For the 22nd episode of the Journalism History podcast, host Nick Hirshon spoke with Scott Peterson about the colorful news coverage of an 1860 match between John C. Heenan and Tom Sayers for the bare-knuckle boxing championship of the world.
An associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Peterson is the author of Reporting Baseball’s Sensational Season of 1890: The Brotherhood War and the Rise of Modern Sports Journalism.
This episode is sponsored by the Communication Department at William Paterson University.
Nick Hirshon: [00:00:10] Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to reexamine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told. I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, guiding you through our own drafts of history.
[00:00:27] This episode is sponsored by the Communication Department at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. Offering award-winning programs in journalism, broadcasting, and other areas, the department is committed to preparing its students for life in the professional world after graduation. Our greatest strength is helping you find yours. More information is at wpunj.edu.
[00:00:53] They were plucky prize fighters at the center of a media spectacle. John C. Heenan and Tom Sayers squared off for the bare knuckle boxing championship on April 17, 1860, at a time when such competitions were illegal in both of their home countries, the United States and England. People of all classes made the expensive train ride to see the match at a supposedly secret location on a field outside London. Alongside the rowdy spectators, which included everyone from pickpockets to police, were journalists covering the fight for prominent news publications of the period such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
[00:01:32] In this episode, we discuss Heenan versus Sayers with Scott Peterson of the University of Missouri at St. Louis, who studied news coverage of the bout for an article in the Spring 2019 issue of Journalism History. We also discussed Peterson’s other research on sports journalism, including his 2015 book, Reporting Baseball’s Sensational Season of 1890: The Brotherhood War and the Rise of Modern Sports Journalism. Scott, welcome to the Journalism History podcast.
Scott Peterson: [00:02:00] Thank you for asking me to be on.
Nick Hirshon: [00:02:03] Of course. So, we’re here to talk about your upcoming article in Journalism History, which is named, Muscular Hedonism versus Odor of Chivalry: A Critical Cultural Comparative Analysis of Illustrated Newspaper Coverage of an 1860 Boxing Match. And I’m interested in this subject for many reasons, first of all, because I’m a sports media historian myself, so I really want to get your insights there and just talk further about boxing as an important area of research. Before we jump into this particular topic, and I have a lot of specific questions for you about the players involved, I’d like to know what in general stoked your interest in sports media scholarship as something to pursue as your research agenda.
Scott Peterson: [00:02:45] That’s a good question. I started with an interest in sport literature and then soon branched out to sports journalism. And what I really like about it is the immediacy of it, and the line about journalism being the first draft of history. And the further I dug into it, the more it surprised me how slowly sport journalism grew in the United States in comparison to the sports media complex of today.
Nick Hirshon: [00:03:29] And then, obviously, you’ve pursued many other topics besides boxing and we’ve talked about your work on baseball, but is there something in particular about boxing that interests you?
Scott Peterson: [00:03:38] This was something that caught my eye while I was doing research in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. It seemed like a self-contained story. I was surprised about the amount of coverage that this boxing match got. And so, I was doing more general background information on the development of sports journalism in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. And so I completed that first article and then put it aside to complete the article and then came back to it.
Nick Hirshon: [00:04:12] So, let’s then dive in specifically to what you wrote about here. Your article focuses on a match between American boxer John C. Heenan and English champion Tom Sayers on April 17, 1860, and this match decided the bare knuckle boxing champion “of the world.” You put that in quotation marks and I’d like to get your thoughts on that in a second. But this was the first international boxing championship and your research found that it was the first prize fight to qualify as significant news on both sides of the Atlantic. So, can you just describe for our listeners first, who John C. Heenan and Tom Sayers were and why did this match seem so important in the lead-up to the fight – before we get to the actual day of the fight and what happened there – but in the lead-up, why were these figures significant in this event so significant?
Scott Peterson: [00:04:54] Sure. Sayers was a crowned champion in the sense that he had defeated all opponents and won the belt. So, he was the champion belt-holder in England. Heenan was more of a declared champion or actually a voluntary champion. He had fought a fighter, John Morrissey, who was recognized as the champion of America in 1858 and had lost that fight. Then when he challenged Morrissey to a rematch, Morrissey declined and retired. And so Heenan declared the championship of America by virtue of the fact that Morrissey refused the return fight but then also he answered the challenge of Sayers to cross the Atlantic and box or fight for the world championship. And again that sort of fight had not been offered before. So, both sides of the Atlantic, both England and the United States, became quite caught up and interested in that fight.
Nick Hirshon: [00:06:20] I mentioned before that you put “the world” in quotation marks, the bare knuckle boxing championship “of the world.” Why did you use quotation marks there?
Scott Peterson: [00:06:22] Well, it’s just two countries are involved. So, it didn’t take into account boxing champions anywhere else in the world. So, in a way, it’s maybe a little more expanded than the World Series is in the United States, right, for baseball, in the sense that until Canadian teams joined the league, it really was just the United States. So, it was a limited claim, I guess, for a world championship.
Nick Hirshon: [00:06:46] Sure, and of course you think about the world championship and we say in all these different sports that usually are just North American teams competing so that makes a lot of sense. So, in the fight itself, if you can kind of take us blow by blow, sorry to use that pun, but in this match itself what occurred?
Scott Peterson: [00:07:09] OK. So, boxing rules in 1860 were quite different than after the Queensbury Rules, which came into effect about 1877 or thereabouts. There was no set time limit for a round, a round lasted when somebody got knocked down and then they would retire, there were the rules.
Scott Peterson: [00:07:35] There’s no gloves, so with bare knuckles, and throwing and grabbing were both legal, in fact, you could get your opponent into a headlock. That was a move called chancery. In fact, you could get your opponent in a headlock and continue to punch him while he was in the headlock, which was the part of the fight, I think, that really bothered the genteel cultural gatekeepers of the time. The only rule in bare knuckle boxing, curiously enough, was that you could not hit your opponent when he was on the ground. So, if the opponent was on the ground you had to back off. And actually that’s usually when the round ended. So, this fight lasted 42 rounds and Sayers, who was undersized in the sense that Heenan had him by weight, by reach, and by height, so he’s a bit of an undersized champion compared to Heenan, also hurt his hand early in the fight. So he was boxing with almost one hand for much of the fight and there’s a key round in 37 or 38, accounts vary, but Heenan got Sayers into chancery.
[00:09:01] So, he had him in the headlock and it looked like the fight was going to end in that round. And what happened was some of the English spectators cut the ropes and rushed into the ring to stop it. And the speculation is they cut the ropes because they were about to lose their bets. And so the fight stopped momentarily. Order was restored. And it went on for another four or five rounds to round 42 or 43, again, depending on the accounts, and then it was declared a draw. And so that’s how it ended. Heenan wanted a rematch or a belt, and it wasn’t granted. Ultimately, they were declared co-champions and toured together, both in England and in the United States. It’s kind of a — I don’t know — goodwill tour. But they toured together and drew large crowds of people coming out to see both co-champions.
Nick Hirshon: [00:10:20] And that’s incredible to think about – fans actually disrupting a match and having such an effect on the outcome. Was that something that was common in the period?
Scott Peterson: [00:10:24] I don’t think so. All the accounts that I read were surprised by it. And also, interestingly enough, it was the upper-class English gentlemen who cut the ropes. There was a big class division and in fact the site was supposed to be secret because again, prizefighting is illegal in both countries. So, they had to go to a secret site where they wouldn’t be disrupted by the police and there was a special train priced at three pounds, which was supposed to be enough to keep the pickpockets from getting on the train. It didn’t work because the pickpockets were still there, but it was supposed to be limiting the audience. It was just the upper class and the well-to-do who could afford that high fare. And so the speculation is that it was the upper-class Englishmen who cut the ropes. And there was enough of a stigma against being a boxing fan that in some cases if those fans would be identified, they would lose social status for being identified as boxing fans. So, there was a pretty high social stigma against boxing or prize fighting at this time.
Nick Hirshon: [00:11:50] And that became a key aspect of your study here because you were looking at period coverage of the fight in two different publications. I’d like for you to tell us a little bit about each of these. So, the first I’d like to go over is Harper’s Weekly, which was published from 1857 until 1916 and it’s probably best known for its coverage of the American Civil War, the political cartoons of Thomas Nast, who’s credited with popularizing although not creating the Republican elephant and the Democratic donkey, some other famous symbols. So, what can you tell us about Harper’s Weekly at this time in 1860? What was it known for in the period? What was its scope and its readership?
Scott Peterson: [00:12:27] OK. Sure. Harper’s Weekly was started after Frank Leslie started his weekly in 1855, and so it’s a direct competitor in one regard. It was illustrated. Its audience was a little bit different in that the Harper brothers were also interested in selling their books, advertising and promoting their books in their weekly. And so the audience was a little above class-wise, upper middle, and tended to be very political but also not so controversial. So, they kind of held the genteel cultural gatekeeper line of the time while once again promoting their books and hoping to sell them to their audience.
Nick Hirshon: [00:13:26] And the other publication that you looked at in the study that you just alluded to was Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and that was a literary news magazine found in 1855 and published until 1922. It was started by the publisher and illustrator Henry Carter. As you describe in your article, he later changed his name to Frank Leslie. And the pages contained many vivid reports and illustrations, earlier on with wood engravings and daugerrotypes, later with photography. So, the reason why I saved Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper for after Harper’s Weekly is because it seemed to be a much more colorful, interesting paper. A longer answer you’ll give us here if you can tell us a little bit about the scope now of Frank Leslie’s.
Scott Peterson: [00:14:04] Yes. So, Frank Leslie started with a ladies magazine and a romance magazine after he emigrated from England to the United States and changed his name as you mentioned. And then he started his Illustrated Weekly. Even though he didn’t have strong support by his backers, he went ahead with it. It was a struggle. But he thought of it as a weekly news supplement and the key draw was the illustrated aspect of it. And as you noted it started with wood prints, a process that was speeded up a little bit over its course. And then of course when we get to 1895 we get the halftone revolution and it becomes much less expensive to run photographs. Prior to that they would use photographs as the basis for the wood print. But also, there was – one thing I noted was the various levels of accuracy of the illustrations. But that again was the primary selling point. So, even though the news wasn’t fresh, the visual aspect of it was unique and new, and that was the draw to Frank Leslie’s.
Nick Hirshon: [00:15:32] And now that you’ve established the differences in the philosophies of these two different competing news publications, it’s interesting for us to consider how they would have covered an event like this and you were describing the backdrop of sports sometimes being a little bit taboo to cover, certainly boxing in this period. And I think in the history of sports journalism there is a lot of this happening, where there’s a sport that is new and comes in and is maybe viewed as being violent and brutal. Certainly it happened with boxing and probably with a lot of different sports that we are associated with today – wrestling, MMA. But this was kind of happening at the same time as boxing is trying to gain this wider acceptance as a sport, as a legitimate sport still associated with gambling and truancy and all these sorts of problems. So what was the different sort of philosophy that you figured going into this study that Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s would have to covering a boxing match like this one?
Scott Peterson: [00:16:24] Sure. So Harper’s Weekly, wanting to not offend its upper-middle-class audience, took a very strong stance against boxing. And even though this match was an international match, covered it only sporadically, only mentioned it sporadically prior to the match itself, whereas Frank Leslie’s started covering it in March with a lot of fanfare and illustration. So, it was clear that Leslie was interested in reaching the fight audience, although he identified two audiences. He said one audience was the one that wanted to bet on the match, and the other audience was more interested in the larger, what he called philosophical elements, including the battle between England and the United States, or they kind of elevated it into an international issue and brought nationalism into the equation.
Nick Hirshon: [00:17:40] And then when you look at the way that they particularly covered it, and in your study you describe obviously the difference in the illustrations, but it also seemed that Frank Leslie had more of a vested interest here in seeing boxing do well and selling sports journalism because that was sort of the tenor of his publication. So, any specific things you can tell us from within that coverage? The specific types of illustrations or the way they were describing certain actions that differentiated the coverage in Harper’s and Frank Leslie’s and how that might have differed from your initial impressions of what was going to turn up in your findings?
Scott Peterson: [00:18:20] Yeah, I guess from my other research in Frank Leslie’s, I had a sense that Leslie was aimed more at a middle-class audience in contrast to Harper’s and so I was looking for instances of whether or not that would be borne out. It was interesting to me that Leslie came out strong against boxing in 1858 with the Morrissey-Heenan match, and so this is a little bit of a reversal, and you could even see in their early coverage of the Heenan fight, where he’s talking about the negative aspects of Heenan’s background, there was some question as to whether or not he had a customs house job. And there was some question as to whether or not that was legitimate or he was actually a political operator, an arm puncher, I think was the term that was used, in the sense that he would go out and encourage citizens to vote the party line by punching them in the arms and probably other places as well. But it was more of a — he was muscle for the political machine and so that aspect comes up in the early coverage in March and then it disappears as if Leslie realizes, Wait a minute, there’s money to be made here. People are excited about this fight. I could build this audience and I could obviously profit as well, as he profited from say, the swill milk scandal that he covered the year before.
Nick Hirshon: [00:20:18] And this is a kind of topic that I think even sports journalists today find a little bit uncomfortable about how their own success, the attention that they’re going to receive as professional journalists is often tied so closely to the success of the sports they cover and specifically the success of the teams that they may be assigned to. So, how were you seeing this play out? Was there this level of discomfort from some journalists of the period of, Well, I still have to maintain my objectivity and neutrality and fairness and I shouldn’t be rooting for this match to do well or for a certain participant to do better than the other, or is there more of a, Well, we just need to make money so we want to make this sport seem as popular as possible so we keep increasing readership and sales of our publications?
Scott Peterson: [00:21:01] Yes, the journals were a little bit all over the place in the sense that some of them were saying things like, ‘Well, boxing does encourage discipline. A fighter has to focus on a fight and train well and eat well and avoid the usual dissipations.’ And so they’re trying to say that there are some positive aspects to it. And then there are others that basically take the line of, It’s an evil and the only thing it can do is bring other evil and so there’s nothing redeeming about it at all. And once again Leslie seems to be walking that line at least initially, and then you can almost see the point where he goes all in. He started covering it on March 10, and that’s when he sent an artist to England to start working on illustrations, and then a week later he sent a sporting writer to begin sending back written reports. And so with those investments you can see that it’s becoming more expensive to him but he’s also realizing that there’s an audience, I think that there’s an audience for this. And so he’s again spent the money to send these to the reporter and the illustrator to start sending back material.
Nick Hirshon: [00:22:24] And it seems like some of the journalists at the time were self-aware about what was happening. So, they were a little bit maybe skeptical of the way that Frank Leslie is breathlessly describing what occurred here. And you cite this New York Times editorial which actually inspired the title of your article, “muscular hedonism,” that appears two days after the five editions arrive from London and attacked the notion of sporting culture and there’s a line in here that makes me laugh, about your research in particular, where you quote, ‘The leading English in American journals of March and April 1860 will be a curious thing for the historian in the year 2000.’ So, they got that a little bit off. It took you a little bit longer than the year 2000. But you got around to it not too far after that. So, there was some sort of introspection I guess in certain corners of the industry at least the gold standard of journalism, the New York Times, is feeling a little bit uncomfortable about the way this match is being reported?
Scott Peterson: [00:23:22] Yes. Again, they kind of were on both sides in the sense that some of the editorials talked about the positive elements and some of them took the genteel cultural gatekeeper line and had nothing good to say about it. I think at one point they reported that Queen Victoria was taken with John Heenan, thought he cut a fine figure. So, it’s interesting the both sides that they mentioned in the New York Times.
Nick Hirshon: [00:23:51] So then the relationship that you see between sports and journalists and how that has changed, since you study multiple sports, and obviously in this study you were talking about boxing, but you’ve been a prolific researcher of baseball as well. How have you seen this play out over time? My sense is from looking at literature that a lot of sports begin this way. They are initially viewed with a lot of skepticism, too violent, something fresh and new that seems scary to the populace and is kind of existing on the fringes, and then slowly gains acceptance and the media plays a pretty big role in that. When you start seeing it in the newspapers and on television, it seems more legitimate. But have you seen this kind of trend play out throughout the history of sports journalism in the United States?
Scott Peterson: [00:24:59] Yes. In Frank Leslie’s in particular, we get this large story and long-running story. There’s a great amount of coverage from March until the end of May on this boxing match, and then virtually very little. It’s sporadic sports coverage after that. When I looked for baseball journalism or baseball coverage in Leslie’s and there was two illustrations in 1865. They did run a series of profiles with illustrations in 1866. I guess it’s not a big surprise there wasn’t a lot of coverage during the Civil War. And then after that there’s not much visual coverage in Leslie’s of baseball until 1880 and even then it tends to be more coverage of college athletics, college baseball, or it’s clear that the editors are more interested in the audience than the game itself. So, there’s very little background on who won the game or the players.
[00:26:11] And so I call it the curiosity shop, at least within the framework of Leslie’s, in the sense that there’s not a lot of interest and it’s kind of treated as something that, oh yes, this sporting match occurred and here are the scores, but very little other than that. And even the illustrations tended to be very low-level sketches as opposed to high-level, highly accurate illustrations. It really wasn’t until 1895 that Leslie’s seemed to show a lot of interest in sports. There was a weekly column about amateur athletics. I think that’s the key point. In the upper class, there’s a lot of hesitancy about professional sports, right, because professional sports brings gamblers and with gamblers comes fixing. And so there’s a lot of resistance to the idea of professional sport. So Leslie’s will cover amateur athletics on a weekly basis with a column and talk about college football and crew and track, but he will avoid professional sports. There was an instance, a couple instances, where he covered the America’s Cup too, and basically did the same sort of coverage that he did for the 1860 boxing match with the America’s Cup. But he was also a yacht owner, so there was a vested interest. He didn’t have a yacht racing, but he was interested in yacht racing.
Nick Hirshon: [00:27:49] So, beyond journalists’ reaction to what Frank Leslie was doing here, was there any feedback you saw from those within the sport? Were people grateful that Leslie’s is doing this breathtaking coverage of every blow and maybe awakening more interest or adding legitimacy? Were people upset with the fact that he’s calling attention to the way the fans broke into the ring and disrupted everything? How were people responding in the time, the readers and the actual people in the boxing community, how did they feel about this coverage?
Scott Peterson: [00:28:24] That’s a good question. I did not have much of a sense of a response by the boxing community. I did have a sense that it seemed to be that the New York Times or even Harper’s were both alluding to the extended coverage of the boxing match by Leslie’s and they seemed to be chiding him a little bit for encouraging that sort of audience by feeding them this information. Again, their thought was the less said about it the better and here he is giving all sorts of information week by week, only taking a week off for Easter. Curiously enough, there was no boxing coverage on the issue that are in the issue that came out on April 7, which was the day before Easter, so I guess he took a week off there. Yeah, the boxing community seemed to be pretty quiet overall, I would say. But then again, they didn’t have as much direct access to the media as athletes do today, also.
Nick Hirshon: [00:29:37] I’m wondering when you’re looking for sources for this sort of article, and we can talk a little bit more broadly here, obviously you can go to period newspaper coverage, which you’ve described in detail. Are you trying to look for any other sort of archive? It’s a little bit difficult, I imagine, when entities like Frank Leslie’s and Harper’s Weekly no longer publish, so maybe they’re not keeping archives, maybe people did not leave, for example, letters, memos, journals, things that would give you a sense of their personal feelings at the time, about what they were covering. Some of these boxers, I’m not sure if you were looking for any of their personal papers somewhere, but what is the extent of your search when you’re embarking on that kind of a project?
Scott Peterson: [00:30:23] Well, I was interested a lot in the visual development of sports journalism as well as the coverage. And so I didn’t go too deeply into the archival. One of the things that has occurred to me at this point as a future direction might be to go to George Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times, which was one of the few publications devoted to sports and sporting events in the United States and see what sort of differences there are. I think it was illustrated, but anyway, that would be a good thing for me to check into for future research.
Nick Hirshon: [00:31:12] I was gonna ask you about it. It seems like there is a bit of a cottage industry of people looking at publications of this era. They were so fanciful, they’re whimsical kind of illustrations and so graphic. So, Frank Leslie seems to be a pretty popular topic there and I imagine that it’s gained a lot of interest in the community. But one thing that is a little bit less common, I suppose, is to focus on sports journalism in general. And just as you were describing as sports was somewhat taboo for journalists to cover in the 1860s, particularly boxing, I sometimes get the impression as a sports media historian that it might not be taken seriously as a research topic, and that sometimes we have to make an extra argument and make sure that it is particularly rigorous in its method and theory and so forth because there’s a little bit of a concern, well, it’s not as sophisticated as covering political journalism or wartime journalism and many other sorts of topics. So, what have you found in that regard when you’re going about doing this sort of research and making these conference presentations, trying to gain acceptance from a journal like Journalism History? Is there a little bit of an extra chip on your shoulder, or how do you try to make that argument that sports journalism is worth this kind of scholarship?
Scott Peterson: [00:32:32] Yeah. It’s a little bit harder to make that that argument for the early 19th century or middle 19th century compared to today, right, that the sports media complex today is so huge and there’s so much money and there’s an audience that is very large. We’re looking at having over one hundred million people watch the Super Bowl. So, Frank Leslie crows about selling 347,000 copies of his fight issue, which he claimed was the largest numbers of a single issue ever sold in North America or Europe. And I don’t know how he decided that. So the way I approach this is to look at the development of sports journalism, try to go back to the early days and once again, it surprises me how sporadic the coverage is or how limited it is. In contrast or actually parallel, coverage of baseball in the 1850s is more interested once again in the equipages, there’s a famous all-star game in New York in 1858, and the newspaper account spends much more time talking about the carriages that the various clubs used to arrive, almost a red carpet sort of situation. They’re more interested in what they rode in than the game itself. The game itself gets two very brief paragraphs. So, again, our idea of sports journalism, sports fans, you can really kind of see that developing in the 19th century and that’s the angle that I try to take in my research.
Nick Hirshon: [00:34:33] And as you say, now sports is such a dominant part of culture so that people who ignore it, it’s at their own peril, right, because it has become something that people gather around the television or I guess now the laptop, the tablet, whatever, to watch in great numbers. But also, there is an element as you were just talking there about the kind of red carpet arrival of the baseball players at the all-star game in their carriages. There is sometimes the criticism of this celebrity culture and that the focus isn’t on the strategy of the sport and exactly how this team is going to win or analysis of the plays in the games as much as building up people as superstars and focusing on these kinds of manufactured, sometimes cliché storylines. So, what do you see there as far as how far we have come from the way Frank Leslie might have been reporting on this boxing match in 1860 to 2019 — the way sports journalists cover, for example, boxing today or any other sport?
Scott Peterson: [00:35:41] I can maybe speak to baseball journalism a little better than boxing. This boxing article is a little bit of a sidelight for me. My primary research is in baseball journalism. But again, looking at Frank Leslie’s and Harper’s and how little professional sports were covered and then my book about the 1890 baseball season looking at the sporting life journalism. But when I was doing background research for that, once again, I saw that Frank Leslie’s covered baseball and that whole year, only twice once was on a montage talking about the opening of the season and he showed the two parks in New York side by side. But there was no game action and it was more, once again, more interested in the audience or the fans than the baseball itself, and there was a parallel story montage about the college championship between —
[00:36:49] But again once again he was more interested in the two schools and the different cheers for the two schools and what the co-eds wore for the two schools and there was one other mention of spring training. And then Harper’s I don’t think mentioned professional baseball at all, even though there is this very significant labor war going on between the Player’s League and the National League and to a lesser extent the American Association. But even then to get back to the idea of celebrity, the three writers I covered in the book, Henry Chadwick, Tim Murnane, and Ella Black, were all aware of this growing celebrity status of baseball players, so they are also aware of their own role in the telling of the stories of the season. But I think one of things that I found very interesting there was they were beginning to see that there was there was a celebrity status that was developing for the players. And then as you can imagine, that continues to grow and carries on into the 1920s, which would be the golden age of sports journalism where we have writers like Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon and, to a lesser extent, Ring Lardner, who wasn’t writing as much in baseball journalism by that point, starting to recognize the celebrity status and actually actively promote the celebrity status of professional baseball players and professional athletes in general.
Nick Hirshon: [00:38:27] And since you have this great historical perspective on baseball journalism, I’m curious what you think about the modern age of journalism on social media, especially on places like Twitter, and we see so many tweets that seem to be, as they say, clickbait, kind of the Frank Leslie style of having a really attractive image or a headline that overhypes, exaggerates something that is going to happen. So, what do you make of that as you’re, I’m sure, still following sports actively today and how – the way that journalists may try to play up their own tweets because they want to get the clicks, they want to get the retweets and the favorites? So, are you still seeing some of those effects play out today?
Scott Peterson: [00:39:14] Sure. It’s interesting to think about the old penny press and the penny press printing about anything just to get people to buy a paper, and you look at things, like you say, the clickbait on social media, and sometimes it’s hard not to make a comparison there. One of the things I think is really interesting about today’s social media and athletes is the athletes themselves are, if they choose to be the actual authors of their social media posts, obviously we can talk about in some cases they’re written by ghost writers, are more directly connected to the fans and it’s almost as if the sports writers and the sports journalists are removed from the equation.
[00:40:02] One of the things that is interesting though is talking to the sports journalists of the 50s and 60s and 70s, before free agency in baseball, they were able to have more of a relationship and more of a rapport because the money didn’t separate them and the players really relied on the journalists to be their connection to the public. And now with social media, the players can cut out the sports writers and interact with their fans directly, which I think is very interesting.
Nick Hirshon: [00:40:41] And of course you have outlets now like the Player’s Tribune where articles can be written by the athlete, or as you say a ghost writer, directly appealing to the fans through their own publication, not just on social media, but having their own outlet to present their point of view and write a guest column, so to speak, that skips right over the traditional news media and kind of puts that power in their hands. Just to move on to the subculture that you and I are both in here of being sports media historians, again, this kind of small brotherhood that we have, I know that you yourself are involved in some organizations and conferences, publications, that are specifically geared towards sports and media history. So, this particular piece of research that you’ve done is going to be in Journalism History. But if you can talk about some of the other organizations and colleagues that you have that are doing some work to bring more attention to this sort of important scholarship.
Scott Peterson: [00:41:39] Sure. I belong to the organization that breeds Nine, which is the Journal of Historical and Sociological Impact of Baseball. And so they have a conference every year in Phoenix and they have a great range of topics treating baseball. Another organization that I belong to the Sport Literature Association, and that organization publishes a journal called Athlon, that publishes sport literature including fiction. And also I happen to be the fiction editor for Athlon and we publish poetry but we also publish articles about sport literature — sport literature writ large, so poetry, fiction, but also movies, plays, TV shows, so again, that’s sport literature writ large. Those are the two primary organizations that I belong to there will be additional outlets.
Nick Hirshon: [00:42:46] That’s terrific, and I’m glad that you’re part of this movement to show how important this can be for American history in a larger sense beyond just for sports fanatics. And then just to close out our discussion today, we always end the podcast with this question, why does journalism history matter? Again, it’s something that you have devoted a lot of your work on. Why do you think journalism history matters to history in general?
Scott Peterson: [00:43:15] Well, again, going back to the idea of journalism as the first line being written in history. And again it’s the immediacy, I think, that’s really important, you get the human element, you get the sense of, somebody at that time was reacting to the story this way. And so you’re really close to the person who was there when it happened. And I think that’s one of the important components. And the other thing from my research is I like to think about the development of something as important as sport journalism or sports journalism, depending on which approach you want to take, the importance of seeing how that developed across time and how we got here. It often surprises me where we came from at various points in that development.
Nick Hirshon: [00:44:18] Well said. Well, thank you so much for taking out the time to talk to us today. I really appreciate this conversation, again, as someone who does this kind of sports research. It’s great to speak to my research brethren here and to get to hear all of your views. Thanks again, Scott, for appearing on the Journalism History podcast.
Scott Peterson: [00:44:34] Thank you, Nick. Thank you once again for asking me.
Nick Hirshon: [00:44:37] Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Journalism History podcast, and additional thanks to our sponsor, the Communication Department at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow: Good night, and good luck.