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Book Review: “Covering America” in Journalism History

From the journal, Journalism History

Many a teacher of journalism history has heard students complain about how dull or inaccessible they find any one of several available media history textbooks. And many a journalism instructor has agreed with his or her students’ complaints about de-contextualized dates and names of publishers and their historically significant newspapers strung through those tomes.Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism addresses these complaints. In Covering America, Christopher Daly has wrapped the story of American journalism from the colonial period through the digital age into a carefully researched, beautifully written, and memorable account of how news reporting mostly has grown as well as improved during the span of three centuries as innovators have exploited new technologies, constitutional protections, government subsidies, cultural trends, and business formulae to maintain their financial independence and journalistic standards while serving their readers and audiences ever more efficiently.

Daly, an associate professor of journalism at Boston University with twenty years of experience covering New England for the Washington Post and writing for the Associated Press, concentrates in Covering America on newspaper, television, and digital news with only occasional references to early twentieth-century magazines and rare mentions of public relations and advertising. His focus is the changing and expanding definition of news over time. Daly admits that in Covering America, unlike Frank Luther Mott’s or Edwin Emery’s geographically broader approaches to journalism history, he emphasizes journalism originating in New York— although Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago receive some attention when media in these cities contribute to the overall narrative. This exclusion of examples of western and southern journalism, however, contributes in two ways to the success of Covering America. It greatly reduces the clutter and detail that overwhelms so many students, and it allows Daly to hold the social, political, economic, and technological context constant as he explains the challenges and opportunities printers, for example, faced at roughly the same time and place. Rather than grasping at data, the reader finds the overall historical patterns of journalism more apparent and memorable. Read the rest of the review here.

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