Research in Journalism and Mass Communication History

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Although the Marquis Childs project has taken up the bulk of my time and energy in the past few years, I have been working on a number of other projects.  Below are brief descriptions of some of the various projects that I have been working on or completed in the recent past.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.  I may also be able to provide references, notes, or copies of these papers to interested students and scholars.  Email me

 

Black Newspapers and the Politics of the 1930s.  A new project is a series of papers on black newspapers and the 1930s presidential elections.  The 1930s was the period in which black voters began to switch allegiance from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in significant numbers, particularly starting in 1936.  The project seeks to understand the role that newspapers and prominent journalists, including Robert L. Vann of the Pittsburgh Courier, played in this process.  I am examining news articles, columns, editorials, and advertisements in major black newspapers in order to understand how this content communicated political ideas and fostered debate among readers.  To date, I have presented papers that make up two parts of the larger project.  In the future, I hope to extend the project to cover the period through the 1960s.

 

 

Robert Lasch, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Editorials on the Vietnam War.  This paper is an examination of the Post-Dispatch editorials that won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize.  Written by Editorial Page Editor Robert Lasch in 1965, these editorials were among the very first in a major American newspaper to ask tough questions about President Lyndon Johnson’s bombing campaign and the increasing number of American military forced deployed in Southeast Asia.  Unlike most newspapers in 1965, the Post-Dispatch urged immediate de-escalation, good-faith negotiation, and full withdrawal of American forces at the earliest possible date.   Lasch was notably informed by the Vietnam reporting of Post-Dispatch staffer Richard Dudman, who was one of the more critical foreign correspondents working in the region.  The paper examines the texts of Lasch’s prize-winning editorials and the response, both positive and negative, that they generated among readers and political leaders.  It is based on Lasch’s archived papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  This paper will be presented in June 2016 at the Policy History Association conference in Nashville.

 

 

 

The War Advertising Council and the Hidden Enemy: Controversy over Anti-VD Advertising in World War II.  This paper examines the public health information campaign developed by the War Advertising Council for the US government in 1944 and the surrounding controversy.  The WAC developed a full ad campaign for the initiative, released a campaign guide, and started to solicit placements, but soon opposition to the campaign emerged, most vocally in the Catholic press.  Critics argued that the campaign was problematic because, by framing venereal disease in a modern medical context, it removed the moral stigma traditionally associated with VD.  The WAC decided to abandon the project in the face of this criticism, which suggests that the group was more interested in promoting and protecting the reputation of its supporters in the advertising industry than in fully advancing the government's wartime informational needs.  It is drawn from archival collections at Duke University, the OWI records and the National Archives, and the WAC archive at the University of Illinois. 

 

 

 

Could you Tell Him You're Tired of Buying War Bonds? The Visual Culture of Sacrifice in Late World War II Advertising.  This paper is a study of newspaper and magazine ads from the last two years of World War II that use emotional and sometimes graphic images and text to mobilize home front Americans to maintain support for the war effort.  Concerned that adherence to wartime norms of sacrifice was eroding as the war entered its third year, government agencies and the War Advertising Council encouraged ad campaigns that drew on images of suffering and loss that included depictions of dead or wounded servicemen, children whose fathers had been killed in action, and other symbols of sacrifice and pain.  By linking the very real sacrifices made by some Americans with the relatively minor inconveniences of home front life, these images valorized dutiful service to the war effort and reinforced the centrality of obligation at the heart of wartime citizenship.  At the same time, they tended to conflate mundane activities, like obeying rationing regulations, with more dramatic acts of self-sacrifice in ways that became problematic.  A very early version of this paper was presented in 2007 at the PCA/ACA national conference.  I am currently working on a much more fully-developed version for publication.

 

 

 

Richard Dudman’s 40 Days With the Enemy and the Boundaries of Anti-War Opinion in the Nixon Years.   This paper looks at the experiences of St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Richard Dudman when he was captured by Communist guerrillas and held for 40 days in 1970.  It examines the reception of Dudman's book about the experience, 40 Days with the Enemy, in the context of public opinion about the Vietnam War and anti-Communism more broadly.   Although many readers found the book to be perceptive and important, a number of reviewers and readers were deeply critical of Dudman's sympathetic portrayal of the Communists who guarded and protected him.  The minor controversy surrounding the book suggests that although most Americans had by 1970s turned against the war, publishing relatively positive observations about the enemy combatants remained outside the bounds of legitimate expression.  The incident also gave additional ammunition to those who would criticize the American press for displaying a so-called "liberal bias" and failing to support the war effort adequately.  In the Nixon years, this critique of the news media became a potent tool for use in the conservative backlash against the political and cultural shift of the era.  This paper was presented at the American Journalism Historians Association for the October 2013 conference.  A version has been accepted for publication in a 2016 issue of South Central Review.

 

 

 

“The New Politics Was Rampaging Wildly in the Streets of Chicago": Violence and Media Coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.”   This paper examines news coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, including the street violence, and criticism of how the media presented events during those hot August days.  It focuses especially on violence against journalists and the ways that members of the new media responded.  The initial version was presented at the symposium 1968 Revisited: Looking Back at a Pivotal Year in American Journalism held at Marshall University in November 2008.  A related paper, presented at the PCA/ACA annual convention in St. Louis in April 2010, examines the aftermath of convention coverage.  Outrage against what was seen as one-sided and sensational news coverage, especially on television, sparked government investigation and public censure and provides a useful case study for the examination of the roots of an anti-news media position that remains a force in our political culture.  A separate paper based on letters written to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley about press coverage of the violence will be presented at the 2015 American Historians Association conference in New York City.

 

Art and the Domestic Ideal in the Antebellum Illustrated Magazine.  This paper examines images of women in the engravings published in antebellum American periodicals like The Union Magazine of Literature and Art, Graham's, and Godey's Lady's Book.  These magazines were part of the first generation of illustrated magazines and sought to entertain and educate middle-class readers with high quality literature, essays, and artwork.  The paper discusses the rise of the popular magazine and its relationship to the spread of genteel culture and the "cult of true womanhood" that emerged in the decades before the Civil War.  Furthermore, it examines the relationship between art and moral reform in antebellum America.  Too often overlooked as frivolous fashion plates or decorative illustrations, the high quality engravings published in Union Magazine and similar magazines can be re-examined as significant elements of the didactic culture working to improve American society through refined taste and proper appearance and behavior. Many artists of the 1840s and 1850s shared the broad cultural agenda of the social reform movement and promoters of gentility.  The paper argues that magazine illustrations like those found in these magazines tended to visually reinforce the normative culture of domesticity prevalent in other media forms, but that their various messages would have allowed readers to use them for a variety of purposes.  Presented at the West Symposium on the Nineteenth Century Press in Chattanooga in November 2005. Co-authored with Cory Pillen, currently a professor of art history at Fort Lewis College.

 

 

Selling the Shortwaves: Commercial Shortwave Broadcasting to Latin America and the Limits of the "American System," 1920-1945.  American commercial broadcasters attempted to establish an advertising-supported schedule of programming for shortwave broadcast to Latin America during the 1930s.  This system was to have the dual function of generating revenue for the networks and promoting the American image and message through the hemisphere in the absence of an official government radio service, which was strongly opposed by radio executives.  Unfortunately for the networks, commercial shortwave proved extremely unsuccessful and expensive.  As World War II approached and fears of Axis propaganda mounted, this programming was increasingly viewed as insufficient and the US government gradually assumed more and more control, and eventually took over shortwave broadcasting entirely for the duration of the war.  This paper examines the politics of radio programming and regulation, the development of commercial shortwave, audience perceptions among Latin American listeners, and the role of propaganda in the 1930s and 1940s.  A version of this paper was presented at the 2003 AEJMC Conference, International Communication Division, in Kansas City.  A revised version has been published in American Journalism 24:4 (Winter 2007): 127-148.

 

 

"A Host of Glorious Memories Revived": Newspapers and History in the Centennial Year.  This project examines the role that newspapers played in the celebration of the nation's Centennial in 1876 and their contribution to nineteenth century Americans' historical memory.  Readers encountered a wealth of historical material about the Declaration of Independence, the "founding fathers," and the war as they perused their newspapers in the Centennial year.  Newspapers also covered local and national celebrations, including extensive publication of orations, at New Year's, the Fourth of July, and the opening of the Philadelphia Exhibition.  These editorials, news columns, letters, and stories, sometimes filling several entire pages, promoted patriotism and helped shape readers' understanding the past and national identity.  The paper argues that newspapers in 1876 were active participants in the debate over the historical memory, using it to promote various expressions of political and social ideology.  A version of this paper focusing on race and the 4th of July won an award for Excellence in Student Scholarship at the West Symposium on the Nineteenth Century Press in Chattanooga in November 2004.  A different version that examines the tension between past and future in Centennial America was presented at the AJHA conference in Wichita in October 2006.  A significantly shorter version was published in Words at War: The Civil War and American Journalism, David B. Sachsman, S. Kittrell Rushing, and Roy Morris Jr., eds. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2009.

 

 

Fighting to the Finish: The War Advertising Council, the 'Beat Japan' Campaigns, and American Public Opinion at the End of World War II.  This research is related to my Master's Thesis about campaigns created by the War Advertising Council and government agencies that were designed to refocus the attention of home front Americans on the war effort as eventual victory became more anticipated in late 1944 and 1945.  The WAC devised a series of ads, many focusing on the Seventh War Bond drive, that highlighted the tenacity of the Japanese and the sacrifices that still loomed, and urged American to "Finish the Fight."  The paper examines these late-war ads and links them to American public opinion, including the possible effect that war theme advertising had on Americans' perception of and attitudes about the end of the war.  It also provides a broader examination of the industry perspective on wartime service.  The WAC was as much a public relations maneuver on the part of the advertising industry as it was a contribution to the war effort.  The paper discusses consumer unrest and hostility toward advertising, wartime tax policy related to ad expenditures, tension over the promotion of unavailable postwar goods, and the debate over reconversion and postwar government policy.  A version of this paper was presented at the 2003 AEJMC Conference, Advertising Division, in Kansas City.  A different paper, entitled "Could You Tell Him You're Tired of Buying War Bonds? The Visual Culture of Sacrifice in late World War II Advertising," wasl be presented at the conference of the Popular Culture Association in Boston in April 2007.

 

 

Honesty is the Best Policy: Consumer Discontent, Regulation, and Reform in the Advertising Industry During the Progressive Era.  This paper examines consumer hostility toward advertising, muckraking exposes, threats of government regulation, and ad industry professionalization during the first 15 years of the 20th Century.  The paper traces the dual threat faced by the nascent industry: inflamed consumer opinion and potentially harmful government regulation.  It attempts to outline the mostly successful tactics employed by the industry to counter these two threats and establish itself, at least in the public mind, as a responsible and productive corporate citizen.  This was a period of at least moderate reform in advertising and also the first time the industry mobilized itself as a profession in an early public relations campaign to lobby the government and promote a good public image as "progressives."  A version of this paper won Best Student Paper in the Advertising Division of the AEJMC at the 2002 Convention.

 

 

The Story of the Century: American Newspapers and the Atomic Bomb, 1945.  This project examines efforts on the part of military officials to prepare a set of news releases and stories to explain the atomic bomb and its use to the American people in August, 1945.  It compares this "official narrative" of the atomic bomb story with actual coverage of the event in a set of American newspapers and argues that newspapers did not, at least in the initial period, create a one-dimensional historical memory of the event.  A version of this paper was presented at the 2003 AEJMC Conference, History Division, in Kansas City.

 

 

History of American Advertising: A Bibliographic Reference: This section contains a continuously-updated bibliographic listing of books, articles, dissertations, and other academic resources related to topics in the history of advertising and consumer culture in the United States.  Many of the entries include a brief annotation.  The page offers links to a variety of categories for easy use.

 

 

 

Federal Regulation of Advertising, 1900-1930s: A Bibliographic Essay:  This brief essay outlines historical and legal resources for scholars studying the history of advertising regulation from the Progressive Era up to the onset of the Depression. Topics include the Food and Drug laws of 1906, the creation of the Federal Trade Commission, industry self-regulation, muckraking journalism, the consumer movement, and pivotal court cases that defined the jurisdiction and scope of federal regulation before the New Deal-era.  The essay was written in 2005, and I would welcome suggestions of new books and articles to include.

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