“The ultimate story behind all the stories… In an age when the press is alternately villain or hero, Pressman serves as a kind of medicine man of journalism, telling us how we got from there to here.”—Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair
In the 1960s and 1970s, the American press embraced a new way of reporting and selling the news. The causes were many: the proliferation of television, pressure to rectify the news media’s dismal treatment of minorities and women, accusations of bias from left and right, and the migration of affluent subscribers to suburbs. As Matthew Pressman’s timely history reveals, during these tumultuous decades the core values that held the profession together broke apart, and the distinctive characteristics of contemporary American journalism emerged.
Simply reporting the facts was no longer enough. In a country facing assassinations, a failing war in Vietnam, and presidential impeachment, reporters recognized a pressing need to interpret and analyze events for their readers. Objectivity and impartiality, the cornerstones of journalistic principle, were not jettisoned, but they were reimagined. Journalists’ adoption of an adversarial relationship with government and big business, along with sympathy for the dispossessed, gave their reporting a distinctly liberal drift. Yet at the same time, “soft news”—lifestyle, arts, entertainment—moved to the forefront of editors’ concerns, as profits took precedence over politics.
Today, the American press stands once again at a precipice. Accusations of political bias are more rampant than ever, and there are increasing calls from activists, customers, advertisers, and reporters themselves to rethink the values that drive the industry. As On Press suggests, today’s controversies—the latest iteration of debates that began a half-century ago—will likely take the press in unforeseen directions and challenge its survival.
The stories behind the stories are often more interesting than the stories themselves. On Press is the ultimate story behind all the stories. In tracing the evolution of news over the past half century, Matthew Pressman has produced an account that’s deeply historical and not a little troubling. In an age when the press is alternately villain or hero, Pressman serves as a kind of medicine man of journalism, telling us how we got from there to here and warning us what must change.
Matthew Pressman helps us understand how we came to our current, troubled media moment with his deeply researched, engagingly written history of America’s press in the 1960s and ’70s. This is an important and original contribution—and a needed one.
My prayers for a new way to think about the so-called crisis over ‘trust’ in the press have been answered thanks to media scholar Matthew Pressman’s erudite new history…Pressman’s framing helps explain President Donald Trump’s broadsides against what he calls the ‘fake news’ and why measurements of trust in the news profession decline almost every time Gallup fires up a new poll.
Pressman details…the competing pressures [that] forced journalists to fundamentally recalibrate their work, reconsidering in turn core values like objectivity…[As] Pressman argues, it was a once-in-a-century sea change that both ushered in journalism as it’s understood today and foreshadowed the press corps’ current predicament.
Pressman shows…there was a purpose behind the old ideas of ‘objectivity’ and ‘fairness.’ At their best, journalists examine questions of genuine importance and offer citizens a chance to hear competing arguments on various sides of the issues at stake. This task includes pointing out when claims are at odds with the facts.
[A] really smart, trenchant look at the way that the news media has changed…Remarkable.
I very much recommend [On Press]…It’s about the rise of explanatory reporting, the changeover from journalism as really a kind of stenography, where they’re just reprinting speeches and press releases…to more interpretive reporting…Really terrific.
Well-researched, lucid, and engaging, On Press helps us understand attitudes toward the mass media (and, especially, financially strapped and embattled newspapers) in the Age of Trump.
Something dramatic changed in American journalism between 1960 and 1980, claims Matthew Pressman. Instead of just a bald catalogue of what politicians and officials were doing and saying, news coverage…began to reflect a distinctive set of values…On Press explores this decisive liberal turn and its enduring impact down to today.
An original, deeply researched, and engaging examination of the fundamental changes in American journalism from the 1960s up to the rise of the digital. An indispensable work.
An excellent account of where journalism has been, is now, and possibly will go in the twenty-first century. Pressman deftly demonstrates how print journalists decided that reporting the facts was no longer sufficient in an electronic age where interpretation and analysis of events were desperately needed.
Impressively well-researched…Presents a logical and compelling look at journalism past and present.
- 2019, Winner of the PROSE Awards
- 336 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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