economic hardship brought on by the Depression. May Craig would eventually become the best known journalist of the group. She attended presidential press conferences for 30 years from the administrations of Roosevelt to Lyndon Baines Johnson (served 1963-1969). She would also be a regular on the NBC-TV program, “Meet the Press.” She served as a correspondent in World War II and was the first woman reporter allowed on a battleship at sea.
Bess Furman, who had come to Washington to cover the presidential political campaign in 1928 for the Omaha, Nebraska Bee-News took a job with AP. Although starting at the bottom rung of AP Washington reporters, Furman became a regular at the first lady’s conferences. She was still on the job in 1945 when Mrs. Roosevelt gave her last press conference expressing the hope the Roosevelt years had improved the lives of American women.
The first woman news commentator on radio was Kathryn Cravens. She went on the air in February 1934 at KMOX in St. Louis, Missouri with a program entitled, “News Through a Woman’s Eyes.” CBS brought her to New York in October 1936. Cravens began to fly across the country and became known as the “flying reporter.” She enjoyed opening up the world to women often caught in a drab Depression existence.
With the beginning of World War II many men left their newspaper and radio jobs to serve in the military. By 1943 women made up 50 percent of newspaper staffs. Most newswomen stayed at home covering local stories but a few became foreign war correspondents following in the steps of Martha Gillhorn, who had covered the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. They included Betty Wason on radio, Helen Kirkpatrick for the Chicago Daily News, Tania Long and Sonia Tomara for the New York Herald Tribune, and Sigrid Schultz for the Chicago Tribune.
During the 1930’s Depression hardships, many of America’s largest and most popular magazines attempted to avoid sensitive or controversial issues. They stuck to fictional entertainment and discussions to which neither their owners, their readers, or their advertisers would take exception. Owners hoped to please advertisers, provide agreeable entertainment, and make money. A magazine that presented condensed versions of current interest and entertainment news, the Reader’s Digest saw its circulation numbers mushroom in the 1930s.
Founded in 1922 by DeWitt Wallace and his wife Lila Acheson Wallace the Reader’s Digest published shorter versions of articles found in other magazines. Readership grew slowly in the 1920s but increased to a circulation of one million by 1935, three million by 1938, and five million in 1942. Reader’s Digest’s staff was skillful in editing articles down to a reader friendly length, producing an inexpensive pocket size magazine that appealed to a cash poor public during the Depression. Reader’s Digest enjoyed a circulation of over 30 million copies worldwide by the 1950s.
Magazines that proved to be unafraid to address sensitive and controversial topics such as New Deal policies, poverty, and employment were The New Republic, Time, Life, Look, Literary Digest, and even the Saturday Evening Post. The New Republic— always a stronghold of liberal opinion—had been founded in 1914 and was edited by Herbert Croly between 1914 until his death in 1930. Croly urged social reform as an eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage, or voting rights, prison reform, and support for labor unions. The magazine opposed prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan and, following the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929, attacked democracy itself as the culprit in America’s economic collapse. During the 1930s The New Republic first supported Socialist Norman Thomas for president in 1932 but switched to Franklin D. Roosevelt. After pushing for a more radical planned economy, the magazine’s ownership decided to moderate and support the reforms of the New Deal. Gradually The New Republic accepted as a necessity the United States entry into World War II. Although never commanding a large circulation, The New Republic remains influential still today.
Time, founded in 1923 by Henry R. Luce, organized national and foreign news, business, science, education, and religion into a format for reading by the “busy” man. Time had a circulation of 200,000 in 1929 and extended its success through the Depression. Copies were inexpensive and the news was clearly presented and interpreted. To compete with Time,Thomas J.C. Martyn, a former foreign news editor for Time, founded Newsweek in 1933. Its format was the same asTime’s but it injected less opinion into its articles. Luce also founded Fortune, a magazine for wealthy businessmen. Although its founding was in the first year of the Depression and it cost one dollar a copy it proved successful with an audience least harmed by the economic crisis. Another magazine that would be successful even though it was founded in 1929 was Business Week from McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
Literary Digest, established in 1890, had reached a circulation of 1.5 million in the 1920s, second only to the Saturday Evening Post. Literary Digest condensed a wide variety of articles from American as well as European newspapers and magazines. It began yet another service in 1916, polling readers to try and predict U.S. presidential elections. In 1924, 1928, and 1932 it accurately forecast the winner in each election. In 1936, however, it sent out 10 million polling ballots and less than a quarter of those were returned. The poll gave a considerable lead to Alfred Landon, the Republican presidential candidate. After Roosevelt won by a landslide, the magazine, which had already dipped in circulation and advertising due to the economic hardships of the Depression, folded in 1937. What was left of the magazine was absorbed by Time.
Henry Luce would again mastermind a highly successful magazine Life in 1936. Luce was convinced that pictures as well as words could tell a compelling story. Photojournalism, defined as telling a story with photographs, was coming of age largely due to a team of photographers working under the guidance of Roy E. Stryker for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency. The FSA photographers documented the devastation of rural poverty in the 1930s.Life’s pages carried photographic essays of the later years of the Great Depression and provided extensive photographic coverage during World War II. When Life first came out at ten cents a copy in November 1936 people fought over purchase of the copies and its circulation grew rapidly. In 1938 Gardner Cowles created Look, a similar but less slick magazine than Life. In competition with each other, both magazines provided readers with photographs of harsh Depression scenes and a variety of human interest stories.
The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly widely known as the favorite magazine of America, was edited for the average reader and filled with romantic fiction, mysteries, and western tales. Founded in 1821 the Post remained a favorite right through the Depression offering escape to Depression weary Americans. It held a circulation of three million despite steadfastly opposing the New Deal programs. Although overall a congenial entertainment magazine, the journalists of the Post reflected a decidedly conservative and Republican point of view. They urged immigration restrictions, and remained steadfastly in the isolationist camp opposing America’s entry into World War II.
The New Yorker, founded in 1925 by Harold Ross, continued in the 1930s to be a leader in literary journalism while largely steering clear of taking political positions. Journalists looked to The New Yorker to publish the kind of thoroughly researched features they longed to write but had no time for when meeting daily deadlines for the newspapers. Famous columns were “The Talk of the Town,” and “A Reporter at Large.” A review of 1930s journalism would not be complete, however, without a look at the traveling journalists.
Traveling About America
When the nationwide economic crisis of the Depression struck it seemed natural for newspapermen and even novelists who had started out as news reporters to leave their solitary desks and travel about America. Their goal was to see for themselves the condition of all Americans and the impact of the Depression on ordinary individuals and families. With this experience they could more accurately write about the Depression. Their work reflected America’s distress nationwide. One of the earlier works came from literary critic Edmund Wilson, The American Jitters: A Year of the Slump (1932). In 1933 the brilliant and funny Sherwood Anderson roamed around the United States for two months just observing and listening. He collected his stories in Puzzled America (1935). Nathan Ashe similarly took to the road to discover what was happening to his country and digested his findings in The Road: In Search of America (1937). One of the most famous accounts came from Louis Adamic in My America (1938). Author Erskine Caldwell teamed with Lifephotographer Margaret Bourke-White to document southern rural poverty in You Have Seen Their Faces (New York: Viking Press, 1937).
One book stood out above all others, James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men first published in 1939 (New York: Ballantine Books, 1960). Writer Agee partnered with photographer Walker Evans to examine the lives of Alabama sharecropper families in his famous book. Although originally contracted for by Fortune magazine in 1936 the daring probe into lives of helpless and damaged people proved unpalatable to Fortune. The book was not published until 1941 and then reprinted in 1960 when it became recognized as an American masterpiece of journalism that documented actual conditions of rural poverty in Depression America.
Between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and 1900, life in the United States underwent an enormous change. Industrialization, the rise of factories and industries, advanced unceasingly in and around cities bringing with it jobs. More and more mechanization dominated production processes. The age of steel production, major expansion of electricity for light and power, a dazzling array of new inventions, and emergence of new businesses transformed the American economy. The national wealth doubled between 1865 and 1880 then again by 1900. The U.S. population in those 35 years doubled to 76 million by 1900. By 1900, 32.9 percent of the population lived in cities.
Swift and sweeping developments in social and cultural affairs were inevitable. The cities with their concentration of population set the national pace for developing libraries, museums, theaters, retail stores as bookstores, and newspapers. Smaller communities throughout the nation attempted to pattern themselves after the large urban centers that were seen as at the forefront of progress. A general thirst for knowledge, seen as the key to leading a better life, spawned progress in education. The number of children attending public schools in the United States rose from 57 percent in 1870 to 72 percent in 1890 and the literacy rate reached 90 percent. This educational progress was particularly important for the growth of mass media: newspapers, magazines, and books.
Between 1870 and 1900 the number of general circulation daily newspapers rose from 489 to 1,967. Total circulation for all daily publications rose from 2.6 million copies in 1870 to 15 million by 1900. Weekly publications that tended to serve smaller towns and rural areas grew during that same time period from four thousand to over twelve thousand. These weeklies still largely represented personal newspaper ventures owned by local residents and reflecting local happenings. The revolution in newspaper journalism clearly was taking place at the level of the big-city daily. At the forefront of the newspaper business stood the journalism giants such as Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and Edward Wyllis Scripps.
The Early Journalism Giants
The leading journalist of the later half of the nineteenth century was the storied Joseph Pulitzer. At his death in 1911 he had accumulated a fortune of nearly $20 million, all through the newspaper business. In the terms of his will, Pulitzer provided $2 million for Columbia University to establish a School of Journalism. A portion of that was set aside for yearly prizes in journalism, literature, drama, and music. These prizes have been awarded annually since 1917 and are called Pulitzer Prizes.
In 1878 Pulitzer bid $2,500 for the bankrupt St. Louis, Missouri newspaper Dispatch and sealed his destiny as a journalist. Within days he combined his Dispatch with another St. Louis area newspaper, the Post and one of the country’s early great newspapers, the Post-Dispatch was born. In 1883 Pulitzer purchased the ailing New York World.Pulitzer enticed his readers with sensational stories—crime, scandals, disasters—to win a large circulation then also provided strong editorial columns and good news stories about public affairs. Aware that four out of five residents in New York were immigrants or children of immigrants he provided effective coverage of issues most important to the people. Pulitzer developed crusades on behalf of the immigrants, the poor, and the working classes. By 1887 the World with 250,000 copies per day had the largest newspaper circulation in the United States. Pulitzer also successfully established the Sunday World demonstrating how a Sunday edition could be highly profitable. To the Sunday World Pulitzer added pages of entertainment and feature material to the regular addition to attract the whole family. By the early 1890s the Sunday paper grew to 40 to 48 pages as retail advertisers realized the advantage of running ads in a paper that reached all family members. Meanwhile in the far west a wealthy young San Franciscan, William Randolph Hearst, watched with great interest the rise of Pulitzer’s World.
William Randolph Hearst
William Randolph Hearst was born in 1863, the only child of George and Phoebe Hearst. The Hearst family had acquired riches in the silver and copper mines and western ranch lands. In 1880 George Hearst purchased the San Francisco Examiner a debt burdened morning paper. Young William Hearst immediately showed interest in the newspaper business but his father sent William off to Harvard University. Although the freewheeling William left Harvard after only a few years his interest in journalism grew stronger. While in the east, William studied both the Boston Globe and Pulitzer’s New York World. He even worked as a cub reporter for the World while on one of his vacations.
Returning to San Francisco Hearst, at age 24, assumed the editorship of the San Francisco Examiner when his father was named Senator from California in 1887. Senator Hearst died in 1891 but not before he watched his son turn the Examiner into the leading San Francisco daily. Always looking for the next challenge the ambitious young Hearst decided to enter the New York journalism field and compete directly with Pulitzer’s World. In the fall of 1895 Hearst purchased a failing New York newspaper, the Morning Journal for a mere $180,000 and, competing directly with theWorld, immediately ushered in the era of yellow journalism.
The Yellow Journalism Battle
In 1893 the United States entered into an economic downturn, a crisis that did not ease until the end of the decade. The expanding newspaper business had to find a way to weather the depression of 1893. By 1896 sensationalism carried to extremes became the way to sell newspapers. The drama of real life events were twisted and turned into stories that caught the public’s attention. This sensational “yellow journalism” not only exaggerated stories but actually misrepresented facts, faked pictures, and treated editorials with recklessness. While the World had used sensationalism in the 1880s to promote sales, it also contained quality news coverage and quality editorials.
When Hearst dove into the New York journalistic scene with his newly purchased Journal he openly adopted the sins of yellow journalism while largely ignoring quality news coverage. Hearst hired away much of the World’s staff with lavish monetary offers which Pulitzer could not counter. He used striking, exaggerated headlines splashed across the papers. The Journal’s circulation surged and as a result the World and the Journal battled for readers. Both newspapers not only survived the economic depression of the 1890s but thrived. Their success led papers across the country to use yellow journalism techniques. The use of the term yellow journalism continued through much of the twentieth century.
Edward Wyllis Scripps
Unlike Pulitzer and Hearst whose newspapers commanded giant circulations in big cities, Edward Wyllis Scripps looked to the smaller but growing industrial cities of the Midwest. Starting out at the same time as Pulitzer in the late 1870s, Scripps learned the newspaper trade under his brother James at the Detroit News. His first papers the Cincinatti Post and the Cleveland Press were inexpensive afternoon dailies that attracted the common working man. Scripps became known as the people’s champion. Scripps’ papers consistently reflected an air of protest opposing the rich and intellectuals and supporting laborers. By 1911 Scripps had expanded his newspaper empire to include 18 papers located in Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. This empire would grow to over 30 papers by 1926.
Scripps also organized the United Press Association (UP) newsgathering organization in 1907 to compete with the Associated Press Association (AP) founded in 1848. Scripps hired Roy W. Howard as the general manager of UP. Howard left UP to become a partner in the Scripps newspaper chain in 1920. Eventually Howard would dominate the entire Scripps publishing empire that became known as the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain.
Other Early News Leaders
Adolph S. Ochs rescued the New York Times from bankruptcy in 1896 and began to build it into one of the world’s great newspapers. He refused to match the sensationalism of Pulitzer and Hearst and instead published solid news coverage and editorials for those readers who did not like an overemphasis on features and entertainment. Another effort at clean journalism was Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science Monitor founded in 1908. In 1902 George W. Hinman bought Chicago’s Inter Ocean and turned it into a paper that obtained the services of talented journalists, many of whom later became leaders in the journalistic field.
Out west Harrison Gray Otis founded the Los Angeles Times in 1881 for the then small town of 12,000. The Otis paper would become in the future a giant in the newspaper world. To the north of Los Angeles, Fremont Older was beginning a municipal reform campaign at the San Francisco Bulletin in 1885. In Denver, Colorado, Harry H. Tammen, a former bartender, and Fred G. Bonfils joined forces to buy the Denver Post in 1895. The undisciplined Post used every tactic of yellow journalism available and created fortunes for Bonfils and Tammen—both flamboyant characters.
Women Pioneers in Journalism
Colonial America provided a cornerstone for women in journalism. It was quite common for widows of printers to carry on the family’s printing business. By 1696 the earliest colonial woman printer known was Dinah Nuthead of Maryland. By the start of the American Revolution (1775-1783) fourteen women ran printing establishments in the colonies. These women are considered the “foremothers” of generations of women in journalism.
Four more recent pioneers who paved the way for women journalists of the 1930s and beyond were Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman known as Nellie Bly (1865-1922), Ida Minerva Tarbell (1857-1936), and Winifred Black Bonfils, known as Annie Laurie (1863-1936). Despite oppressive discrimination, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black woman, became a highly influential journalist by the late nineteenth century. Wells crusaded for racial justice and is especially remembered for her fight against lynching. In the 1890s she took a job writing for the respected black journalNew York Age and before long was one-fourth owner of the journal. At the invitation of the British Anti-Lynching committee, committed to crusading against the brutal treatment of blacks in America, Wells toured England, Scotland, and Wales. The Chicago Inter Ocean, a white newspaper carried a weekly column, “Ida B. Wells Abroad.” Wells eventually settled in Chicago and continued writing for the Chicago Defender, World, Broad Ax, and Whip.
Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, known to her readers as Nellie Bly, was always exploring the globe on adventure after adventure. She was often referred to as a “stunt girl” reporter. Joseph Pulitzer, as a circulation-building stunt for his New York World sent Nellie Bly on an around-the-world trip beginning in November 1889. Nellie energetically reported her adventures to a fascinated America. Nellie, however, was not only a stunt reporter but proved to be a solid investigative journalist.
Ida Minerva Tarbell, a soft-spoken middle-aged woman became the only woman to rise to fame alongside male journalists of America journalism’s muck-raking era, 1902-1912. She candidly revealed the corrupt business practices of powerful executives in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. Her crusading articles appeared in McClure’s Magazine in 1902 and she actively sought out and exposed corruption in government politics. Her sensational pieces appeared in McClures, Cosmopolitan and Munsey’s. Tarbell mellowed somewhat by the late 1910s. President Woodrow Wilson (served 1913-1921) appointed her to the Women’s Committee of the Council on National Defense during World War I (1914-1918). After the war, she attended the Paris Peace Conference as a correspondent for Red Cross Magazine.
Winifred Black Bonfils, known as Annie Laurie, was a star for William Randolph Hearst during his powerful reign over San Francisco and New York newspapers. Bonfils had a talent for vivid, highly emotionally charged writing that brought tears to the eyes of readers, so much so that she was often referred to as a “sob sister” journalist. In the Hearst organization she occupied various positions as city editor, society editor, drama critic, managing editor, foreign correspondent, and syndicated columnist. She investigated Juvenile Court problems in Chicago, New York charity schemes, and covered organized disaster relief for the victims of the hurricane and flood of Galveston, Texas, in 1900. In San Francisco, she helped reform ambulance service and hospital care, saved the flower street vendors, and protected the Palace of Fine Arts from destruction. Until just before her death she continued to write her column, “Annie Laurie” for the San Francisco Examiner and about six weekly articles for the Hearst chain.
Two women who gained enormous readership were Marie Manning, writing as Beatrice Fairfax and Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, writing as Dorothy Dix. Manning and Gilmer pioneered the advice column. Both achieved fame by the early 1900s in New York papers.
Along with stunt girls, “sob sisters,” and advice columnists, a considerable number of young women journalists were entering the field as citywide reporters, determined to do serious investigative reporting. Ida M. Tarbell was certainly in that category. One of the first full-time professional women journalists to serve as a Washington correspondent was Cora Rigby. Appointed Washington correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor in 1918, she remained at that post for seven years. Since women were not allowed to be
members of the National Press Club, a small group formed their own club, the Women’s National Press Club in 1919 and Rigby served as its second president from 1920 to 1928.
In 1919 ten women along with 100 men were accredited to the House and Senate Press Galleries to cover activities within the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Rigby was one of those women as was Elizabeth King of the New York Evening Post. King covered the League of Nation debates in 1919.
The Modern American Newspaper
The early large city daily newspapers set the tone for newspaper journalism for the entire twentieth century. Increased communication and newsgathering efficiency, specialization, and growth of newspaper staffs, and advancing printing techniques all led to soaring circulations. The newspaper adopted its recognizable form of banner headlines, feature stories, illustrations, and later—photographs, comic strips, sports news, and advertising. The newspaper business became big corporate business.
Communications networks began to tie the cities together. By 1900 the Bell System of telephone lines reached coast to coast. Railroads had over 193,000 miles of track crisscrossing the United States. The federal postal service greatly expanded its free carrier areas by 1897 providing a low cost delivery system for publications. The Atlantic Cable that had begun operating in 1866 linked London and the United States. The Associated Press (AP) newsgathering agency, founded in 1848, by seven New York City morning papers, began reciprocal exchanges with news services in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. In 1907 Scripps founded the United Press Association (UP) to compete with the AP. Likewise in 1909 Hearst founded the International News Service (INS). Unlike the AP that only served its member newspapers, both the UP and INS collected and sold news at home and abroad to newspapers who could pay for but did not have the capability to gather news on their own.
Increasing circulations and competitiveness brought increasing specialization. The editorial staff grew from one person to many and there was an emphasis on reporters who traveled about, gathering stories. Leading city dailies had a chief editor, managing editor in charge of news, night editor, city editor directing a staff of dozens of reporters, a telegraph editor, financial editor, drama critics, and editorial writers. Sunday papers became common with human interest features, cartoons, sports, news, and many advertisements.
Better printing techniques of the late nineteenth century included bigger and faster presses. By 1890 presses could run off 48,000 12-page papers in one hour. Color inserts had been printed separately until the early 1890s when the Chicago Inter Ocean and New York World built full color presses. Improved processes for newsprint paper manufacturing lowered prices for the paper.
Leading papers realized the need for more illustration and by 1891 over one thousand artists were at work producing drawings for five thousand newspapers and magazines. Early reproductions of photographs called half tones began appearing in papers by 1897.
The expansion of staff with its news gathering activities and the ever increasing need to obtain the latest printing equipment led to rapid development of business departments at the dailies. The New York World, with its annual profit of one million by the 1890s, was the first to reflect the new corporate nature of modern journalism. Business managers scrambled for advertising to feed their ever-increasing need for revenue to cover large payrolls, escalating mechanical costs, and reams of newsprint paper. By 1910 advertising supplied up to 64 percent of newspaper revenue. Business managers worked tirelessly to keep advertisers like Eastman-Kodak, Kellogg’s Cereals, and Wrigley’s Gum happy.
Control of two or more newspapers under a single ownership constituted a newspaper chain. The trend for newspapers to combine or consolidate began in the early 1900s. Chain ownership was primarily spurred on by rising costs that smaller papers had trouble keeping up with. Hearst and Scripps were major players in consolidation. By 1922 Hearst owned 20 dailies, six magazines, a Sunday supplement, and two news wire services. One of the most dramatic consolidations occurred in 1931 when the Scripps-Howard chain successfully purchased the New York World and merged it with their New York Evening Telegram.
Successful New England businessman Frank A. Munsey played a large part in the consolidation of New York City’s papers. Frank E. Gannett, another newspaperman with a vision for consolidation, began to build his chain in the 1920s by buying and merging papers in New York State. The Gannett chain would become one of the largest chains in the second half of the twentieth century. Mergers also occurred in Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Chain owners staunchly maintained each newspaper would be given total editorial independence and that chain ownership greatly improved the efficiency of the newspaper business.
Claims, however, that chain papers could maintain independent perspectives, not influenced by chain owners, came under scrutiny by critics of the press. This remained a controversial point throughout the twentieth century.
One Daily Cities
The number of English language general daily newspapers peaked in 1910 at 2,200 as did the number of cities, 689, with several competing dailies. By 1930 with the consolidation trend firmly established the number of cities with competing dailies had dropped to 288.
Overall newspaper circulation increased dramatically at an even faster pace than the population. The U.S. population increased from 92 million in 1910 to 122 million persons in 1930. During that same time period circulation approximately doubled from 15 million to 30 million copies. Newspaper advertising revenue tripled from World War I lows in 1915 of approximately $275 million to $800 million in 1929.
The atmosphere of the jazzy, fun-loving 1920s was reflected in the newspapers. Papers carried stories of daily life, comic strips, and pictures—all aimed at entertainment. A majority of Americans were rather self-content, more interested in prosperity and activities on Wall Street than politics or social issues. Political conservation reigned in the White House during the 1920s with three Republican presidents. To attract readers the press again introduced sensationalism as it had in the late 19th century. The experts in sensational journalism were newspaper tabloids. Tabloids filled their pages with crime, sex, contests, comic strips, and headline stories designed to grasp the audience. “Jazz” journalism was the term used to refer to 1920s journalism. Three tabloid leaders were the New York Daily News founded in 1919 by Capt. Joseph M. Patterson; the New York Mirror, a Hearst paper founded in 1924; and the New York Evening Graphic,founded in 1924 and owned by Bermarr Macfadden. The majority of U.S. newspapers followed the New York tabloids’ example, rather than try to tackle significant issues as the world situation, racism, or sexism. The papers cried corruption over doings in the Warren Harding (served 1921-1923) administration, especially the Teapot Dome oil-lease scandal. Harding’s Secretary of Interior Albert Fall received illegal monetary “gifts” from the oil companies to whom Fall secretly leased naval oil reserve lands. The exposure of graft, or illegally gained money, was entertaining, but little effort at examination or interpretation of news surfaced. The national experiment of banning alcoholic beverages in the United States, Prohibition, made great copy as did the associated stories of speakeasies, rumrunners, and gangsters such as Al Capone. Stories about glamorous socialites and Hollywood stars filled pages. Celebrities such as aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and sports figures such as baseball’s home run hitter Babe Ruth made for fascinating reading. Newspaper advertising continued to dramatically increase as Americans had money to spend. The written word was no longer the only journalistic medium in the United States in the 1920s. Early radio programming began to include news and sports reports—radio journalism had begun.
Radio journalism began in 1920 with a Detroit experimental station, 8 MK, which broadcast news reports in August under the sponsorship of the Detroit News. In November Pittsburgh station KDKA broadcast election returns of the Harding-Cox presidential race. 8 MK in Detroit became WWJ in October 1921, broadcasting music, talk, and news for a part of each day. Many other newspapers followed the Detroit News in establishing radio stations.
Communication and electric manufacturing industries established their own stations in the early 1920s. Westinghouse station KDKA broadcast speeches by public figures and major league baseball games enticing the public to buy radio sets. General Electric established WGY in Schenectady, New York, and American Telephone and Telegraph began WEAF (later WNBC) in New York City. The number of radio receiving sets jumped from 50,000 in 1921 to over 600,000 in 1922. News programs more and more were broadcast on a regular basis. Often the programs consisted of an announcer merely reading stories from newspapers or from the wire services.
By 1927 there were 733 stations and they constantly interfered with each other on the broadcast bands. To straighten out the situation Congress passed in February 1927, the Radio Act of 1927 establishing the five-member Federal Radio Commission. The Commission granted licenses for use of certain bands for three-year periods to help eliminate confusion.
The entrance of radio into the news delivery business caused some major conflicts with newspaper publishers. First publishers feared the loss of advertising income to radio. Secondly a controversy erupted between newspapers and radio stations as to whether newsgathering agencies should supply information to newspapers exclusively or if they could also supply radio stations. Soon all news gathering agencies such as AP, UP, and INS supplied information to radio stations. Millions of Americans owned radio sets, and there would be no slowing of radio journalism in the future.
Magazines offered yet another journalistic work that would reach large numbers of the general public. Beginning about 1900 and twelve years thereafter an era in journalism known as “muckraking” prevailed in magazine journalism. Muckraking was a term used to refer to a certain type of journalism that exposed misdeeds and corruption in American business and politics.
In 1893 three new magazines, McClures (1893), Cosmopolitan (1886), and Munsey’s (1889) charged only a dime per copy and their circulation numbers climbed significantly. Also by the turn of the century Ladies Home Journal (1883), Collier’s (1888), and Everybody’s (1899) had circulations in the hundreds of thousands. All of these magazines, supporting social justice issues to varying extents, joined in a crusade against corruption in big business and government with muckraking articles.
McClure’s, hiring a group of talented journalists, led the way in 1902. Writing for McClure’s, Ida M. Tarbell exposed the unfair business practices of John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company. Lincoln Steffens explored government corruption first in St. Louis and then in numerous other large mid-western and northeastern cities. Third, Ray Stannard Baker wrote on labor difficulties including child labor and mistreatment of blacks. In addition to McClure’s efforts, by 1905 Colliers and Ladies Home Journal explored fraud in the medical drug trade.
The muckraking era ended with the approach of World War I. Some of the country’s magazines became important players in a new trend toward interpretation of the news, increasingly important with the heightened complexity of issues. The New Republic (1914) and The Masses (1914) expressed the liberal point of view on political issues, siding with the common man and labor as opposed to big business. The Masses focused on political and social protest. In the 1920s the Literary Digest (1890) condensed a wide selection of material from both American and European newspapers and magazines. It reached a circulation of 1.5 million by 1927 topped only by the ever popular and entertaining Saturday Evening Post.
In 1923 Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden, two young graduates of Yale University and reporters for the Baltimore News founded Time, a weekly news magazine which became highly successful. Time displayed informative, to the point news coverage and appealed to the post World War I generation. Two older magazines, Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s both adapted in the 1920s to the same upbeat tempo of Time and published articles on current affairs of the day. Two other highly distinctive magazines of the 1920s were Henry Louis Mencken’s American Mercury and Harold Ross’ New Yorker.
Mencken was a newspaperman with the Baltimore Baltimore Sun, an editor and critic, but most importantly he was a journalistic rebel. Mencken had delighted rebellious minded young adults with his work since 1914 in the Smart Set, a magazine published from 1900 to 1930. He could find fault with most anything. Along with George Jean Nathan, Mencken founded the Mercury in 1925 and edited it from 1925 to 1933 attacking such widely varying entities as prohibitionists (those favoring a nationwide ban on alcohol), the racial hate group Ku Klux Klan, and the American middle class. He wrote with sophistication and great style and the college generation and younger journalists greatly admired Mencken’s writing.
With the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929, and the depression that followed, the mood and attitudes of Americans altered. Mencken’s entertaining but caustic American Mercury, for example, no longer played well to most Americans and the publication died out by 1933. Overall greater serious coverage of people in trouble and the government trying to find solutions would dominate journalism in the 1930s.
Mouthpieces of Big Business
At the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, then President Herbert Hoover pressured newspaper journalists to downplay the crisis. Hoover hoped the crisis would soon blow over and did not want newspaper coverage to make the situation seem worse than it was. For example many papers did not tell the American people all the facts of the early 1930s banking failures then accepted praise from bankers’ associations for steadying communities by not panicking residents. As the truth emerged, however, public trust of newspapers plummeted. Gradually the public came to identify American newspapers as the mouthpiece of big business. Very wealthy individuals in America owned most large newspaper chains. As would be expected, those individuals concentrated their influence on behalf of big business and of advertisers. Journalists put forth the standard conservative business viewpoints such as arguing against government intervention in business affairs.
The press went on the defensive against the liberal New Deal policies ushered in when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President of the United States in March 1933. The conflict heightened when the Roosevelt New Dealers proposed that the regulatory codes of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) applied to the publishing industry as to any other industry. The press vehemently resisted, calling the code applications an infringement on freedom of the press.
Out of Step in ’36
Taking an anti-big government, hence anti-Roosevelt position, approximately 80 percent of newspapers during the 1936 presidential race endorsed the Republican candidate, Al Landon. Yet Landon carried only two states as Roosevelt swept to victory in a landslide. In no other decade had the American press been so out of step with the American public. When Roosevelt toured Chicago in 1936 during his reelection campaign the massive crowds lining the streets openly raged with banners and signs against the Chicago Tribune and the Hearst papers that were bitterly opposing Roosevelt.
On the other hand radio journalism, quickly coming of age, was gaining a positive perspective from the American public. In 1939 Fortune magazine commissioned an extensive survey by Elmo Roper, the most accurate pollster of the day, on how the American people viewed the media, both newspapers and radio. The completed survey published in Fortune in August 1939, reflected the true perspectives about the U.S. press as seen by the nation at large.
The Press and the People—A Roper Survey
The Roper Survey of 1939 revealed that while 63.8 percent of Americans got most of their news from the newspaper, already 25.4 percent depended most on the radio. When asked, however, which does a better job to get news to the public free of prejudice 49.7 percent answered the radio, while only 17.1 percent answered the newspaper (18.3 percent said they were the same and 14.9 percent did not know). Asked which news interpreters they liked best, 39.3 percent answered radio commentators, 15.9 percent newspaper editorials, and 10.7 percent newspaper columnists. Only the most prosperous Americans rated radio commentators and newspaper editorials equally. The middle and working class man and woman, and the poor, all preferred radio commentators. Next came the telling result of the following question: Given two conflicting versions of the same story which type of media would be more believable? A total of 40.3 percent of respondents voted for radio press while only 26.9 percent voted for a newspaper item. Why did Americans trust radio news more?
Fortune magazine gave the following interpretation. Radio news offered three types of coverage: (1) on-the-spot, immediate coverage of an event as it happened—impossible for a newspaper to do; (2) bulletins, which were shortened versions of news stories obtained from the news gathering wire services—these versions gave fewer facts than newspapers, but got the facts to the public more quickly than newspapers; (3) commentary—unlike newspaper commentary, radio commentaries rarely expressed any opinion on issues that might generate controversy and get the station in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission. In the first two types of coverage the radio confined itself to the “naked” truth and facts and had no time intervals to mold the story to fit a certain mode of journalistic thinking. In commentary radio strived to be totally impartial on the air. For these reasons Fortune writers believed that “doing less” with a news item actually kept radio out of trouble and lent it more credibility.
When the poll turned solely to questions about newspapers the survey revealed that between 60.6 percent and 65.8 percent of the public believed newspapers “soft-pedal” bad news or go easy on friends of the publisher and big advertisers. For business in general, 50.1 percent believed the newspapers generally protected business while only 41.5 percent thought they protected labor unions from unfavorable news. In the west coast states of Washington and California the major newspapers—exceptions being the San Francisco News, Los Angeles Daily News, and the McClatchy papers of Sacramento, Fresno, and Modesto—were anti-New Deal and supported Republican candidates, attitudes that proved to be hopelessly out of step with their public. The superbly edited Portland Oregonian, however, seemed in better alignment with the majority of the states’ populace thinking who largely supported Roosevelt and his New Deal policies.
The Roper poll also asked several questions about the press and President Roosevelt. Dividing responses along income lines, the most prosperous, many of who disliked Roosevelt, said it was fine for the press to attack Roosevelt. The poor, who liked him, were much more inclined to have him protected. The overall questions concerning freedom of the press and need of more government control produced the most uniform responses. Even of people who believed there should be brakes on journalism, almost two-thirds said the brakes should only be informal and voluntary, based on the editor’s good judgment and public opinion. After analyses of the collective nationwide responses, the overwhelming majority, despite widespread distrust of papers, said to leave newspapers alone.
By the end of the 1930s the overall pattern for American newspaper journalism that would continue throughout the twentieth century was established. The public’s voracious appetite for knowledge about President Roosevelt and the New Deal policies caused expansion of journalism into coverage of government activities. Additionally the complexity of the issues and their importance to all Americans’ lives led to the beginning of interpretative reporting. The political columnists and their news analysis became standard fare.
The investigative journalism so prominent in the 1960s and 1970s continuing on into the twenty-first century had its start in the 1920s and 1930s. The 1920s era of “muckraking” journalism, uncovering misdeeds and corruption in business and government, and the 1930s investigations into conditions of poverty in the United States, greatly impacted by the birth of photo-journalism, set the stage for investigative reporting. As the century progressed, race riots, civil rights violations, hunger in America, the era of Vietnam (1964-1975), government deception of President Nixon (served 1969-1974) and Watergate, white collar (business) crime, the problems of criminal activities, and drugs, and environmental issues all came under the scrutiny of investigative journalism.
Another trend started in the early twentieth century, that of group owned newspapers—or chains—which continued to the end of the twentieth century. In 1900 there were only eight chains controlling 27 newspapers and ten percent of total circulation. In 1935 63 chains controlled 328 papers and 41 percent of circulation. By 1990 there were 135 chains although this was down from an all-time high in 1978 of 167. Those 135 chains controlled 1,228 papers and 81 percent of total daily circulation. Independent dailies numbered 383 newspapers.
The impact of the growth of news service agencies as Associated Press (AP), United Press (UP) and International News Service (INS) in the 1930s was seen in World War II. Their correspondents gathered the fast breaking stories to send back to the United States. American journalists were given high marks for the achievement during the war years. Often cited for their excellent coverage were the Chicago Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, New York Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain.
The Dailies Number Shakedown
The Great Depression, wars, and general ups and downs of the U.S. economy from the 1930s into the 1990s impacted the numbers of newspapers and their circulation. In the early 1930s a sharp drop in advertising revenue directly brought on by the economic crisis destroyed many newspapers profit margins even though they cut back salaries, product costs, and laid off workers. Between 1931 and 1933 there were 145 suspensions of dailies and during the recovery years of 1934 to 1936, 77 more closed. The business recession of 1937 caused advertising revenues to drop again after they had rebounded slightly and more newspaper suspensions occurred between 1937 and 1939. By 1945 the number of general circulation daily newspapers had dropped to 1,744 from an all-time high of approximately 2,600 in 1915. The numbers remained steady until the 1970s and 1980s, which brought many consolidations of morning and evening newspapers to enhance cost efficiency. By 1994 a new low of 1,556 dailies was reached. Likewise the percentage of cities with competing dailies continued downward as it had in the 1930s. By 1940 only 12.7 percent of American cities had competing dailies and by 1994 that number was a mere 0.2 percent of U.S. cities.
Circulation did not keep pace with population increases. In 1930 the U.S. population was approximately 122 million and 40 million copies of newspapers were published. In 1990 the U.S. population had doubled to 246 million but the number of newspaper copies published was only 60 million.
Rise of Radio and Television Journalism
The decline in dominance of print journalism coincided with the rise of radio and television. Radio journalism came of age during World War II. Some stations devoted up to 25 percent of their broadcast time to news. Television was still in an experimental stage during this period. The first television broadcasting began in 1939 when President Roosevelt opened the New York World’s Fair at a ribbon cutting ceremony. He was therefore the first American president to appear on television. Television advanced from nine stations and 8,000 sets in 1945 to 156 stations and 55 million sets by 1960.
Television broadcast news over the three major networks, American Broadcasting Company (ABC), Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS), and National Broadcasting Company (NBC), matured in the 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War. Just as with newspaper columnists in the 1930s, television news commentators reported not only the facts but moved into interpretation of those facts. In the 1990s television sets were in virtually every American home and by the late 1990s the majority of those with television had access to cable network television. Cable network stations such as Cable News Network (CNN) and Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) were available to American homes for a monthly fee. Not only did CNN and ESPN anchor journalists (those broadcasting regularly for the stations) report facts but “news analysis” was available throughout the day and evening.
Robert Sengstackle Abbott (1868-1940)
Robert Abbott, known to some as the “Dean of Negro Journalism,” founded the Chicago Defender in 1905. Starting a newspaper that would serve the black community was a dream Abbott had long held and he accomplished it with little monetary support. It was predominately a one-man operation with volunteer help from Abbott’s friends who helped in writing, printing and distributing. The Defender related the accomplishments of blacks, social gatherings, and various community activities. The Defender encouraged black pride and was the only link for blacks to the larger black community beyond their own local boundaries.
Abbott moved his Defender into the modern journalistic world by adopting the sensational makeup and headlines of the Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer papers. He probed political issues on behalf of his race and challenged the Ku Klux Klan, reported on racial rioting, lynching, and any other threat to black security. Within ten years the Defender had a circulation of 230,000 and in 1919 Abbott installed his own complete printing shop.
During the Depression the Defender lost money for the first time as circulation dropped to 60,000 in 1935 when people could no longer afford to pay for the paper. Yet the Defender survived and Abbott’s nephew John H. Sengstackle assumed its editorship at Abbott’s death in 1940.
Heywood Broun (1888-1939)
Born to a successful printing and stationery businessman, a Scottish immigrant, and a mother from a wealthy German American family, Broun grew up in comfortable surroundings in Manhattan. He attended Harvard but found poker, drama circles, and baseball more to his liking and did not graduate. Hired successively by various New York papers Broun flourished as a reporter, drama critic, and sportswriter. Broun, often referred to as having the appearance of an unmade bed was a very large man, 6’4″ and 275 pounds but gentle, good natured, and a multi-talented writer. In 1921 Broun moved to the widely circulated New York World where he began his column, “It Seems to Me.” Broun became increasingly political, even running for Congress in 1930 as a Socialist in New York’s 17th District. Broun finished third in the race.
As the Depression closed in Broun’s great compassion for his fellow man shown through as he participated in efforts to aid the unemployed. He performed in a 1931 musical revue designed to employ out-of-work show business people in New York.
In December 1933 Broun founded the American Newspaper Guild to organize news journalists, many of whom were in desperate circumstances due to the Depression. He served as its president marching on picket lines and organizing meetings until his death. For decades the Guild stabilized the employment benefits and conditions of American newspaper journalists and office workers. Broun’s only child, Heywood Hale Broun, followed in his father’s and mother’s (Ruth Hale) journalistic career becoming famous himself as a national sports journalist.
Boake Carter (1898-1944)
Boake Carter began his career in journalism in English newspapers. Moving to the United States he worked in American newspaper journalism eventually becoming a radio news broadcaster, commentator, and syndicated columnist for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. He opposed Prohibition, the New Deal, labor unions, and was in sympathy with the right wing radio priest from Detroit, Father Charles E. Coughlin. Carter also authored several books on current affairs including “Johnny Q. Public” Speaks! The Nation Appraises the New Deal (1936) and I Talk As I Like (1937), both published by Dodge Publishing Company in New York City.
Raymond Lewis Clapper (1892-1944)
Raymond Clapper, reporter, columnist, and radio commentator, was the son of a hardworking but poor family who provided little intellectual stimulation at home. Nevertheless Clapper showed an early strong interest in reading, pouring over the Kansas City Star, his local paper, every day. After a determined effort to finish high school while working in a local print shop and taking a few journalism classes at the University of Kansas, Clapper joined the staff at the Star.
Quickly recognizing Clapper’s skills, United Press (UP), a news service agency owned by the Scripps-Howard chain, hired Clapper and in 1923 he went to Washington, DC, where he served as Chief UP political writer. Angered by the corruption he found in Washington he authored a book, Racketeering in Washington, published in 1933. That same year he joined the Washington Post and began his daily column, “Between You and Me.” Moving the column to the Scripps-Howard chain in late 1934 it was syndicated to 176 papers with ten million readers. He also wrote for magazines and was a news commentator for the Mutual radio network.
Clapper gained a reputation for being fair and conscientious, able to communicate to the common man. He admired Franklin D. Roosevelt and supported most of his programs. He did not, however, support Roosevelt for a third term as president and never shied away from criticisms when he thought Roosevelt was misguided. Clapper died in 1944 in an air collision during an invasion of the Marshall Islands in World War II.
W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)
W.E.B. DuBois graduated from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1885 and took a second B.A. degree in 1888 from Harvard University, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1895. DuBois was the first black American to receive a degree from Harvard. DuBois’ dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870 was published in 1896 in the Harvard Historical Studies series. The dissertation forecast Du Bois’ lifetime comment to civil, economic, and political equality for blacks.
Du Bois taught economics and history at Atlantic University from 1897 until resigning in 1910 to become Director of Publications and Research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). That same year he founded The Crisis the official publication of the NAACP and led the magazine for almost 25 years. DuBois left the NAACP over a clash of segregation ideologies. In 1940 he established Phylon while back with Atlantic University. Phylonwas a scholarly journal dedicated to study of race problems throughout the world. DuBois held the position as editor until he retired from the university in 1940.
By the 1950s, DuBois moved further and further to the political left. In 1961 he officially joined the Communist Party and moved to Ghana where he died in 1963. In total DuBois through his life served as editor of five periodicals, authored many books, contributed to newspapers, and wrote many articles for scholarly journals.
Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer (Dorothy Dix) (1861-1951)
Elizabeth Gilmer, writing as Dorothy Dix, authored a common sense advice column from 1896 to 1949. She first wrote the column for the New Orleans Picayune. When asked by William Randolph Hearst, Gilmer joined his New York Journal in 1901. Eventually her column, renamed “Dorothy Dix Talks,” was distributed by the Wheeler news chain and the Philadelphia Public Ledger chain to three hundred newspapers around the world. Known as “America’s Mother Confessor,” Dix reached an estimated 35 million readers.
William Hard (1878-1962)
Having written on national affairs in various newspapers and magazines for years, around 1930 Hard began work as a news commentator for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). He covered several international conferences and political conventions for NBC during the 1930s. By 1936 he made nightly news broadcasts for the Republicans blasting the policies of the New Deal. Hard began writing for Readers’ Digest in 1939 on politics, labor, and international affairs, and was an editor from 1941 until his death.
William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951)
Born to George and Phoebe Hearst in San Francisco, Hearst led a privileged childhood. His father, wealthy from mining strikes, was a rancher, U.S. Senator, and publisher of the San Francisco Examiner. Young Hearst entered Harvard University in 1882 only to be expelled in 1885 for practical jokes played on professors. He returned to San Francisco, took over the Examiner and built it into a highly sensational and successful Bay area paper. In 1895 Hearst bought the New York Journal and went into direct competition with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Highly successful with huge, splashy headlines, pictures, and flamboyant news coverage, Hearst, by the mid-1930s, operated the largest newspaper chain in the country. His empire, reaching across class and ethnic groups, included 26 daily newspapers in 19 cities, two news services, King Features Syndicate, 13 magazines, eight radio stations, and two film companies.
Hearst supported Franklin Roosevelt for U.S. President in 1932, then supported Roosevelt’s New Deal for a time. By 1935, however, he dubbed the New Deal a “raw deal,” representing big government, high taxes, and unions. Hearst looked abroad as troubles in Europe escalated. He was adamantly opposed to communism and thought that communists were everywhere on American college campuses and demanded that state legislatures investigate.
The Depression took a monetary toll on the Hearst news empire. By 1937 his empire was $125 million in debt and his personal salary went from $5 million a year to $100,000. Hearst was forced to give up personal control of his enterprises.
Hearst, nevertheless, continued to be outspoken. He pressed Roosevelt to keep the United States out of World War II. By 1940 only 17 newspapers remained but his was still the largest news chain in America. Heart’s empire had shaped American newspaper journalism for many decades.
Roy W. Howard (1883-1964)
Roy Howard’s newspaper career began as a newsboy for the Indianapolis Star. After high school he was hired onto the Indianapolis News and in 1907 became the New York manager of United Press (UP) newsgathering agency. He advanced in the UP organization and only five years later became president. In 1920 Howard resigned to join Robert P. Scripps, son of the powerful eccentric news magnate Edward W. Scripps, to run the Scripps-McRae League of Newspapers. Howard became part owner and the League was renamed Scripps-Howard and eventually grew into one of the nation’s largest journalistic empires with daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, radio stations, and television stations.
In the 1930s, Howard spent much of his time running the New York World-Telegram for which many top journalism columnists worked, even Eleanor Roosevelt contributed with her column, “My Day.” Howard supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for the U.S. Presidency in 1932 and 1936. By 1940, however, he broke with Roosevelt to support Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie.
Howard bought the New York Sun in 1950, which he managed until 1960. He was still active as the chairman of the executive committee of Scripps-Howard Newspapers at his death in 1964.
Hans von Kaltenborn (1878-1965)
Hans von (H.V.) Kaltenborn grew up in the small town of Merrill Wisconsin where he published his first articles in the Merrill Advocate. Always intrigued with travel, Kaltenborn left Merrill in 1900 to sail to France. Upon his return he became a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle where he remained until 1930 and rose to associate editor. Meanwhile, as a sideline, Kaltenborn began broadcasting a series of current events talks for the fledgling radio station WEAF in New York City.
In 1930 while encountering major financial difficulties the Eagle let Kaltenborn go. He went to work for CBS, at the time a new radio network. He broadcast the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 1932, the London Economic Conference in 1933 and from Spain, the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Kaltenborn’s most famous broadcast came in 1938 when for 18 consecutive days he broadcast from New York City the Munich, Germany crisis as quickly as the news came in.
During that period catching some sleep on a cot in the studio, Kaltenborn broadcast 102 times ranging from two minutes to two hours. In 1940 he switched to NBC and broadcast news of World War II from all over the world. After the war his broadcast became more opinionated and when he retired in 1955 his listening audience had decreased.
Kaltenborn was a leader of the first generation of journalists to make the transition from the written word to broadcasting.
Frank Kent (1878-1958)
Frank Kent, a political syndicated columnist, wrote for the Baltimore Sun from 1924 until his death. His column, “The Great Game of Politics,” appearing in over 100 daily newspapers, analyzed the American politics and politicians. He was considered one of the “big four” syndicated columnists along with David Lawrence, Walter Lippmann, and Mark Sullivan.
Arthur Krock (1886-1974)
Born in Kentucky, Arthur Krock became a noted journalist and foe of the New Deal programs. Krock broke into journalism in 1905 with the Louisville, Kentucky, Herald. He moved on to New York in 1923 where he worked for the World until 1927 when he joined the editorial staff of the Times. Krock was a reporter, conservative columnist, and Washington bureau chief for the New York Times from 1927 to 1967. He was one of only a handful of people who could determine the Times’ policy during the Great Depression and afterward. His reporting won two Pulitzer Prizes in 1935 and 1938. His award in 1938 was for an exclusive interview with President Franklin Roosevelt, Roosevelt’s first such interview since taking office in 1933. On the editorial page of the Times wrote a column titled “In the Nation” which was frequently highly critical of Roosevelt and the New Dealers.
David Lawrence (1888-1973)
David Lawrence, an editor and columnist, received his journalism training at Princeton University where he worked as a campus correspondent for Associated Press. Upon graduation Lawrence began his career with a full-time job at Associated Press. Covering the Washington, DC, scene for over 60 years, in 1926 he founded the United States Daily covering daily activities of the U.S. government—factual reporting only with no opinions added. In keeping with the need for more news interpretation in the 1930s, Lawrence reorganized his paper in 1933 into a weekly, The United States News with broad offerings of factual content and editorial opinions. Lawrence’s own views were conservative. He spoke of the New Dealers as extremists and promoted anti-strike legislation to combat the labor movement. Circulation, which was 30,000 at the end of 1933 reached 85,000 by January 1940, and with still further expanded national news coverage reached 300,000 in 1947. Meanwhile in 1946 Lawrence founded a world affairs weekly The World Report. Lawrence merged the two weeklies in 1948 to create U.S. News and World Report, which had a circulation of two million by his death in 1973.
Walter Lippmann (1899-1974)
An influential political journalist, Walter Lippmann began his career on the left, leaning toward socialism, moderated to a New Deal liberal, and then grew more conservative by 1936. Lippmann, who graduated from Harvard University in 1910, helped his friend Herbert Croly found The New Republic, a liberal weekly, in 1914. From 1923 to 1929 Lippmann was editorial staff chief for the New York World and its editor from 1929 to 1931. In 1931 the World was sold to the Scripps-Howard chain and combined with the chain’s New York Telegram to become theWorld Telegram. Roy Howard invited Lippmann to remain as the merged paper’s editor and William Randolph Hearst offered Lippmann $50,000 a year to write for his papers. Lippmann chose, however, to write a column for the conservative New York Herald Tribune when its publisher, Ogden Reid, convinced Lippmann the Herald Tribunewanted to win the World’s Democratic readers. He began his column, “Today and Tomorrow,” for the Herald Tribune in 1931 and continued to write it until 1962. By 1932 the column was syndicated to one hundred newspapers with a readership of ten million. The syndicated column would eventually appear in two hundred newspapers.
Originally skeptical of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy, Lippmann soon decided Roosevelt was just the enlightened leader the United States needed. He threw all of his support behind Roosevelt and then supported all early New Deal measures. Yet by 1935 Lippmann became convinced that the executive relief powers were no longer needed and joined in opposition to any further New Deal legislation. He actually supported Republican Al Landon for president in 1936.
As World War II drew to a close, Lippmann wrote a column on April 7, 1945, five days before Roosevelt’s death, praising Roosevelt as the man who led United States out of World War II to its high point of influence and respect in the world. Following World War II Lippmann went on to become the nation’s foremost analyst of foreign affairs.
In 1962 Lippmann joined the Washington Post published by Philip Graham. He worked closely with Katherine Graham who succeeded her husband as publisher after his death. Lippmann convinced Katherine Graham to take an anti-Vietnam stance. Lippmann died in 1974 after a magnificent and prolific journalistic career.
Henry R. Luce (1889-1967)
Henry Luce, editor and publisher, founded the first modern magazine, Time in 1923 with the help of a friend he met at Yale University, reporter Briton Hadden. Luce and Hadden together also foundedFortune in 1930, a magazine devoted to covering the business world. In 1936 Luce then founded the first magazine devoted to photo-journalism, Life, which reached a circulation in the millions. In 1954 he established another magazine still popular at the beginning of the twenty-first century, Sports Illustrated.
Marie Manning (Beatrice Fairfax) (1868-1945)
A tough-minded and energetic woman, Marie Manning started her journalism career at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World then moved to the New York Evening Journal in 1897. After editor Arthur Brisbane brought three letters from women asking for advice into Manning’s office, with youthful rashness she proposed an entire column devoted to advice. Manning wrote the column under the name of Beatrice Fairfax and it was a success from the start, receiving thousands of letters from readers with relationship problems. Manning actually left the column in 1905 to raise a family and returned only once briefly during World War I. In 1929 financial reverses brought on at the beginning of the Depression caused Manning to return to writing the column that by then was syndicated to two hundred newspapers. In addition she covered women’s news in Washington, DC, for the news gathering agency, International News Service. Manning covered Eleanor Roosevelt’s women-only press conferences. In World War II Manning expanded her column to give advice to servicemen and their families.
Robert R. McCormick (1880-1955)
Robert R. McCormick was editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. From 1910 until his death in 1955, McCormick, an ultra conservative, campaigned in the 1930s against President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, labor unions, and the right to strike. He was a strict isolationist opposed to U.S. involvement abroad. He ignored the Nazis and opposed most all foreign aid.
Edgar Ansel Mowrer (1892-1977)
Edgar Ansel Mowrer, a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, won a Pulitzer Price in 1933 for his reporting on the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Mowrer continued to cover events in Europe in the 1930s then after World War II became a syndicated columnist for the Daily News for which he worked a total of 55 years.
Paul Scott Mowrer (1888-1971)
Paul Scott Mowrer, foreign correspondent and editor, worked with the Chicago Daily News from 1905 to 1944. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1929 for his international affairs coverage. He was responsible for hiring his younger brother Edgar Ansel Mowrer who also received a Pulitzer Prize for his foreign affairs coverage in 1933.
Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)
Edward R. Murrow, radio and television news reporter, joined the Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) in 1935. He was assigned to the European bureau from 1937 to 1939 and was a CBS war correspondent from 1939 to 1945. Murrow’s nationwide fame came as he reported from London during the air raid bombings.
Eleanor Medill Patterson (1884-1948)
Eleanor Medill Patterson, granddaughter of Joseph Medill, owner of theChicago Tribune, started her journalism career in 1930 when she took over as editor and publisher of the ailingWashington Herald. She had the gutsy nerve and perseverance of a seasoned reporter as she interviewed such diverse notables as Franklin D. Roosevelt and gangster Al Capone. She also hired excellent women feature writers and a woman photo editor and greatly expanded the paper’s appeal to women. Circulation increased dramatically and in 1939 Patterson was able to purchase both the Washington Herald and Hearst’s other Washington paper the Washington Times. Patterson combined the two into the Times-Herald, which had the largest circulation in Washington by the mid 1940s.
Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969)
Westbrook Pegler, son of a top news reporter for papers in Minnesota, Chicago, and New York, was at work for the United Press (UP) newsgathering agency by the age of 16. After World War I, Pegler wrote sports for the Chicago Tribune and UP. He developed the reputation as an unconventional writer who excelled at cleverly attacking famous individuals. In 1933 he was hired by the New York World-Telegram as a national affairs columnist for the next 11 years. The ultra conservative Pegler attacked in caustic terms the New Dealers, the Roosevelt, labor unions, and communists. In 1941 he won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing corruption in labor unions.
Mark Sullivan (1874-1952)
An accomplished journalist by the early 1920s Sullivan was already published nationwide in the New York Evening Post when he joined the New York Tribune (later the Herald-Tribune). He became one of the “big four” syndicated political columnists along with David Lawrence, Walter Lippmann, and Frank Kent. Sullivan’s column appeared in over one hundred newspapers at its peak.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, Sullivan cautiously supported the New Deal policies. By the mid-1930s, however, he was afraid Roosevelt’s policies were not pulling the nation out of the Depression and by 1937 his columns were critical of Roosevelt.
Between 1926 and 1936 Sullivan authored a six volume set on U.S. history entitled, Our Times: The United States, 1900-1925. In 1945 Sullivan retired to his farm in Pennsylvania but continued to author his column until his death in 1952.
Lowell Thomas (1892-1981)
Lowell Thomas, a world traveler, author, and radio and television commentator, often said he was not a journalist but an entertainer. He broadcast an account of the days’ events in a conversational tone from 1930 to 1976 to the American people. He broadcast those years for either CBS or NBC—only when his location made it impossible to broadcast did he fail to go on air. He always opened with, “Good evening, everybody,” and closed with, “So long, until tomorrow.” In 1935 Thomas began as editor and narrator of 20th Century Fox’s Movietone newsreels, continuing in this position for decades.
Dorothy Celine Thompson (1893-1961)
An avid reader as a child, Dorothy Thompson graduated from Syracuse University in New York and immediately went to work for women’s suffrage (right to vote) groups in western New York in 1914. She soon moved to New York City where she befriended intellectuals and political activists and wrote freelance articles for newspapers and magazines. Thompson traveled to Europe in 1920 where she was hired by the International News Service (INS) and then by the Philadelphia Public Ledger as its central European correspondent.
Thompson met and married American novelist Sinclair Lewis in 1928. She proceeded to establish her career as a lecturer and freelance writer on international issues for major American magazines. She interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931 and wrote in 1932 “I Saw Hitler!” In that widely published article she described Hitler as ineffective, an outlook she soon completely reversed. She began her syndicated column “On the Record” in 1936 with the New York Herald Tribune and continued writing articles for various newspapers and magazines. Thompson’s Herald Tribune column, a monthly article for the Ladies’ Home Journal, an NBC radio contract, and her lecture appearances made Thompson one of the most influential journalists of the 1930s. In 1939 Time magazine called Eleanor Roosevelt and Thompson the most influential women in America.
Thompson supported opening the United States borders to refugees from Nazi Germany, and supported Jewish hopes of a Palestine homeland (a position she reversed in the 1940s and 1950s). She was a constant critic of President Roosevelt in the 1930s believing his social reforms and wealth redistribution did not go far enough. She did, however, support him in the 1940 and 1944 presidential elections viewing his foreign policies the best able to stand up to Hitler’s aggression.
Walter Winchell (1897-1972)
Although predominantly a gossip columnist and radio commentator offering juicy tidbits of the lives of the famous, Walter Winchell reached millions. The public generally thought of him as a journalist and his radio broadcasts were popular from 1930 to 1950. By the early 1930s his material became more political as he backed the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt, attacked Hitler and all fascists, and fought against radio censorship.
Walter Lippmann, outstanding political journalist, wrote these comments about President Roosevelt’s first year in office for the New York Herald Tribune. This column typifies the interpretive commentary found in newspapers and magazines in the 1930s. (From Lippmann, Interpretations: 1933-1935. pp. 249-250.)
PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT’S LEADERSHIP
1. THE FIRST ROOSEVELT YEAR (February 27, 1934)
The achievements of the past year can be measured statistically. But there is perhaps a better measure. A year ago men were living from hour to hour, in the midst of a crisis of enormous proportions, and all they could think about was how they could survive it. Today they are debating the problems of long term reconstruction.
It is a decisive change. When Mr. Roosevelt was inaugurated, the question in all men’s minds was whether the country could “recover.” The machinery of government was impotent. The banking system was paralyzed. Panic, misery, rebellion, and despair were convulsing the people and destroying confidence not merely in business enterprise but in the promise of American life. No man can say into what we should have drifted had we drifted another twelve months. But no man can doubt, if he knows the conditions—which responsible observers hardly dared to describe at the time for fear of aggravating the panic—that the dangers were greater than they have been at any time in the experience of this generation of Americans. Today there are still grave problems. But there is no overwhelmingly dangerous crisis. The mass of the people have recovered their courage and their hope. They are no longer hysterically anxious about the immediate present. They have recovered not only some small part of their standard of life but also their self-possession. The very fact that they can take a lively interest in…the bill to regulate the stock exchange and the permanence of NRA is the best kind of evidence that the crisis has been surmounted.… The question then was how to stay out of the bread line, and whether there would be money to supply a bread line, and how to avoid fore-closure or eviction or bankruptcy.
The questions about the future which agitate Mr. Mark Sullivan and Mr. David Lawrence and other critics of the Administration are very important. They should be discussed thoroughly. But we should not be in a position to discuss them thoroughly if the President had not pulled the country out of the pit and brought about a recovery.
Columnist Talks to Readers
John Monte LeNoir, journalist for the small, local West Los Angeles Independent wrote a daily column written in a personal conversational style exploring and interpreting his nation and world in the late 1930s. This type of column began to appear regularly in papers across the country in the 1930s.
FED UP with all the different official proclamations of “buy-used-car week,” “send-somebody-posey day,” “national-canned-goods week,” “half-sole-your-shoes day,” etc., etc., etc. The latest insult to the intelligence of Mr. Average American is “Employment Day” next Sunday. The resolution says that “it is increasingly difficult for persons over 40 to find employment.” Gosh, I didn’t think age had anything to do with it. Will somebody please tell us where ANYBODY, regardless of age, can get a job! I am sure that we are all grateful for this movement whereby a proclamation and a few Sunday morning sermons will solve the most serious problem ever confronting this country (West Los Angeles Independent, May 20, 1938).
Suggested Research Topics
- Imagine yourself a writer wanting to write a magazine article. What would be some topics of public interest related to the Great Depression for 1933? Which magazines might want to publish your article and why?
- What opportunities did women and minorities have in the field of journalism? Would they be able to portray the Great Depression-related issues most relevant to women and minorities in national publications? Which publications would be more likely to print their stories and why?
- What kind of relationship did President Roosevelt have with the press? Did it change during different time periods?