Remaking the news: the transformation of American journalism, 1960-1980
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Most Americans, whether consciously or unconsciously, associate certain defining traits with the contemporary American press: a broad definition of news, an emphasis on analysis, a skeptical tone, and adherence to a specific definition of objectivity. None of these elements characterized American newspapers in 1960, but all were firmly in place by 1980. Remaking the News examines how that remarkable transformation occurred, and how it influenced politics and society. While focusing mainly on two newspapers—The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times—it attempts to analyze the media business as a whole. Chapter 1 describes the rise of interpretive reporting. A response to competition from other news media and to the changing demographic profile of newspaper audiences and staffs, interpretation contributed to the disintegration of the Cold War consensus and to a reappraisal of American journalism’s bedrock principle, objectivity. As Chapters 2 and 3 show, objectivity came under attack simultaneously from the right and the left, launching a debate that has persisted to this day but that, paradoxically, reinforced most news-industry leaders’ faith in the ideal. Chapter 4 examines how newspapers began giving readers what they wanted to know, rather than telling them what (in the editors’ view) they needed to know. This resulted in a greater focus on soft news and service journalism, which helped validate a broader shift in the primary identity of the American public, from citizens to consumers. These changes occurred amid powerful political and social currents in the journalism profession and the country at large. Chapter 5 describes how challenges from minorities and women forced the press to adjust its discriminatory employment practices as well as its dismissive treatment of women and non-whites in news coverage. The social movements and political turbulence of the late 60s and early 70s also led journalists to take a more adversarial approach to news subjects, as Chapter 6 discusses. In addition to providing a novel interpretation of how the press assumed its contemporary form, this dissertation suggests that the evolution of American politics and society since 1960 cannot be understood without considering the evolution of journalism from 1960-1980.