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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

History

First Advisor

Marc W. Kruman

Abstract

This dissertation examines the change that came to American newspapers and reporting between 1840 and 1892 as the result of increasing communication bandwidth and the emergence of fast communication networks. Improvements in news distribution by post roads, steam navigation, and steam railways, followed by application of telegraphic communications, significantly speeded the news and changed the news cycle itself by linking metropolitan news centers with peripheral newspapers. The American Civil War brought this new information technology together with an event that created massive audience demand for timely and factual news, as opposed to purely political or commercial information. In postwar years the press moved toward an increasingly fact-based and professionalized form of reporting that supplanted the earlier Party Press and Penny Press. Newspapers democratized the expensive new communication technology of the Morse telegraph, making its benefits available to a wide audience, but also created a powerful news monopoly in the process. Newspapers assigned themselves new roles of interpreting national issues for an imagined national audience, and used techniques such as framing and agenda setting to create media identities for groups like Irish, German, and Chinese immigrants or events such as the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. The rise of communication networks under Western Union and ancillary telegraph networks eventually allowed Western Associated Press newspapers in the hinterland to take power away from the dominant New York Associated Press, supplanting it with a new national news organization named the Associated Press but based in Chicago. This created a new kind of news coverage, one that was spare, uniform in style, and which attempted to move beyond opinion, presaging the twentieth century “full news” approach to journalism. In this process the newspapers of the mid nineteenth century leading into the Gilded Age demonstrated intentional progress toward a modern form of journalism.

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