One of the articles that I’ve read this week, Margaret A Blanchard’s “The Ossification of Journalism History: A Challenge for the Twentieth Century” from Journalism History 25:3 (Autumn 1999) raises some interesting points about the perception of history in journalism departments. I’ve started an independent study on that area because it intersects with my thesis.
I hate journalism. I always have. The most painful writing class I ever took was in writing for journalism—an intro course which spoon-feeds you the inverted pyramid et. al. Funny, but as I explore the historical side of it, the same sort of petrifaction seems to have occurred in the historical outlook.
Blanchard argues that what is deemed “acceptable” for publication are articles which are in some way biographical. In other words, a journalism history scholar is stopped from thinking about larger theoretical problems and encouraged to exhume lost biographical details of publications and/or authors. Most of the articles I have read so far seem to be thinly veiled paeans to some “pioneer” who in Horatio Alger fashion, made good the American dream of success.
I think her thesis is strong—that all attempts at journalism history have been stalled by their “insider” perspectives which do nothing to position journalism in the context of the larger media culture. It’s all rather inbred and self-congratulatory. But, just the same, I’m finding myself fascinated by the transition from nineteenth century journalism into the progressive era. There is a lot of scholarship going on there, but very little which directly addresses the twenties or thirties, which I think is another important flash-point.