Atkins podcast: Your Paper Saved Seattle

podcastlogoFor the 28th episode of the Journalism History podcast, host Will Mari spoke with Aaron Atkins about the role of E.W. Scripps and one of his pillar newspapers, the Seattle Star, in the General Strike of 1919.

Atkins is a doctoral candidate in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He is the author of “Your Paper Saved Seattle: E.W. Scripps and the Star’s Role in the General Strike of 1919″ in the June 2019 issue of Journalism History.

This episode is sponsored by Routledge.


Will Mari [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, Dr. Will Mari, guiding you through our own drafts of history.

[00:00:23] This episode is sponsored by Routledge, the world’s leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences. Each year, Routledge publishes thousands of books and journals, serving scholars, instructors, and professional communities worldwide.

[00:00:38] In this episode of the podcast, I interview Aaron Atkins, a PhD candidate in the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University about his upcoming article in Journalism History on the role of E.W. Scripps at one of his pillar newspapers, The Seattle Star, and the general strike of 1919. Aaron Atkins, welcome to the show.

Aaron Atkins [00:00:58] Thank you very much.

Will Mari [00:01:00] I’m excited to talk to you about your article in Journalism History. But before we get into that, I just would like to help set the scene for those who maybe have not read the paper or have not seen your research elsewhere. Could you tell me a bit more about what was happening with the general strike of 1919 and what did that look like in Seattle? And maybe also as you get started, talk about what drew you to the topic to begin with.

Aaron Atkins [00:01:23] Yeah. Well, what drew me to the topic was essentially one of the courses we have at Ohio University, there’s a journalism history course, and it’s taught by the legendary Mike Sweeney. And I had the opportunity to take that course and that was the first time I’d ever taken a journalism history course or really done any journalism history research. And I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was really kind of drawn towards the idea of telling a narrative, of course, using evidence. But a lot of what I do previously deals with numbers, experimentation, and data collection and analysis and statistics and being able to look back and get my hands on historical data, series of historical documents, or artifacts and then use them to tell a historical story was what I was kind of interested in and then just kind of fell in my lap.

[00:02:19] Dr. Sweeney kind of turned me on to the fact that we, at the Scripps School, have a library with a massive collection of E.W. Script personal letters, essays, newspaper articles, business receipts, all these kinds of different things that had largely been, not necessarily ignored, we have a special collection here, but they were kind of working toward digitizing some of the content. There are some three hundred thousand, I can’t remember the actual number, between two hundred, three hundred thousand actual individual pieces and maybe 3000 of them have been combed through and digitized. And some other people have gone through the collection. But a lot of it has just not really been sorted through and so what I wanted to do is because I’m actually in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, I wanted to get an idea of who this person was.

[00:03:08] There’s an interesting anecdote. There’s a bronze bust right outside the journalism school of Scripps and one of the little traditions we have is every time somebody walks past that bust, kind of rub the nose for good luck so to speak. They kind of wanted to learn a little bit more about this guy. And so when the opportunity came I decided to go hang out in the library and see what was what by reading his personal letters and getting a few supplies. But I just kind of happened to stumble across the general strike. One of the one of the discussions that we have and when we talk about Scripps is how his newspaper chain was largely built on supporting the working class or providing news content for the working class, content they could actually afford.

[00:03:59] And so you see a lot of coverage that really kind of supports labor unions, that support the working class, that kind of tackle some of the issues that were largely ignored or passed over by some other publications. And had a very, very pro-union, pro working class feel to it. And I was really interested in Scripps who was a notorious penny pincher. And so in certain cases to the extreme, his personal relationship with the working class was that I was really kind of trying to focus on and to do that I tried to track down a labor dispute that directly affected one of his newspapers. And of course where I’m from, Ohio, so I kind of looked at some of the things around here in Cleveland and Cincinnati and I didn’t really find one that I can directly point to that he himself kind of engaged with in some regard or that negatively affected his bottom line is the key. And then I just happened to come across a document when I was looking through his collection that kind of pointed to Seattle.

[00:05:02] And then from there I looked at The Seattle Star’s coverage of the general strike then realized that the documents reflected that coverage. And that’s where the idea for the paper came from. But Dr. Sweeney, when it was one of those works in progress, really kind of looked at me and said, ‘You’re kind of building the boat around you as you’re drowning.’ He was right about that. But ultimately it was a treasure trove of information, it came together spectacularly. But to set it straight for the strike itself, it was the first city wide multi union labor action to receive a general strike designation in the United States. And there have been several labor union strikes that were specific to a specific union or a specific industry but this one encompassed every level, almost every labor union in the city itself.

[00:05:54] So, when this strike took place, the entire city kind of ground to a halt. Transportation, the shipyards were shut down. So, it was kind of a big deal for the city and we never really seen anything like this in the United States. So, the strikers themselves, during World War I there was a bit of a wage freeze during the war where shipyard workers could not receive raises, their wages remained the same, they were largely stagnant more or less. But it was kind of agreed upon that this was a thing, this wasn’t just unique to Seattle though, this was a national hiring freeze, wage freeze. Since Seattle at the time had the largest shipyard in the country and was providing ships for the war efforts, it became a pretty searing issue there. As the cost of living was going up, their wages weren’t going up and they’re kind of struggling as a result. So, more than thirty five thousand shipyard workers began the strike, which kind of spread to other industries in the city from there. And it was estimated that around sixty five thousand workers in total participated in the strike and it impacted businesses all over the city. It was a peaceful strike and it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t a violent protest or anything along those lines. But the strike ultimately ended without the wage increase that the strikers were looking for, which was interesting because in the paper I kind of talk about that the Massey board, the hiring freeze was scheduled for about two years and about two months after the strike was ended. The freeze was scheduled to end anyway. So, ultimately they got their raise but it wasn’t necessarily a result of the strike itself.

Will Mari [00:07:47] Yeah, it’s kind of a Pyrrhic victory in a way kind of a sad after effect, of all that effort of the strikers, military, not responding to it. Interesting.

Aaron Atkins [00:07:59] The shipbuilding industry was Seattle’s largest industry at the time and during the war it significantly expanded its output to cover the wartime shipping orders. The labor force increased but with the increase in the labor force it also increased the power of the labor unions. And over the course of two years as this hiring freeze is in place there was a little bit of a power adjustment and it came to a point where the unions felt they had enough power to really kind of take on the industry and take on the structure that was in place.

Will Mari [00:08:35] Yeah, there was a lot of moving parts. I feel that they came together in this particular story and I wonder how Scripps made his way into this. He does seem very large in your account, he is very interested in this strike and also in his paper, but maybe tell me more about how he comes into this particular story as a character.

Aaron Atkins [00:08:55] Well, Scripps himself was in semi-retirement about this time. He had a series of medical and what we know now are psychological issues, kind of dealing with stress. He had a few anxiety attacks. And he kind of went into semi-retirement as a result of that. So, at the time this was taking place he had purchased a yacht and was floating off the coast of Florida. When you have that kind of money and power, you just buy a yacht and relax and conduct your multi-national and your multi-state empire via letter correspondence because that’s what you do. But it was really, really interesting, and as I was reading through his letters that he was posting around this time, he was corresponding with his family, with his wife, who at the time he was kind of having a bit of a disagreement with, his sons, and his daughter, and his business partners, his attorneys. He corresponded with the president of the United States, several war leaders, just kind of keeping abreast of things. So, while he was in semi-retirement, he very much was still kind of managing his business interests, managing his newspaper empire. And while he wasn’t kind of hands on with the day to day editorial policy or what was going to run and what wasn’t going to run, he very much still had a stranglehold on that.

[00:10:19] So, he was kind of moving the pieces around via mail correspondence, which took a long time. So, when I was initially trying to read his letters in context of the strike, I went back about three months and pushed ahead to three months to give the postal service time to do its job. So, when he got word of the strike itself, of course, he was interested in labor unions and he had covered in the past the various others in the newspapers. But he was particularly interested in this one because he got word that the editor of The Seattle Star, Byron Canfield, had essentially hijacked his business model and turned the paper itself, which was historically in the following the business model, a pro-union pro-labor, pro working class newspaper, into a mouthpiece more of the mayor of Seattle. I don’t know if I’m getting this pronunciation right, Ole Hanson, but that’s kind of how I refer to him. But I’ve only seen tit in print, I’ve never actually heard it spoken out. But so he essentially turned it into a voice for the industry and a voice for the mayor of Seattle and for the governments against the unions, against the general strike, and against its mission and purpose. Which was something that completely ran counter to the business model that Scripps created and kind of helped.

[00:11:56] And when he got wind of this via letter, he issued a couple of really angry responses and wrote one of his disquisitions or essays about the incident and kind of his pushback against Canfield. He kind of had this feeling that Canfield as editor was pretty much spitting in the face of his life’s work. And that was not a problem for him. That’s how he kind of entered into it. So, over the course of his career he fought for a chain of or an empire if you will, cheap newspapers for working class Americans. He didn’t really like corporate advertisers. He was in favor of building his empire off of subscriptions as opposed to being beholden to advertisers who may or may not be able to use their advertising purchases to influence coverage. That was one of his major fears. But it did limit his publication in terms of number of pages and content. But the kind of effort that by purchasing newspapers all over the country in markets that were underserved or rather where it wasn’t really competing with Hearst or Pulitzer. But he was known as only a handful of newspaper editors who supported and advocated for the formation of labor unions and supported their actions whenever they were active in push back against the establishment. Despite his regular assertions on behalf of the working class, this kind of goes into one of the things I talk about in the paper is that Scripps by nature is very contradictory in a lot of what he does. He was very, very supportive of labor unions and the working class but he scrimped and treated his workers fairly badly.

[00:13:48] There’s a notorious story where one time He refused to pay for what he considered luxuries for his employees that the rest of us kind of consider ordinary office supplies, such as water and ice and pencils, lunches or dinners for those who work extra hours. And there’s a story that kind of goes where he refused to buy toilet paper for his newspaper offices and Gerald Baldasty writes about this in his book. And that’s one of the places that I found it where he didn’t buy toilet paper for a long period of time and as reporters started using the newspaper copy itself and ended up clogging all the pipes in the building and had to call plumbers when the pipes burst and he ended up being a lot more money than he would have you actually profitable in the first place. So, you kind of see a little bit of a dichotomy there between supporting the working class and then very plainly not supporting his own workers who are part of the working class.

[00:14:54] So, that’s one of the reasons that this story is so interesting is that this dichotomy plays out. Scripps, maybe he was personally horrified by the working class and he didn’t like being near them. He didn’t like rubbing shoulders with them. At the same time, they were his bread and butter. So, this kind of gives us the opportunity to look into whether his personal feelings toward the working class really kind of stepped in in a time when one of his newspapers where he put himself in a situation to where this conflict could play out in a very, very public way.

Will Mari [00:15:30] Yeah. I guess one of his editors kind of going rogue, so to speak, and going against the Scripps’ policy to be at least fairly neutral or even positive toward labor. How did The Star cover the strike with the tensions with its publisher in the background playing out? Was it pro-strike? Was it anti-strike? It does seem like it had a definite posture. But I’ll let you explain how that evolved through its coverage and maybe tell us more about that.

Aaron Atkins [00:16:07] Well, it definitely shifted. When I was telling this story, trying to set the stage for the paper itself, I went back and I looked at the coverage of The Seattle Star, of the strike, a couple months leading up to it. And then a couple of months after the fact to just kind of get a feel for how it all was going to play or how it all played out in the newspaper coverage itself. So, while there may be a whole lot of other pieces of information out there on this that can maybe paint a better picture than I can, my knowledge of this is limited to The Star’s coverage, which is also kind of a benefit in that I’m not. So, it really kind of help me tell the story when I was using that as the foundation. But leading up to the strike itself, the newspaper coverage kind of stuck to its original intent, purpose. It covered the labor unions and cover their actions and covered their published stories and columns and editorials on the plights, the disagreements, the organization efforts.

[00:17:07] Some of them included calls to action to get together and to support the union, the ongoing efforts as the general strike. As the strikes spilled out of the shipyard and kind of started leaning toward a general strike, the coverage started change a little bit. And on the first day of the strike itself, when it actually went down, the coverage kind of did a complete 180 to where all was done at the editor publishing contacts, from the mayor or from industry leaders that were decrying the strike, decrying its purpose, they’re calling for the strike to end. They were talking about bringing in other police and military to kind of help settle this dispute or at least keep the peace. It was really interesting to see how quickly that switched. Well, he published this before he wrote an editorial. He published a couple of them that were written by Mayor Hanson, written by banking officials, who from their perspective, the hiring freeze is necessary. The labor unions aren’t going to achieve your required goals. They really just need to get back to work, doing what they were doing. These were published above the flag and then the paper above the fold it was the first thing that we kind of saw and I was really surprised by that. The location and the prominence that these letters decrying this strike were the one thing that you could see on the page. So, it wasn’t like they were trying to bury it. They were very, very upfront about not supporting this.

Will Mari [00:18:50] Not neutral. Much more an activist involved as a newspaper than what we would probably expect to see the day of any kind of strike or labor action for sure.

Aaron Atkins [00:18:59] Right. Well, they were they were labeled as editorials, as letters to the editor, but they were published on the front page. And not in the editorial sections, they were purposefully being moved up to a kind of indicate the newspaper’s stance, which was really interesting in that had never been done before in that newspaper, at least to my knowledge.

Will Mari [00:19:24] What was Scripps’ response to all these not so subtle shifts in coverage and maybe a move to a less favorable portrayal of the strike and maybe of the labor unions involved? Was he increasingly angry? Was he upset? What did he do from a distance?

Aaron Atkins [00:19:41] Well, a little bit of background on this. And in previous labor strikes and strikes in Ohio with other Scripps newspapers, they provided sympathetic coverage, they detailed the workers and the union’s demands, The Cincinnati Post, for example, defended a street car workers strike in 1887. The Cleveland Press supported striking coal miners 13 years later in 1900. The Portland Daily News, also a Scripps paper, gave coverage to street car union leaders during a series of strikes in Portland and San Francisco. And then in 1983, when the Seattle streetcar union alone went on strike, The Star ran editorials against the rail companies and in favor of the union. So, then this really kind of stands out as a complete reversal, not only The Seattle Star’s own coverage but the Scripps papers themselves and how they covered unions. The Star also sided with the Pennsylvania coal miners in 1992, blaming the mining companies themselves for strike related violence and anything that came out of the protest as well. So, that’s traditionally how they covered and I found a few letters that Scripps himself wrote detailing his stance. And this is in 1918 and then December 7, 1918 and a year later December 18, 1919. Also when he was kind of floating around in his yacht Florida. So, this is a quote from Scripps, ‘To me it has always seemed that there was only one reason for the creation and existence of the Scripps newspaper institution, that was to serve the people, all of them, especially those less fortunate, those who were poor in a matter of wealth, those who were poorer still in the matter of intelligence, real wisdom.’

[00:21:22] However, in a letter to Irving Fisher and Associates one year later, he also wrote that, ‘journalism is as an almost universal rule, a business, profit, its main purpose, the only incidentally is any attempt to great public service.’ So, within a year, this kind of sets up the difference between his business model and his editorial model where he is for the working class and then saying, ‘hey, this is a for profit thing. The working class is a means to an end. I have no real investment here.’ So, that again kind of goes into the contradictory nature of the person itself and just conflicting attitudes that drove his business decisions. So, in response to this, I actually have a pretty detailed response and let me find it.

Will Mari [00:22:20] In some ways, the strike itself with its ambivalent ending, sort of mirrors Scripps’ own perception of labor and its own role in fostering. Maybe from his own contrarian point of view a better portrayal of that but also at the same time looking out for his bottom line, he is a very wealthy man, of course, and you don’t buy yachts with money you’ve earned from non-profit ventures probably. And so his own reaction to the strike, his own writing about the strike and it does seem like it does mirror kind of his own ambivalence throughout his life and so it’s not shocking that he would have this mixed message from himself toward his own editors. But it’s so cool to see it play out in real time, the way you write about it.

Aaron Atkins [00:23:09] It was also kind of maddening, to be honest here. I was trying to establish a very clear line of thought. Here was this man. Well, how this man proceeded this labor union, every time I came across a new letter. It’s a turn in a different direction. Just when I thought I was establishing a very clear line of thought about his stance about this, I came across something that was completely just blowing that out of the water. So, one of the things that actually ultimately ended up coming when I started writing the paper itself was the idea that I want to focus on this contradiction and then kind of use the strike and his reaction or response to Canfield’s new found editorial policy, kind of set the stage on that and ultimately show where Scripps fell on either side of the spectrum when the chips were down so to speak.

[00:24:03] So, during the five-day general strike, city officials, including the mayor Hanson, publicly decried the strike. And repeatedly called for it to end, both Canfield allowed Hanson to use of the newspaper as a bullhorn to shout from a perspective that this needs to stop. So, again, The Star gifted him one hundred thousand copies of its newspapers during the five day strike to the city government for them to distribute as they saw fit, to have at street corners, to ensure the mayor’s perspective reached the public. So, it was very much a mouthpiece to shut down the union, shut down this effort to actually organize. So, in the newspaper on Feb. 7 in 1919, Hanson issued an ultimatum, which Canfield ran above the flag in The Star. ‘I hereby notify you that unless the sympathy strike is called off by 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, Saturday, Feb. 8, 1919, I will take advantage of the assistance and protection offered by the city or the national government and operate all the essential enterprises.’

[00:25:19] In the same issue, he said that the United States soldiers that are coming from a nearby Tacoma base, Fort Lewis, were ready for any kind of emergency. So, he was basically saying that if you are in the fray, and this is going to be in the newspaper, that they will bring in essentially soldiers and police to shut this down. The newspaper was trying to frame the strike, this is also very much against the Scripps business model, to frame the strike as anti-American, they’re eschewing Americanism. By vote, by taking this action, they call them anarchists, they call them Bolsheviks, they call them communists, they call them reds. Basically a lot of language that you’re hearing now, in fact. But on a couple of days later, on Monday, Feb. 10, 1919, The Star ran a full page statement, and this was very, very unique in the coverage that I saw when I was looking through the newspaper, a full page statement damning the strikers as un-American and the strike as an attempt by Communist Bolsheviks to undermine American democracy. So, they were framing the labor action as anti-American. That union workers had been infiltrated by outside antagonists who were stirring up all this trouble and it fell on the newspaper and for the government to actually set everything right. So, in Scripps’ letter, he really kind of laid this out because he knew Canfield, their history goes back about eight or ten years.

[00:27:03] They were familiar with each other and Canfield was trusted by Scripts up until this point. So, Scripps, in one of his letters, decried, said Canfield’s personal fears, had gotten the better of him. He was increasingly paranoid that this un-American labor infiltration was taking place. The Reds and Wobblies were here and they were presenting the problem. The strike itself was being decried as un-American, as criminal, and that the working class was led astray by outside agitators. So, Scripps wasn’t happy about this to say the least. I’ll get to the response here in just a second, but I’ll add this, that on Feb. 11, the day the strike ended, to kind of close all this together, tie this all together, the Star and Canfield ran a letter on its front page from Mayor Hanson that read in short, this is where the title of a paper comes in, ‘Editor [of the] Star, your paper saved Seattle. Your editorials, before the revolution came, drew the line between the Bolsheviks and patriots. You warned all true citizens, union or otherwise, of the disaster impending and you declared it for Americanism. You backed up your declaration by exercising your right as an American institution to publish a paper without crawling to leaders who thought they were stronger than our government. I congratulate your workmen who stood by their guns despite anarchistic order of the Reds,’ and so on and so forth. Then it closes with, ‘On behalf of myself as mayor, on behalf of all the American people of this city, I thank you, men of The Seattle Star.’ So, that was pretty incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like that published in a newspaper in such a fashion. And then when I came across that article and I read it, I was genuinely surprised and thus I had to include this word for word, it’s just too great no to.

Will Mari [00:29:11] Oh yeah. It’s so interesting to see how close the Seattle city government was to this anti-labor, in many ways, editor, also how critical that relationship was even for the coverage of the strike with the way they ran those editorials above the fold. It’s such a strange moment actually. And even at that moment, even with the general anti-communist sentiment sort of flooding the country, to have that close a connection between the local government and a local paper is unusual.

Aaron Atkins [00:29:43] Definitely. Just to kind of reiterate, I’m not a labor historian, my knowledge of labor history began and ends with this story. Well, what this does tell us, however, that newspapers did play a key role in shaping public perception of how labor movements were perceived. When at first coverage supported the strike efforts, it was seen as a positive thing for the city, for the workers, for the unions. And the strike was being framed as if it was necessary to improve the quality of life, to get fair treatment from industry leaders who were taking advantage of the wartime hiring of labor, the wage freeze, to get as much as out of them as they could before the freeze ended. But during the actual strike, the framing in the newspaper itself changed. It was being framed as the workers being infiltrated by these outside antagonists, un-American in purpose and they needed to be stopped. And this gives us insight into both perspectives, both leading up to the strike, the pro labors perspective, and during the strike, when Canfield and the editorial policy flip flopped, anti-labor and the power of the press and keeping the public perception of those perspectives. Especially in a time where the newspaper was it and that’s where people got information, you have word of mouth, and then you have the newspaper.

Will Mari [00:31:04] Yeah, pre-radio, TV, this was the place you got your news, was the newspaper.

Aaron Atkins [00:31:12] So, it’s kind of interesting to draw a comparison to what we’re seeing now, of course, now we’ve got an overabundance of news organizations with very, very clear stances. So, if I want to wake up in the morning and look and see what MSNBC has to offer and then look and see how it’s covered on Fox News, I’m looking at the difference in the way things are framed. With this particular instance, we can see that happening in the way the strike was covered leading up to it and then immediately that shift in perspective when the strike started and then after the fact. It was just really kind of unique. I thought it was really kind of interesting how that all played out in a single paper in about two or three weeks, watching all of the change, kind of went from one dichotomy to the other.

Will Mari [00:32:00] Yeah, that’s great. I have a follow up question on what happened to Scripps. He doesn’t live too much longer after this, right, he passes away. I can’t remember off the top of my head, when did he die again?

Aaron Atkins [00:32:13] About six years after this, shortly after this. Actually, I don’t know if it was a direct result of this incident. He left his yacht about three months after this happened and then went back to California, to Miramar. One of the last letters that I found that kind of addressed this was posted from Miramar.

Will Mari [00:32:34] The land side of his empire, so to speak. How much power did he have at this point in his late career as a media mogul, and as we would call him today, over his editors? Could he fire them from a distance or was that limited by other structural things in his companies at this point?

Aaron Atkins [00:32:51] Well, from the way I understand it, he had as much control as he wanted. He’s still seen as the head of the company even though he was kind of transferring a lot of power over to his sons and his other trusted employees. He still had serious influence as far as that was concerned, if he wanted to write a letter calling for this person to be fired, this person would be fired immediately. And he was talking with the President of the United States about initiating a larger or higher income tax on the top one percent to help pay for some of the war effort, to help get America back on its feet in the post-war era. That was really kind of interesting as well. It was a very, very gracious thing for a person who was a notorious penny pincher, a very wealthy individual, to write the President of the United States as a, ‘hey, we need to be paying more to kind of help this out.’ That was a decidedly altruistic move for a person with his stature but he still had a lot of power, influence, even sitting on his yacht and smoking cigars off the coast of Florida. So, he wasn’t really involved in the day to day operations of the business because at this point it was kind of running like a well-oiled machine more or less. He didn’t need to be, but whenever he said something or made a decision, that decision was put into policy.

Will Mari [00:34:47] He reminds me in some ways of people like Jeff Bezos and also the new billionaire who bought The L.A. Times or rather has acquired more control over The L.A. Times. Does this episode in history kind of speak to a return to billionaire owners of newspapers today or are there lessons that we can learn from that incident in 1919 for 2019, a hundred years later?

Aaron Atkins [00:34:51] I was thinking about that very question. And it really kind of does. We have to understand that where we are as journalists, where we came from, in order to understand where we’re going from a historical perspective. Journalism now is under attack from the highest office in the country, but that’s really nothing new. We’re constantly inundated with catchphrases now, fake news, and called media bias, distrust in the media. But those calls are as old as journalism itself and we can look to this history, we can look to see how journalists behaved, what they published, how they frame certain news events, like the general strike, when such calls were made. We can look to how they cover events, how they use their influence to influence policy, to influence public perception. What we can see in this case is that there’s evidence that newspaper editor went against the paper’s mandates and began running pro-industry, pro-government contents in contrast to its stated message. And their readers didn’t really know why. So, short of media ownership, which today we’re seeing, like you said, Bezos and others taking control or purchasing newspapers or media outlets and kind of framing them.

[00:36:05] In Bezos’ case, I haven’t really studied that all that much, but from what I understand he’s kept that very separate from his other business interests, from his Amazon corporate, so he’s letting The Washington Post do its thing, not trying to control the message, at least how I understand it. One of the things that really got me about this is when looking at the coverage leading up to it and then the flip flop on the coverage right around the time of the strike, the readers were kind of being jerked around a little bit and didn’t really know why this was happening. And so one of the things that I got from this, especially putting it in a modern context, is that transparency is key in what we do. So, when we’re talking about cries of fake news or journalism bias, what we can kind of equate this to, one is media literacy, how people can understand how news is covered or how information is gathered and how stories are written and published. And this idea of transparency and methodological transparency is key at this point. And social science research would, and my real background, such as data, running experiments, content analysis.

[00:37:17] These are the qualitative side of things, and we clearly lay out step by step what we did, when we did it, how we did it, what influenced us. We disclose all our financial backing or grant funding, so our financial support for everything that we do, exactly how we collected our data, how we analyzed it, and ultimately how we wrote it and published it and our conclusions that we draw from that. Anyone reading it can follow it, they can see how it was put together. And we can draw from it in journalism, that the more transparent we are about our methods, if Canfield had clearly laid out and explained why he all of a sudden decided to support the mayor’s message, that his personal fears of communist or Bolshevik infiltration, or his own personal paranoia or whatever was influencing his coverage and decision to actually turn on the Scripps business empire’s message and start writing these editorials or writing these editorials for that matter, the reasons behind that. That surely would have influence how it was actually perceived, if that makes any sense. Transparency in media literacy public education is much needed in journalism. Then as much as that is now, it was needed in 1919 in Seattle. We can look to history in order to avoid repeating these mistakes of the past decade, stoking these fires of distrust again and may have damaged or lost credibility.

[00:38:49] Now, one of the things that I didn’t quite get to that I really kind of wanted to include in the paper but I was kind of limited in its scope, was to look exactly what the fall out against The Star was on the public perception, the level of credibility that maybe waxed or waned with as a result of this coverage. Now, I didn’t actually get up to explore that much. If anybody wants to follow this up and kind of look into how the public perceived the credibility of The Star after all this came out, that would be fantastic. It may have been done. I didn’t find it, but it’s definitely something that’s worth exploring further. And that could also kind of draw further cries about the idea of transparency and where we are now, kind see how in 1919 and how its maybe playing out now a hundred years later.

Will Mari [00:39:39] Yeah. Indeed, a generation later there is a great account in The Seattle Post Intelligencer strike of 1936 by two guys named William Ames and Roger Simpson. Bill Ames and Roger were big parts of our Communication department…but the Ames and Simpson book does look at that a little bit in the years to follow from your strike, but it’s so important to look at that juncture of time right after the first World War with labor unions and you did a great job with the piece. That’s really true. I guess I have one question, you’ve spoken this a bit already, but why does this kind of work matter? You talked about context and understanding, is that that kind of main takeaway you would speak with why journalism history is important?

Aaron Atkins [00:40:29] It really is. There are so many parallels between what we’re seeing now and what we saw a hundred years ago, at least in the public. The way I listened, I studied journalism, I’m in a journalism school at the Scripps school. And I listen to how people talk about news coverage, people out in the county, outside the city. The way Athens, Ohio is set up, the city is largely centered on the university itself that revolves around it. When you go outside of the county, it’s very different in people’s perceptions. People’s attitudes are very different. And so when I go out I’d like to listen to how people are discussing media and media coverage and journalism in general. And there is a lot of distrust, a lot of that comes from the idea of not understanding why people are covering things or how they’re covering things the way they are. And a lot of that comes down to media literacy, having a clear understanding of how this stuff is constructed, how it’s put together, how journalists contextualize and frame certain news stories, and that’s nothing new. One of the things I wanted to get at with the paper is that a hundred years ago we were still struggling with the same things and while we’ve come a long way since that, we may be seeing a little bit of a regression in terms of public perception and understanding is concerned. And so being able to understand where this comes from and look to the past and how it was handled before. We could make the argument, or we can steer ourselves into certain directions to where we don’t fall into the same traps as it were.

Will Mari [00:42:18] No, it’s so true. Thank you for pointing it out so well in a case study like this. This has been really great. Thanks for tuning in, and additional thanks to our sponsor, Routledge, and to Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Until next time, I’m your host, Dr. Will Mari, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow: Good Night. And good luck.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s