Bonus podcast: Why does journalism history matter?

podcastlogoTo celebrate the first 50 episodes of the Journalism History podcast, we reflect with prior guests on the central mission of our show: Why does journalism history matter?

This episode is sponsored by Taylor & Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History.


Candi Carter Olson: Why does journalism history matter? Journalism history matters for so many different reasons. I love journalism history.

 Teri Finneman: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to re-examine the stories you thought you knew ….. and the ones you were never told.

I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.

Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports.

Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Teri Finneman: And together, we are professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. Transcripts of the show are available online at journalism dash history dot org slash podcast. This episode is sponsored by Taylor and Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History.

To celebrate recently releasing our 50th episode of the Journalism History podcast, we wanted to look back on some of the highlights from prior shows – most notably, the question we ask at the end of every episode: Why does journalism history matter?

As universities cut journalism history out of required classes, we at the Journalism History podcast are firm believers that it does matter — not only to journalism students and to journalists, but to broader society.

For Pam Parry, journalism history is the nation’s history.

Pam Parry: Journalism history matters because it’s the history of America. If you go back to colonial times before we were a country, it was newspapers who led the rallying cry, ‘No taxation without representation.’ And when we founded our nation, it was free expression, free speech, freedom of the press. Those were our founding principles or among them. And so it is so important to understand journalism history because it’s wrapped up in the history of who we are as a people. In the First Amendment, the first five freedoms protected include the press. And then if you go throughout our history, the time of the Civil War, there’s a great remaking of journalism during this period and how the country changes, journalism changes. And you go through every significant moment in our country’s history and journalism is right there making a difference shaping and reflecting our nation.

Teri Finneman: How journalism history shapes and reflects the nation may be broader than you realize. Mike Sweeney defines journalism history as encompassing a wide umbrella.

Mike Sweeney: I would include in journalism history, history of advertising, public relations, television, radio, newspapers, public opinion campaigns … The one big question that we’ve come across is when does journalism begin and then when is it no longer history but still an ongoing, open for debate matter? So, I think you can consider something history if it’s been settled, if it’s been decided, if the issues at hand are no longer evolving as we look at them.

Teri Finneman: Once history is created, there are useful patterns that are important to understand as Daniel Haygood points out.

Daniel Haygood: I think studying history of any kind, particularly journalism, particularly media history, particularly advertising history, because it shows us patterns for the future. So I sell my advertising students on learning advertising history because in this business, the patterns repeat themselves over and over and over again. Yes, they’re nuanced. The trend – the movements are nuanced and they’re certainly repackaged and retitled.

But they’re the same, and you can literally start your career with a leg up on anyone else if you know some of these trends or some of these movements in advertising history

Teri Finneman: Improving society by understanding history is a key component of Matt Pressman’s work.

Matt Pressman: I think that journalism history matters for the same reason that – that all history matters, right, is to – to understand where we came from, how we got to this moment, what we can learn from the past. And I think journalism history matters in particular, because journalism is – is so important in – in a democratic society. It’s – you know, it’s – it really affects almost every aspect of – of the culture of politics, of society. It’s how people form their views. It’s how they make sense of their world. So – so certainly, yeah, I – I think it’s crucial.

Teri Finneman: Michael Socolow also believes knowing historical context is critical to understanding the present.

 Michael Socolow: Journalism history matters for a lot of reasons, but the first and most obvious is that there are historical parallels to everything we’re going through. We constantly see this refrain about the idea that this is an unprecedented moment in American history and yet if you look at the way the media has shaped our perceptions of our political culture in America, we have had incredibly controversial, brutal, critical political environments before. And so by adding that context there’s a relevancy about how we actually service democracy that I would argue more Americans need to know. So that’s why journalism history is relevant is that you can’t constantly think everything’s new, because without context you don’t have the knowledge – and information to evaluate the world you live in. So that’s kind of a long-winded way of saying that journalism history is very important because it actually plays a role in informing democracy.

Teri Finneman: For Erika Pribanic-Smith, journalists play a crucial role in helping form the first drafts of history.

Erika Pribanic-Smith: Journalism history is the history of everything. We are, the journalists are the historians, you know, we are documenting the things that are happening in our time. So anything that’s appearing in our newspapers, anything that’s appearing in our news broadcasts, anything that’s appearing in our news magazines, we are documenting the events of our time. And so going forward, as journalism historians look at the journalism occurring at various points in time, we are able to tell all of these wonderful stories about people potentially in the margins who express themselves through media. But also being able to tell history through journalism. And I think it’s a wonderful thing.

Teri Finneman: Joe Campbell thinks journalists need to put more emphasis on understanding history to do their jobs better.

Joseph Campbell: It’s interesting and it interests people who are scholars. It interests people who are non-scholars. It is, it is part of who we are. It is part of who the field is. It tends to be almost, almost tempted to say it tends to be neglected by practicing journalists. The journalists tend not to know much about their past, about how they got to where they are today. I’m talking about it as a field, not as an individual, but the field has a rich history and a controversial history and in many respects a misunderstood history. And I think that journalism historians have an obligation almost to, not only to write the record, but to clarify the record and to reilluminate elements of the past. So the journalists today have a better understanding of where the field has come from and maybe where it’s headed.

Teri Finneman: For Michelle Rotuno-Johnson, seeing where the field has come from and where it’s headed is a great opportunity for students and researchers.

Michelle Rotuno-Johnson: It’s just so fascinating to see where we were and how far we’ve come even in the last 50 years, let alone, you know – a project from 200 years ago, a project from, you know, the very beginning of this country. We have made mistakes and we’ve done things right and we’ve done things wrong, and I just think, you know, we don’t exist in a vacuum … We need to understand the effect that media have on people and we need to understand, I guess, the good and bad things from the past in order to make a better future because there are a lot of lessons from journalism that I think are really, really relevant today, you know.

Teri Finneman: Melita Garza said that journalism schools need to understand just how relevant journalism history is.

Melita Garza: So, I think as journalists, obviously as a consuming public of the news, we need to understand these issues. But I think it’s really critical for our students and one of the things that disturbs me greatly is the extent to which many, or I should say at least several prominent journalism programs, have chosen to omit journalism history as something that is perceived to be irrelevant from any kind of skill that a working journalist might possibly need. And I think this is a tremendous disservice. It’s a tremendous disservice because if you don’t know where you came from, how do you know where you are or where you were going?

Teri Finneman: For graduate student Claire Rounkles, there’s also a social justice component to telling the stories of journalism’s history.

Claire Rounkles: The greatest thing that we can do as a society and as journalists, and to be witnesses for justice, is to learn from our past and to gather in a place of learning. And one of those important places can be found in journalism history. Now, we talk about history, but we don’t really mention journalism history. And, you know, by looking at our past, you know, it offers us a place to heal in the present.

Teri Finneman: Beyond the educational component. Greg Borchard says journalism history is also about making meaningful connections.

Greg Borchard: I think it matters because everybody I know, including myself, likes a story. It’s just part of our human nature, we like to hear stories that are meaningful, that tell us something about the world in which we live. Sometimes they tell us a story about ourselves and we find out more about ourselves too. Journalism does this, by nature it tells a story, generally within the past 24 hours or maybe week or even month. History does this, sometimes on a much grander scale of ten years ago or a hundred years ago.

Journalism history is the best of both, it tells an awesome story. It tells a story about a story and you get the best of both.

Teri Finneman: The hosts of the Journalism History podcast thank you for your patronage in our first 50 episodes. We look forward to the next 50 as we continue to rip out the pages of your history books to reexamine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told.

I’m Teri Finneman, executive producer of the podcast. For everyone at Journalism History, we leave you once again with the words of Edward R Murrow: Good night. And good luck.


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