Friday, October 14, 2011

Media on media: a contrast

Today, I learned of three new books about media history. The first works featured in the New York Times' upcoming book reviews, under the title "Dynasts of the Daily Press," are about the Medill family, media tycoons: The Magnificent Medills: America’s Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor by Megan McKinney and Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson by Amanda Smith. Also, yesterday's Democracy Now! offered an interview with Juan Gonzalez (Democracy Now! co-host) and Joseph Torres, authors of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, which looks at how the media has historically shaped views about race in the US and the role of technological changes and government policy, bringing to light the work of minority journalists and media activists in fighting for a more democratic media.

This is from the Times review:
Megan McKinney’s “Magnificent Medills” and Amanda Smith’s “Newspaper Titan” between them expend more than 1,000 pages chronicling the escapades of Joseph Medill and his family. McKinney’s book includes accounts of Joseph Medill and his offspring, on to the great-­grandchild Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, who came to own and run Newsday. Smith (the editor of Joseph P. Kennedy’s letters), at much greater length than Mc­Kinney, concentrates on Cissy Patterson, who was Joseph Medill’s favorite grandchild and led the gaudiest life of the Medill ­grandchildren.

...Contra McKinney, the Medills were not magnificent but neurotic, alcoholic, megalomaniac and inordinately unpleasant generally. Far from being a titan, of newspapers or anything else, Cissy Patterson was, in Smith’s own showing, capricious, spoiled, headstrong, snobbish, litigious, anti-­Semitic, a mean drunk and vindictive. Not, as we should say today, a fun family, Joseph Medill’s offspring.

They did spend grandly, though chiefly on themselves, living more like Medicis than Medills. They called on Stanford White to build them mansions on Astor Street in Chicago, on Dupont Circle in Washington, and had other architects build them mansions elsewhere. Vast sums went on clothes, jewels, luxurious travel, liveried servants, private railroad cars, horses, fox hunting and buying off ex-husbands and -wives....

...The Medill grandchildren viewed journalism as purveying entertainment while enhancing their social positions and spreading their political views. “Never overestimate the intelligence of the American people” might have been their motto, and in their newspapers they rarely did. They gave their readers what they thought they wanted. This included large photo spreads, stories of sex and violence, advice columns, lots of gossip, strong opinions, contests and comic strips. (Joe Patterson was especially adroit at developing new comic strips for The Daily News.) The formula worked. At one point the family owned and controlled the three largest-circulation dailies in the three most important cities in the United States.
From Gonzalez' description of News for All the People:
So we’ve tried to outline how that developed, from the early Post Office for newspapers; the rise of the telegraph, that gave rise—that really made possible the wire services that dominated news throughout the late 19th century; the rise of radio, then of cable television, because television was really just an extension of radio, the rise of cable television; and finally the rise of the internet. Each of these new technologies has created a huge debate over what is the role of the media in a democracy and what is the role of the government in establishing the rules of operation by which all the different groups in society will be able to have access or be heard or produce news.
They talk about the work of several minority journalists, and then media reform movements:
JUAN GONZALEZ: ...We point out in the book that between 1970 and 1973 there were more than 340 license challenges to the licenses of television and radio stations across the country. As thousands of African-American and Latino community leaders—forgotten—people like William Wright in Washington, D.C., Emma Bowen in New York, Lonnie King in Atlanta—all marched into the television stations and the radio stations and said, "We are fed up with your failure to cover our communities. We want you to hire more African Americans and Latinos. We want you to have shows that speak to our communities." And they launched a massive movement all across the country challenging licenses. And as a result of that movement is when you had the newsrooms opened up to people like Ben Bradley—I’m sorry, to Ed Bradley—

AMY GOODMAN: 60 Minutes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —and to Geraldo Rivera*—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —and to all of these first generations—Gil Noble, Gloria Rojas. The first generation of African-American and Latino journalists came into the newsrooms as a result of this massive community movement of media reform in the 1970s....
The contrast between the Times' and Democracy Now!'s assessments of the interests of their respective audiences is pretty stark: for the former, the fox hunting, backstabbing, and marital problems of narcissistic media magnates; for the latter, an analysis of the history of media democracy, racism, and reform movements, taking us through the net neutrality struggles of today.

*I admit I have another motive for quoting this particular portion of the interview, and that is to show this video (the segment leading up to this, also at the link, has Cornel West referring to "our atheist and agnostic brothers and sisters"...on Fox):

Cuttlefish should like it. :)

1 comment:

  1. Cuttlefish does like it.

    Just how many people were in Geraldo's entourage? Looks like he imported people to stand around him within the shot, so the real people wouldn't be right there next to him!