June 2021


Volume 47, No. 2, June 2021

The June issue contains articles by Stephen Bates, Dale Cressman, Randall Sumpter, Lindsay Hargrave & Carolyn Kitch, and Julien Gorbach & Michael Fuhlhage. Interested in reading these articles? Get information on subscribing here.

Article Abstracts

“A Free and Responsible University: The Hutchins Commission, the Press, and Academia,” Stephen Bates (Podcast)
In A Free and Responsible Press (1947), the Hutchins Commission—officially, the Commission on Freedom of the Press—sharply criticized journalists and journalism educators. In turn, the journalists and the journalism educators sharply criticized the Commission. This article views the battles in terms of academia. Commission chair Robert Maynard Hutchins of the University of Chicago believed that a university must work to improve society rather than walling itself off. All but one of the men he successfully recruited for the Commission was a current or former professor. The orientation affected their analysis and their conclusions concerning both the press, which they viewed as a teaching profession, and schools of journalism, which they considered misguided in teaching skills rather than liberal arts. Journalists pushed back against the report as “academic,” which Hutchins called “a red herring.” Journalism professors pushed back against the report as prejudiced and uninformed, which Hutchins denied. Yet despite the attitudes of professors in 1947, the report subsequently rose to canonic status in schools of journalism. The article argues that the report reflects not only concepts about a free and responsible press but also concepts about a free and responsible university.

“Project Westward Ho: The First New York Times West Coast Edition,” Dale Cressman
In 1954, the New York Times began receiving letters from residents of California, requesting that the newspaper begin publishing a Western edition. After the Times began using tele-typesetting to publish same-day editions of its European edition, it was persuaded to publish an edition in California. Beginning in October 1962, publishers printed the Times in Los Angeles and distributed it throughout the Western United States. However, financial losses suffered because of the New York newspaper strike, the difficulty in attracting advertisers, and the death of the project’s sponsor led to the edition’s demise in January 1964. Using archival sources, this article describes the development of the short-lived West Coast edition, a signature project for Times publisher Orvil Dryfoos. Use of tele-typesetting and the publication’s effect on the Los Angeles Times are considered.

“The Mutual Life Insurance Scandal: Making Public Opinion,” Randall Sumpter (Teaching Essay)
This study explores a 1905 New York Legislature investigation of life insurance company practices, including the widespread use of press agents to shape newspaper content. The principal targets of the so-called Armstrong Committee hearings were Mutual Life Insurance Co., Equitable Life Assurance Society, and New York Life Insurance Co. Committee hearings found that company executives made low interest loans to each other, funded political campaigns, used corporate money to buy controlling interests in other companies, and received inflated salaries while policyholder dividends dwindled. They also purchased favorable publicity from newspapers and magazines while the committee hearing was in session. Allan Forman, editor and publisher of the Journalist, was among prominent newsmen tainted by their involvement in the public relations effort. This and other discoveries ignited a debate about what constituted legitimate public relations practices and their relationship to news organizations.

“Life on Campus: Life Magazine’s “College Girl” as an Ordinary and Ideal Symbol of America in the 1930s,” Lindsay Hargrave & Carolyn Kitch (Podcast)
From its start in 1936, Life magazine offered a portrait of the nation that blended the ideal with the typical through certain kinds of recurring characters. One was “the college girl,” the subject of Life’s first “photo-essay,” a 1937 feature on Vassar students. Such “girls” were more than a curiosity: in this era, women students constituted 40% of college enrollment. This paper analyzes their representation in more than one hundred articles and advertisements published between 1936 and 1941, the magazine’s first five years. It concludes that these characters served as symbols—of regional identity, of American superiority, of Life’s self-proclaimed wholesomeness—yet they also validated the real-life experience of many young women, whose presence in higher education would plummet after the war. One of the most visible media characters of her time, Life’s 1930s “college girl” illuminates a part of women’s history largely forgotten today.

“Fallen, Broken Places: American Imperial Journalism and Thomas W. Knox’s Traveller Books for Boys,” Julien Gorbach & Michael Fuhlhage (Research Essay)
In early 1864, Civil War correspondent Thomas W. Knox nearly gave his life for a brave experiment to prove the labor of freedmen could be just as profitable as that of slaves on a cotton farm. Ironically, in the years that followed, Knox traveled the world writing guidebooks for boys that served to teach all the ways the developing world was inferior to American culture, and sought to indoctrinate young American readers into their role as colonizers. What appear initially to be a correspondent’s enlightened, forward-thinking attitudes turn out to be deeply problematic in ways that raise profound questions about the American discourse on race. For the past thirty years, postcolonial studies have moved into “low,” popular literature. This study attempts to push the field into a new direction: the examination of American correspondents beyond canonical figures like Mark Twain, Richard Harding Davis, Jack London, and Stephen Crane.