On the witness stand in a libel trial, Henry Ford famously said: “History is bunk.” Ford was very good with machinery, but no one ever considered him a well-educated man.
Something rather like the “history is bunk” statement has led to a recent academic dustup among our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. On May 30, Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, opined: Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’
So, what if Johnston is right? After all, what good is history?
According to Jonathan Healy, answering Johnston in June, 2016, history is interesting, important, skill-building stuff, but most of all, the profession that serves as umpires when the politicians go out of bounds.
It has often been observed that democracy is munted when there are fewer independent fact-gathering operations or avenues for a diversity of opinion — what we used to call journalism. The hope, for the past decade, is that some formula can be found to “monetize” journalism — to make money from it.
An important new book, Digital Disconnect by Robert W. McChesney (excerpted in this article in Salon Magazine) asks the bottom-line question: What if journalism just can’t be monetized? What then?
Robert W. McChesney
McChesney is a professor at the University of Illinois and one the nation’s leading and most thoughtful media critics. He’s the author of many other books such as Rich Media, Poor Democracy.
In Digital Disconnect notes with irony that the media saw the Internet effect coming for decades, and that for all its thrashing around with new apps and gadgets, trying to set up paywalls and link up with advertising, it has not solved the basic problem.
Paul Reuter, (pronounced roy-ter) a German-English journalist and founder of Reuters news service, is born on this day in 1816. Reuter worked in banking and publishing house but left for Paris after the revolution of 1848. There he worked for Havas, the Parisian news agency. As telegraph lines began to span Europe, Reuter began filling in the gaps, for example, using carrier pigeons to take news from the eastern end of the French telegraph system at Verviers to the western end of the German system at Aix-la-Chapelle. His wife Ida worked on the French side collecting news while he worked on the German side. The Reuters moved to London in 1851, just after a submarine telegraph line linked France and Britain, and opened an office in the financial district. From there, Reuters "wire" service grew to be one of the world's largest news organizations.
Ernest Hemingway, American journalist, novelist, and Nobel Prize laureate, is born on this day in 1899. Like many authors, Hemingway experienced life as a journalist and then wrote to reveal deeper truth. He called his deceptively simply style 'telegraph-ese' and compared unstated backstory to the submerged portion of an iceberg.
Marshall McLuhan, author and media historian, is born on this day in 1911. A professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan was among the first to analyze the roles played by the mass media in shaping the 20th and 21st century world. He predicted the world wide web, said that we would live in a "global village," and noted long before fMRI that media effects depended on immersion (his 'hot and cool' media theory). He was a technological determinist, insisting that the "medium IS the message." Quite famous in his day, McLuhan is best remembered as the historian who (along with his friend Harold Innis) first placed communication at the center of civilization.
Scopes Trial ends on this day in 1925 with a guilty verdict. High school biology teacher John T. Scopes is found guilty of teaching evolution and is fined $100. Today the trial is mostly remembered for acerbic commentary by H.L. Mencken, a Baltimore Sun reporter. In one column describing the people of the small town of Dayton TN, Mencken noted that they were unprepared for the ridicule that their trial generated. "When the main guard of Eastern and Northern journalists swarmed down, and their dispatches began to show the country and the world exactly how the obscene buffoonery appeared to realistic city men, then the yokels began to sweat coldly, and in a few days they were full of terror and indignation. Some of the bolder spirits, indeed, talked gaudily of direct action against the authors of the 'libels.'" More of Mencken's coverage is found here at Archive dot org.
Tomorrow in media history
Naji al-Ali, a Palestinian political cartoonist, is shot on a London street this day in 1987. He never regained consciousness and died a month later. Al-Ali was noted for the political criticism of both Arab and Israeli governments in over 40,000 cartoons, often featuring the character Handala, a young witness to events who has since become an icon of Palestinian defiance.
Yesterday in media history history
US v Paramount -- An anti-trust suit against Paramount and most of the movie industry is filed on this day in 1938 by the Justice Department, seeking to break up vertical integration between studios and movie theaters. The net effect, ten years later when the US wins the suit, is to break up the old Hollywood studio system.
Lowell Thomas, a man who helped define print and radio journalism in the early to mid-20th century, is profiled in the Smithsonian Magazine, June, 2017.
Fake news isn't so new after all. In "Techniques of 19th-century fake news reporter," Petra S. McGillen of Dartmouth tells the story of Theodor Fontane, a correspondent for Kreuzzeitung of Berlin, who covered London's Tooley Street Fire of 1861 without leaving Germany.
Clare Hollingworth, the reporter who broke the news about the start of WWII from Poland, is eulogized in this Jan. 2017 obituary.
Ring Lardnera famous sports columnist in the early 20th century, is profiled in a 2017 book by NPR's Ron Rapoport.
TV and US Civil Rights A 17-minute television talk by Medgar Evers on May 20, 1963 -- which led to his assassination -- also resulted in a fight over a TV station license in a case that changed American Television. The NARA and the Zinn project have the story.
Rome, Open City by Roberto Rossollini is celebrated on its 70th anniversary.
The Wipers Times, a humor publication from the least humorous situation ever -- the fighting trenches of WWI. Subject of an excellent movie in 2013.
Ixnay on the Otography-fay Life in the trenches was no laughing matter for most. It was even illegal for soldiers to photograph during World War I, but George Hackney did it anyway. The photos came to light in November, 2014.
Nixon-Kennedy debates in September, 1960 brought the new power of media to bear on the old politics of the presidential campaigns, as this recent Chicago Tribune article reminds us.
Dorothea Lange the amazing Depression-era photographer, is featured in a new PBS documentary in August, 2014.
Too Fast for the Truth? The trans-Atlantic telegraph, first linking the US and the UK in 1858, generated the same kind of reaction and commentary about rapid communication that surrounded the Internet in the 1990s and micro-blogging in the 2000s. Adriene LaFrance reminds us of this in a great July 28, 2014 article in the Atlantic.
¶ Harry McAlpin, the man who integrated the White House press corps, is featured in an Atlantic magazine article May 3.
Pranking is a great media tradition, says Kimbrew McLeod in a new book. (Yes, that's Ben Franklin in clown makeup).
¶ May 5 is the Chicago Defender's anniversary. Founded by Robert S. Abbott in 1905, the Defender has championed the cause of minorities for over a century.
Dr. Zhivago, the famed novel by Boris Pasternak about a Russian doctor in the 1917-1940 revolutionary time period, was banned in Russia. It was first published in Russian by the US Central Intelligence Agency, newly declassified documents reveal. (Guardian, April 9, 2014).
Margaret Fuller biography by Megan Marshall wins a Pulitzer for 2014. Horace Greeley's famed editor was also remembered in a variety of radio programs, as found on Bob Stepno's JHeroes web site.
¶ Ancient books online The Vatican and Oxford's Bodleian libraries began a project in December, 2013 to digitize their collections of ancient books in the interest of democratizing scholarship.
¶ Alan Turing a gay British mathe- matician who helped crack Nazi codes during WWII and who created many of the basic concepts and formulas for the modern functioning computer, was pardoned for his gay behavior, postumously, in Britain just before Christmas, 2013.
Thomas Nast is remembered by Jonathan Yardley at the Washington Post on Feb. 15, 2013. "The best and most widely known journalists of my youth — James Reston, Marquis Childs, Red Smith, even Walter Lippmann — are almost entirely forgotten outside the trade today and only dimly remembered inside it," Yardley says. Yet Nast's cartoons remain.
¶ Medgar Evers is honored by the Zinn project on Martin Luther King day in 2013. Evers was killed 50 years ago after an interview on what was then a virulently racist television station, WLBT, as noted in Revolutions in Communication. The assassination was not directly linked to the TV, but it started a Media Access Project investigation of the TV station's programming, which led to the loss of its license for failing to serve the public interest.
¶ Iranian newspapers in the 1960s were tightly controlled, like many today in China, Russia and the Middle East. That experience, says Karen Henderson in a Dec. 15 2012 Cleveland Plain Dealer column, reminds us of the importance of the press to democracy.
¶ The "Page Three Girl" is 42 years old on Nov. 27, 2012, according to women fighting sexism in the media who are staging protests in London. Their slogan: "Boobs are not news."
¶ Hollywood blacklist started 65 years ago on Nov. 25, 1947, the day after ten writers and directors (the Hollywood Ten) got citations for contempt of Congress. They had refused to name supposed fellow communists to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and claimed that they had rights under the U.S. Constitution.
¶ One hundred years ago, the Sacramento Bee depicted a prisoner on a pedestal to decry "soft" treatment of prisoners who should be executed. Today the Bee has a very different view.
¶ William Randolph Hearst died Aug. 14, 1951, and this year the San Francisco Chronicle commemorated the event by republishing an interesting poem he wrote. When our life has passed / And the river has run its course / It again goes back / O'er the selfsame track / To the mountain which was its source. Hearst, it seems, was no competition for other journalist / poets of the age, such as Rudyard Kipling or Joel Chandler Harris.
¶ So long to Karl Fleming, a Civil Rights reporter for Newsweek whose book, Son of the Rough South, helped chronicle the era. Fleming died in Los Angeles August 11, 2012. Also passing this summer: Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmopolitan magazine.
¶ Satellite communications turned 50 years old on July 12. The first satellite transmissions took place in 1962 from Maine to Brittany, France. The signal contained images of the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, remarks from President John F. Kennedy, and highlights of a Phillies-Cubs baseball game.
¶ Beginning in late February 2012, the New York Times started to open its enormous photo archive.
¶ Stanford has cracked the door on its collection of Apple computer corporation archives, according to this Associated Press story. But its not enough for some people, who think the university should be doing more to make the archives public.
¶ New digital methods are starting to unlock the "vast collections" of sound recordings. A young Alexander Graham Bell is heard in some of the first Smithsonian releases on Dec. 12, 2011. Also in store -- great performances, speeches by world leaders, anthropological and linguistic studies, and many other voices from the past.
¶ Aug. 25 is the anniversary of the Moon Hoax. Chicago Times columnist John Kass says it's his favorite hoax of all time.
¶ Aug. 24 is Wayzgoose -- a traditional holiday for printers, writers and the publishing industry.
¶ July 22 was the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan's birth, and the communications and technology theorist celebrated by his most fervid admirers as Canada's greatest thinker of all time has emerged from the valley of darkness that closed around him in the last decade of his life. The Globe and Mail, July 15, 2011.
¶ Peter Forsskål's 1759 Thoughts on Civil Liberty was recently published on the web. The Swedish philosopher had a major influence on European thought about freedom of information. The newly translated manuscript begins: "The more a man may live according to his own inclinations, the more he is free. Therefore, next to life itself, nothing could be more dear to man than freedom."
¶ Phil Meyer wonders whether it's already too late for the elite newspaper of the future.
¶ Kay Mills, author of "A Place in the News: From the Women's Pages to the Front Page" (1988), died Jan. 15, 2011.
¶ Fox Propagandists Degrade Journalism - Harold Meyerson, Washington Post. -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. "is the most sustained and coordinated dose of right-wing propaganda this country has ever seen. Father Coughlin, Joe McCarthy, George Wallace and their ilk were freelancers, much as Limbaugh is today. The choir at Fox News, by contrast, sings from Murdoch's hymnal."
¶ For Sarah Palin and Glen Beck, a McKinley Moment? Dana Milbank, Washington Post -- "One hundred and ten years ago, during another low point in the nation's political discourse, newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst - who was angling for a presidential run in 1904 - published a pair of columns fantasizing about violence against President William McKinley. "
Black Press in the Civil War
Although the Civil War began as a conflict over secession, from the start most blacks saw it as an opportunity to free the enslaved with a Union victory. New York Times, March 13, 2014.