Journal founder Reilly championed inclusion

The featured image above is the cover of the Winter 1974-1975 Journalism History, a special issue dedicated to research on women in journalism history.

By Erika Pribanic-Smith

Upon Tom Reilly’s death 2002, his California State University Northridge (CSUN) colleague Susan Henry wrote that his greatest gift was “his vision of the field of journalism history and of the kind of work scholars might produce once they had a new publication outlet.” [1]

Henry, who edited Journalism History from 1985-1991, explained that journalism historians prior to 1974 had two potential outlets for their work, neither of which was ideal. Journalism Quarterly occasionally ran historical articles, and historical journals published articles on journalism “only infrequently.” Henry wrote, “Such limited publishing venues did little to encourage research on the history of the mass media, and they tended to restrict the topics studied and approaches utilized to those that clearly would ‘fit’ within these journals.” [1]

A new journal is born

Thus, Reilly launched Journalism History in 1974. According to an editorial in the first issue, the journal spent 18 months “on the drawing board” before it became a reality. Though unsigned, Reilly presumably wrote the essay, which stated, “The publication has come into existence primarily to provide a new channel for expanding general knowledge, interest, and research in the history of journalism and mass communication.” [2]

The non-profit California State University Foundation published the journal, in cooperation with the CSUN Department of Journalism. By the second issue, Reilly also had secured funding from the American Association of Schools and Departments of Journalism, which he indicated would help as the journal moved toward its target of 1,000 subscribers. “With continuing support from our friends in the profession,” he wrote, “we are hopeful we will be able to maintain a quality journal which will prove useful, lively and informative.” [3]

Making journalism history inclusive

From the beginning, Reilly emphasized scholarly rigor, though manuscripts were short. He encouraged authors to limit their work to 3,500 words so each issue could include more articles. The journal welcomed submissions on “the full range of the historical development of American media.” It sought topics that focused on people, institutions, events, and movements and called for explanation of political, social, and economic context.

In particular, Reilly encouraged articles on the role of minorities in the development of journalism, because of “the need for more published work in the area.” [2] Henry said the journal produced special issues on previously-neglected areas of journalism history such as women, Spanish-language media, the African-American press, Native Americans and the media, and the frontier press, and it carried numerous articles on topics not addressed in other journals. “This exciting accumulation of research played an immeasurable role in making our field more inclusive,” Henry wrote. [1]

Reilly was hard-working and dedicated to the journal’s success, running the journal’s business office himself, locating the visuals that contributed to Journalism History’s visually striking design, creating the layouts, and overseeing the tedious production process at the CSUN student newspaper office. Henry stated that Reilly’s decision to format the journal in letter-size pages with eye-catching images was intended to attract more readers and submissions, though it made his job more demanding. [1]

Reilly’s worldwide contributions

Published posthumously, War with Mexico! highlights Reilly’s research on the Mexican War.

Reilly’s contributions to the field extended beyond his founding of and tireless work for Journalism History. He also co-founded the West Coast Journalism Historians Association and coordinated its conference programs in the late 1970s. An expert on the antebellum press and particularly its role in the Mexican-American War, he authored conference papers presented at several history and journalism conferences, including AEJMC national and regional meetings. [4] He also penned several journal articles, including a Journalism History piece on the New Orleans Mexican War press (published after he retired as editor). [5]


Outside of the journalism history community, Reilly is remembered for other important contributions. Prior to joining the CSUN faculty in 1969, Reilly was an Army information specialist, a reporter and editor at the Van Nuys News and an active Peace Corps volunteer. In the Peace Corps, he served as a mass communications consultant to the Family Planning Department of Bombay, India. He returned multiple times to India, and in 1977, he had a private interview with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He also served as an adviser to a Chinese news agency and spoke to journalists and journalism students throughout China. [4]

At CSUN, Reilly served twice as head of the journalism department and is credited with rebuilding it “physically, emotionally, and academically” after a destructive earthquake in 1994. [4] Moreover, he developed CSUN’s Urban Archives with material documenting Los Angeles history, including the history of labor, politics, minorities, women, and education. [1]

The Tom Reilly Collection

CSUN’s Special Collections library holds Reilly’s own papers. According to the finding aid, the collection includes personal correspondence and professional records; research materials, articles, and book drafts written by Reilly; and his personal rare manuscript and publications collection. Listed among Reilly’s professional documents are administrative records, editorial files, submissions, and book reviews from his time as editor of Journalism History, as well as unpublished papers he collected from other historians who presented at AEJMC conferences from 1962-1981.


[1] Susan Henry, “Tom Reilly (1935-2002),” Journalism History 28, 2 (Summer 2002): 55.

[2] “Journalism History, No. 1,” Journalism History 1, 1 (Spring 1974): 34.

[3] “Thank You, AASDJ,” Journalism History 1, 2 (Summer 1974): 35.

[4] “Noted Journalism Historian Tom Reilly, Former Chair of CSUN’s Journalism Department, Has Died,” California State University Northridge press release, May 7, 2002; accessed at Peace Corps Online.

[5] Tom Reilly, “The New Orleans War Press, 1846-1848,” Journalism History 13, 3-4 (1986): 86-95.


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