December 2020

John Kiernan

Volume 46, No. 4, Dec. 2020

The December issue contains articles by Brandon Storlie, Will Mari, Rob Wells, Pamela Walck & Emily Fitzgerald, and Brian E. Campbell. Interested in reading these articles? Get information on subscribing here.

Article Abstracts

“‘We’ll Burn the Whole Stinking Town Down’: Newspaper Coverage of Detroit’s Twelfth Street Riot,” Brandon Storlie (podcast)
The July 1967 riot in Detroit, Michigan, was one of the most violent race-related conflicts in American history. Common themes developed in both local and national media coverage of the event, including widespread use of wartime imagery. This archival framing analysis examines the frames and techniques used by three major newspapers — the Detroit Free Press, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times — when covering the riot. While warfare and criminality were frequently used as framing devices, journalists at all three papers highlighted ideological divisions within Detroit’s black community. Ultimately, the study argues that reporters’ marginalizing word choices and the racialization of riot-related violence depicted African-Americans as a dangerous “other.” The coverage created an interpretive lens for readers, cementing existing racial divisions, and shaping how newsrooms and the American public would understand racial violence for years to come.

“‘Songs of the Craft’: Newsroom Work Poetry in 20th-Century American Journalism,” Will Mari (research essay)
Throughout the twentieth century, reporters and other news workers not only wrote about the news, they wrote about each other, their bosses, their daily grind in the newsroom, and journalism itself in the form of workplace poetry. This occupational verse was a way to relieve tension, vent about controlling editors and annoying readers. Writing the verses fulfilled a playful impulse and killed time between assignments. It helped to bond news workers with each other in the newsroom, and it allowed them to form their group identities in the face of difficult circumstances. This article briefly explores how occupational poetry, sometimes called “doggerel” by critics but even by its own creators, became part of the professionalization of American journalism and reflected changing newsroom values, priorities and a growing white-collar consciousness among news workers during and after the interwar years and during the early Cold War. Paradoxically, it echoed the blue-collar roots of many reporters, and their struggle and resistance. Ephemeral by nature, newsroom poetry survives into the present as an important commentary on the occupation.

“John J. Kiernan: Business Journalism Pioneer, 1845-1893,” Rob Wells (podcast)
John J. Kiernan was a little-known but important transitional figure in business journalism in the nineteenth century, one who operated as business journalism began to form its early identity. Kiernan’s news bureau employed and trained Charles Dow, Edward Jones, and Charles Bergstresser before they launched Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and the Wall Street Journal. Beyond this, Kiernan has been overlooked in the academic literature, even though he provided a leading financial news service after the Civil War. His story is instructive for modern audiences since he operated as a new technology—the telegraph—transformed business journalism. Evidence suggests Kiernan’s foray into New York state politics distracted him from his core business as the market for business news grew dramatically. The evolutionary theory of a firm helps explain the demise of Kiernan’s business as he lacked the organizational capabilities to sustain innovation at a critical juncture in journalism history.

“Finding the ‘Cullud’ Angle: Evelyn Cunningham, ‘The Women,’ and Feminism on the Pages of the Pittsburgh Courier,” Pamela E. Walck and Emily Fitzgerald (teaching essay)
As a popular columnist for one of the largest black newspapers in the country, Evelyn Cunningham felt the palpable, unrelenting pressure of representing her race in the press. It was the inescapable lens through which she saw the world and filled her with guilt whenever she ignored it. On the surface, Cunningham was an unlikely feminist and race crusader. In her Pittsburgh Courier column “The Women,” published between in 1951 and 1955, she was more likely to tackle topics ranging from how passé bridal showers had become to the challenges of navigating a dying romance. But as this study found, upon closer inspection, her women’s column reveals a mid-century writer well ahead of her time—especially when it came to embracing her feminism, sexuality, and the world around her nearly a decade before white peers ushered in the second wave of feminism.

“African American Sports Journalists and Athletes as Foreign Correspondents for the Black Press, 1930-1950,” Brian E. Campbell (podcast)
Sports journalists and athletes acted as foreign correspondents for the U.S. black press in the early to mid-twentieth century. During this period, hundreds of African American baseball players left the United States to participate in Latin American leagues. Inspired by their journeys, sportswriters used the ballplayers’ transnational movement to explore sport and society in other parts of the Americas. From their correspondences with the athletes combined with their journeys abroad, sports journalists observed and documented the ballplayers’ international experiences for audiences at home. Additionally, some athletes, including Jackie Robinson, wrote featured stories for news publications, serving as de-facto correspondents in the process. This article suggests that by looking to the sports pages, scholars can locate alternative ways that black Americans learned about global conceptions of race and the color line in print media during the first half of the twentieth century.