Editor’s note: Oct. 6 marks the start of the 79th annual National Newspaper Week, recognizing the importance of newspapers and their employees to our communities. The Richmond Times-Dispatch boasts a storied history, and has helped shape opinion and provide news across the region and Virginia since its founding in 1850.
We’re sharing a roster of some of the biggest events in American journalism, assembled by the Society of Professional Journalists to mark its 110th anniversary. This article was written by Sam Stall for the group’s magazine, Quill.
America got into the news business on Sept. 25, 1690, when the first edition of Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, hit the streets of Boston. Editor Benjamin Harris had recently fled England, where he’d been pilloried and jailed for publishing inflammatory books, pamphlets and a newspaper. He hoped to publish Publick Occurrences at least monthly, but the first issue so angered local authorities that America’s first paper also became the first one to be suppressed.
Ben Franklin’s Journalism Career Begins
When Franklin and a partner purchased a struggling Philadelphia newspaper on Oct. 12, 1729, he proved his editing chops by changing its name from The Universal Instructor in all Arts and Sciences: and Pennsylvania Gazette, to just The Pennsylvania Gazette.
John Peter Zenger Libel Case
New York printer and journalist John Peter Zenger was tossed in jail on Nov. 17, 1734, for running allegedly libelous stories in his New York Weekly Journal. None other than Andrew Hamilton pled his case. The jury acquitted Zenger, because the accusations he made in print were based on fact. It was a huge win for freedom of the press, setting the precedent of truth as a libel defense.
Anne Catherine Hoof Green Becomes First Female Newspaper Publisher
When the publisher of the Maryland Gazette died in 1767, his widow, Anne Catherine Hoof Green, became America’s first female newspaper publisher. She was a strong supporter of colonial rights, and she published the newspaper and numerous pamphlets until her death in 1775.
Thomas Paine Writes Common Sense
One of the most powerful pieces of political writing of all time, Paine’s pamphlet arguing against the monarchy and colonial rule helped sway America’s rank and file toward independence. More than 500,000 copies were printed, but Paine never made a dime off his brainchild. The proceeds were used to help finance the revolutionary struggle.
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay were the anonymous authors of 85 essays supporting the U.S. Constitution. Writing under the pseudonym of Publius, the three men released 77 essays as a series in several prominent newspapers. The final eight were added later, to create the book we know today.
Ratification of First Amendment
During the campaign to ratify the U.S. Constitution, numerous voices worried that the document didn’t go far enough to secure individual rights. So on Dec. 15, 1791, the United States ratified the Bill of Rights, comprising the first 10 constitutional amendments. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, among other rights.
Matthew Lyon Jailed for Violating the Sedition Act
The Sedition Act essentially prohibited verbal or written opposition to the U.S. government. Not surprisingly, more than 20 newspaper editors were arrested. Even a congressional representative, Matthew Lyon, was picked up. However, his constituents reelected him from his jail cell, and opposition to the act from state legislatures doomed it. That was the good news. The bad news was that this example of placing states’ rights above the federal government was used as a justification for secession and the Civil War.
Freedom’s Journal Founded
Founded by the Rev. Peter Williams Jr., Freedom’s Journal was the first newspaper in the U.S. owned and operated by an African American. In its heyday, the paper served 11 states, plus Haiti, Europe and Canada.
Cherokee Phoenix Founded
The first Native American newspaper was published on Feb. 21, 1828, and it was printed in both English and Cherokee, using the recently created Cherokee syllabary. The paper advocated against the removal of the tribe to western lands, until it ceased publishing in May 1834. Attempts were made to revive it, but members of a state militia unit (called the Georgia Guard) destroyed the printing press and burned down the paper’s offices.
New York Sun Founded
America’s first successful “penny daily” was also one of the country’s longest-lived newspapers, lasting until 1950.
New York Herald Founded
Founded by James Gordon Bennett Sr., the Herald was a proving ground for several cornerstones of contemporary American journalism, including nonpartisan political reporting. The paper also covered such then-novel topics as sports, finances, the arts and international events.
Abolitionist Editor Elijah Lovejoy Murdered
Lovejoy, an abolitionist and editor of the St. Louis Observer, used the pages of his paper to strongly condemn slavery, which was legal in Missouri at the time. Anger against his views forced him to move his press to Alton, Ill. Nevertheless the newspaper offices were repeatedly attacked by pro-slavery mobs. During an attack on Nov. 7, 1837, Lovejoy was killed defending the building.
New York Tribune Founded
Editor Horace Greeley turned the Tribune into one of the nation’s most influential publications from the 1840s to the 1860s. In a time when sensationalism sold papers, Greeley instead provided readers with thoughtful prose and well-researched, factual stories.
Samuel Morse Demonstrates First Practical Telegraph
On May 24, 1844, Morse himself sent the message “What hath God wrought!” along 35 miles of wire strung between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The success of the experiment changed the world — and revolutionized news gathering. Suddenly information that formerly came by ship, horse or foot could be dispatched almost instantaneously.
Associated Press Founded
In 1846, at the height of the Mexican War, five New York City papers financed a pony express to deliver war news faster than the U.S. Post Office. Out of this outlandish operation came The Associated Press, a cooperative, not-for-profit news agency composed of hundreds of U.S. newspapers and broadcasters.
Rotary Press Invented
By the middle of the 19th century, demand for newspaper copies outstripped the ability of the presses of the day to produce them. Inventor Richard March Hoe solved the problem with his four-cylinder rotary press.
New York Times Founded
America’s newspaper of record began life as a penny paper, but not a run-of-the-mill one. Instead of feeding readers a diet of sensationalism and political partisanship, it cultivated a more educated audience by offering objective, thoughtful reporting.
Mathew Brady Photographs the Civil War
Brady already was an internationally famous portrait photographer when the Civil War began in 1861. To cover the massive struggle, he hired a team of approximately 20 photographers to chronicle its major battles. The effort financially ruined Brady, but the images of wartime dead gave civilians their first, unvarnished look at the true cost of war.
Telegraphs, the Civil War Change Newspaper Writing Styles
The Civil War prompted a number of reporting innovations, including the extensive use of war correspondents. These reporters enjoyed the novelty of filing their stories via telegraph, but wire time was quite expensive. It forced writers to be ruthlessly concise, creating the “tight” writing style that became a journalistic standard.
New Orleans Tribune Founded
The bilingual Tribune, the first African American daily newspaper in the U.S., published both English and French editions and promoted (at the time) such radical views as universal black male suffrage and splitting up plantations and giving the land to former slaves.
First Halftone Photo Reproduction
On March 4, the New York Daily Graphic published the first high-quality photo reproduction using the halftone technique — a complex dot pattern that created a printable version of a photograph. The technique would revolutionize the use of photos in print.
Joseph Pulitzer Buys the New York World
The World was just another newspaper until Pulitzer bought it and started rolling out such innovations as comics, women’s fashion and copious illustrations.
The popular New York Tribune printed tens of thousands of copies every day. It was extremely excited to become the first U.S. paper to adopt the linotype machine (which could cast an entire line of type at once — hence the “line-o-type” name).
Nellie Bly Reports on Blackwell Island’s Asylum
Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran) was the most famous female reporter of her time. Her series for the New York World, in which she got herself committed to the infamous Blackwell’s Island asylum by pretending to be insane, brought about a grand jury investigation.
William Randolph Hearst Becomes Editor of The San Francisco Examiner
The man destined to become the world’s most successful newspaper and magazine publisher began his print career when his father, mining magnate and politician George Hearst, gave him the Examiner. Hearst named himself editor. His stable of writers included Mark Twain and Jack London.
Ida B. Wells Reports on Lynchings
Born to slave parents in Mississippi, in 1892 Wells became part owner of The Memphis Free Speech. When she printed an article that same year denouncing the lynching of three friends, locals destroyed the newspaper’s offices and forced Wells out of town. The experience made her a lifelong anti-lynching advocate and enemy of racial injustice. She helped cofound the NAACP in 1910.
Hearst Buys the New York Morning Journal
William Randolph Hearst’s acquisition of the newspaper kicked off a yearslong circulation war with the Pulitzer-owned New York World. The no-holds-barred struggle generated plenty of excellent reporting, but it also unleashed an unprecedented wave of sensationalism, giving rise to the term “yellow journalism.”
First Traditional Newspaper Comic Strip
“Funnies” already were a big winner for newspapers, with characters like the Yellow Kid (part of a comic called Hogan’s Alley) developing huge followings. But the Kid, like many of its imitators, was a single panel, not a three- or four-paneled narrative strip. That path was blazed by the Katzenjammer Kids, which in 1897 put together the winning combination of panels, recurring characters and dialogue presented in word balloons.
The Hearst and Pulitzer publishing dynasties relied on the services of hundreds of newsboys to distribute their New York newspapers, the Journal and the World. The kids paid 5 cents to purchase 10 papers, which they then resold for a penny apiece. But when Hearst and Pulitzer increased the price to 6 cents for 10, all heck broke loose. For two weeks the “newsies” refused to distribute papers, sending newspaper circulations nosediving. Realizing the newsies were pretty much the only way to distribute their product, Hearst and Pulitzer finally gave in. The events were turned into a Broadway musical.
Ida Tarbell Takes on John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil
Ida Tarbell was the undisputed queen of the muckrakers, and the most popular female journalist of her time. One of the greatest of her many triumphs was a 19-part series in McClure’s Magazine about corruption in the Standard Oil Co. Melding deep research with a profoundly affecting writing style, Tarbell’s work is considered one of the best investigative pieces of the 20th century.
Chicago Defender Founded
The Defender was published in Chicago, but from the early- to mid-20th century it was a national voice for African Americans. Among a great many other causes, it advocated for better treatment of black soldiers during World War I, attacked lynching and helped begin the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North by writing about the opportunities available in northern industries.
Upton Sinclair Writes “The Jungle”
First published in serial form in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, Sinclair’s novel “The Jungle” was informed by the six months he spent investigating worker abuse in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. He’d intended to stoke outrage over inhumane working conditions, but instead triggered national demands for food industry reform that led to passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.
Death of Joseph Pulitzer
The newspaper magnate’s demise hardly spelled the end of his influence over the profession. In his will Pulitzer left $2 million to Columbia University, which was used to found the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and also the Columbia-administered Pulitzer Prizes, which were first awarded in 1917.
First Radio News Broadcast
Radio manufacturer Westinghouse, which wanted more customers for its sets, decided to draw them with over-the-air programming. Pittsburgh-area ham radio operator Frank Conrad was brought in to set up a station in Pittsburgh. Named KDKA, it made the first commercial broadcast (a term Conrad invented) on Nov. 2, 1920, which was Election Day.
Time Magazine Founded
Journalists Henry R. Luce and Briton Hadden set the template for a century’s worth of news magazines when the first issue of Time hit the stands in March.
The New Yorker Founded
Though it’s become arguably one of the most influential magazines in the world, The New Yorker originally harbored far more limited ambitions. Founder Harold Ross described it as a “15 cent comic paper,” which at its birth was about Manhattan goings-on and little else. It still sports a distinctly New York voice, but its purview now includes reporting from around the world.
The General Electric-owned National Broadcasting Corp., America’s first network, originally consisted of two networks — the Red Network, which carried entertainment, and the Blue Network, which handled news. In 1929 NBC broadcast its famous three-note chime for the first time to present its broadcast license-required station identification.
The Columbia Broadcasting System, founded by William S. Paley, proved successful and profitable, in part because of its powerhouse news division.
First Newsreel Theater
Before TV news, the only way to see images of news events was to go to a movie theater and watch a pre-movie newsreel. In 1929 William Fox took this idea further by converting a Broadway theater into the first all-newsreel movie house in the U.S. It ran a continuous, 25-cent program.
Margaret Bourke-White Takes Cover Shot for Life Magazine’s First Issue
It seems odd that a magazine famous for its iconic photos would devote its very first cover to a picture of a dam. Yet Margaret Bourke-White, one of the magazine’s original four photographers, was captivated by the subject, particularly the Wild West lifestyle of the thousands of workers brought in to build the Fort Peck Dam in Montana. Bourke-White’s 17 images are less about the dam and more about providing a photographic slice of life, complete with workers, their wives and children.
Edward R. Murrow Goes To Europe
Murrow, who would cut a swath through midcentury radio and television journalism, gained national fame for his live, you-are-there radio reports during World War II. In 1937, Murrow was sent to London to be director of European operations for CBS. Eventually he began reporting and covered everything from the German occupation of Austria to the conquest of Czechoslovakia. But it was his live reports from London during the Battle of Britain that truly resonated.
Hindenburg Radio Report
The Hindenburg disaster is so well remembered because it was so well documented. When the enormous German dirigible pulled into Lakehurst, N.J., at the conclusion of a transatlantic flight, it was greeted by a wire service photographer, a film crew and, most fatefully, by WLF Chicago radioman Herb Morrison. When the ship suddenly burst into flame, iconic photos were snapped and terrifying film footage shot. But none of it compared to Morrison’s breathless, almost stream-of-consciousness description of the massive ship being consumed by a fireball and collapsing to the ground. To this day his words, “Oh the humanity!” are as integral a part of the story as the photos and film.
First TV Newscast
Old-school radio staple Lowell Thomas hosted the first, regularly scheduled TV news broadcast, which was basically a simulcast of his nightly news show on the NBC network. It only lasted for a few months and could only be seen on New York City’s WNBT (now WNBC).
First Live TV News Bulletin
On Sunday, Dec. 7, New York City’s WNBT interrupted the movie “Millionaire Playboy” to cover the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Ernie Pyle’s War Columns
Pyle was a popular syndicated columnist before World War II, but his years as a war correspondent vastly increased his stature and influence. Instead of opining about strategy, he wrote about the daily struggles of the frontline troops he rubbed elbows with in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. He earned a Pulitzer Prize for his work in 1944. In 1945 he was assigned to cover the Pacific Theater, where on April 18 he was killed by a Japanese sniper on the island of Lejima, near Okinawa.
Bill Mauldin’s Cartoons
The war’s most famous cartoonist was in his early 20s when he shipped out with his Army division for Sicily. There he joined the Mediterranean edition of Stars and Stripes, earning fame for drawing cartoons that were somehow both funny, yet also true to the gritty, horrific struggle going on around him.
The New Yorker Publishes “Hiroshima”
No one dwelled much on the human and social fallout from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima until war correspondent John Hersey was asked by The New Yorker to visit the city and write about it. The result was a game-changing article that took up the magazine’s entire Aug. 31, 1946, edition and was almost immediately printed as a book.
First Gavel-to-Gavel TV Coverage of U.S. Political Conventions
The CBS news “dream team” of Edward R. Murrow, Quincy Howe and Douglas Edwards (soon to become CBS’s first evening news anchor) covered that year’s Republican, Democratic and Progressive conventions in Philadelphia.
Marvel Cooke Investigates Domestic Worker Conditions
Journalist and activist Marvel Cooke spent the 1920s to the ’50s as a writer and editor for various activist publications. Perhaps her most famous work appeared as a five-part series in The Daily Compass called “I Was Part of the Bronx Slave Market,” in which she joined the poor African American who daily congregated in front of a Bronx Woolworth’s in hopes of being picked up by white housewives for day labor.
Murrey Marder versus Joe McCarthy
When Marder signed on at The Washington Post in 1950, he got what came to be known as the “red beat.” This was the heyday of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who gained fame by conducting “witch hunts” against supposed communist sympathizers in the U.S. Marder countered this by carefully reviewing McCarthy’s allegations, speaking at length to the people he accused, and stripping away sensationalism so he could carefully examine the facts (or more typically, the lack thereof). And it worked. Marder’s careful reporting contributed mightily to McCarthy’s undoing.
Murrow versus Joe McCarthy
Few politicians, including President Dwight Eisenhower, dared challenge McCarthy at the height of his power. But on March 9, 1954, Murrow devoted an episode of his news show “See It Now” to exposing McCarthy and his “red-baiting” tactics. The program was just one in a series of body blows that effectively ended McCarthy’s political career.
The Village Voice Founded
The country’s first alternative newsweekly, the Voice was founded by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher, John Wilcock and Norman Mailer.
Douglas Edwards Covers the Sinking of the SS Andrea Doria
In a time when TV news anchors rarely left their desks, CBS evening anchor Douglas Edwards, host of “Douglas Edwards and the News,” was a marked exception. His heyday came on July 26, 1956, when the Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria collided with another ship and sank off the New England coast. Edwards covered the event not from the studio, but from a plane circling a few hundred feet above the ship.
David Susskind Interviews Nikita Khrushchev
Susskind’s lengthy chat with Soviet Premier Khrushchev served one great purpose (beyond making lots of people extremely angry). It was one of the first times TV news brought a real, live Soviet leader out into the open for give-and-take banter.
First TV News POTUS Press Conference
Woodrow Wilson held the first presidential news conference in 1923, but it, like the ones that followed for decades, featured no live microphones or cameras. That meant the general public only read or heard a limited cross section of what was said. All that changed on Jan. 25, 1961, when John F. Kennedy held the first “modern” press conference, complete with reporters asking unscripted questions, the president’s off-the-cuff answers and live TV and radio broadcasts.
David Halberstam Goes to Vietnam
When Halberstam arrived in Vietnam to report on the war for The New York Times, his editors, the military and the South Vietnamese government soon realized he wasn’t going to toe the party line. Halberstam instead saw a different, uglier truth — that the conflict wasn’t going well, that it was far nastier than advertised and that pretty much everybody, from the U.S. to the South Vietnamese government, was lying about it. His views earned him lots of ire — and a Pulitzer.
Coverage of the Kennedy Assassination
The death of the president also marked a sea change in the way Americans got their news. Within an hour of the official announcement of Kennedy’s death, 45% of American TV sets were tuned to the story. For the first time, news coverage of a breaking event was spearheaded not by newspapers or radio, but by television.
The New York Times vs. Sullivan
When civil rights leaders ran a full-page ad in the Times describing an “unprecedented wave of terror” by police against demonstrators in Montgomery, Ala., a local police official named L.B. Sullivan sued the newspaper. He said the ad, which contained several admittedly false statements, damaged his reputation in the community. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which unanimously decided that to do so, a newspaper must act with “actual malice” in printing a falsehood. Which the Times did not.
Morley Safer’s Cam Ne Report
On Aug. 5, Safer, a foreign correspondent for CBS News, went with a group of U.S. Marines to the village of Can Ne on a search and destroy mission. What he got was footage of soldiers simply burning the place to the ground and scattering the villagers. The reaction was incendiary. President Lyndon Johnson personally dressed down Safer’s boss, and Safer himself feared for his life. But the report was also one of the first peeks at how the war was really being waged.
Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” Ushers in New Journalism
The only reason this luminous Esquire story exists is because Frank Sinatra wouldn’t do a sit-down interview with Talese (who didn’t want to write the piece anyway). So instead, he had to follow Ol’ Blue Eyes around, watch his interactions, collect stories from the people around him, and weave it into one of the most artfully drawn personality portraits ever accomplished. Talese’s story, which used the tools of fiction to make his subject more real, is one of best examples of New Journalism.
Democratic National Convention
Mayor Richard J. Daley knew this convention, held in his hometown of Chicago, was going to be trouble, and it was. As thousands of protesters faced off against an army of city cops, viewers at home seemed to see exactly what they wanted to see. Liberals considered it a classic case of police brutality. Conservatives felt the press was being manipulated by a bunch of long-haired hooligans.
Walter Cronkite Calls the Vietnam War a Stalemate
In these days of 24-hour punditry, it’s hard to believe that the words of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite could have carried so much weight. But such was his credibility that when, after a tour of the war zone, he told his viewers that Vietnam was a stalemate and the only way forward was through negotiations.
“60 Minutes” Launched
When it debuted on Sept. 24 with Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace, “60 Minutes” was described as a sort of magazine for television. And, indeed, it was. The program, designed to feature stories that needed more than two minutes on the evening news, but less than a full documentary, would become a near-immortal fixture on CBS.
Moon Landing Coverage
The first moon landing presented a unique challenge to the thousands of print, radio and television reporters covering the event. On the one hand, it was watched live by some 600 million people worldwide, necessitating 31 hours of wall-to-wall coverage by U.S. TV networks. On the other hand, the action took place approximately 240,000 miles away, and the video supplied by NASA was certifiably awful. The networks, which spent millions on coverage, went to extraordinary lengths to fill the time, including interviewing “experts” such as Orson Welles, Arthur C. Clarke, James Earl Jones (who did a dramatic reading), Duke Ellington (who performed an original composition called “Moon Maiden”) and Rod Serling.
Seymour Hersh and the My Lai Massacre
On Nov. 12, Hersh broke the news of Army charges filed against Lt. William L. Calley for what became known as the My Lai Massacre — the March 1968 killing of between 200 and 500 South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers.
National Public Radio was officially incorporated from a collection of roughly 90 public radio stations.
Pentagon Papers Published
The 47-volume secret history of U.S. involvement in Indochina was actually called the “Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force.” It became the Pentagon Papers when sections were leaked to The New York Times (and later The Washington Post) by MIT researcher Daniel Ellsberg. After the Times published its third story on the documents, the U.S. Department of Justice got a temporary restraining order against the paper, claiming release of the classified material would cause “immediate and irreparable harm.” The Times, joined by the Post, fought the order. The U.S. Supreme Court, in one of the most important rulings on prior restraint in history, freed the papers to continue publishing the material.
On the morning of June 17, burglars were caught placing wiretaps and stealing documents at the office of the Democratic National Committee, located inside the Watergate complex. This seemingly innocuous incident led to the revelation of a massive criminal enterprise put in place to secure the re-election of Richard Nixon to the presidency. Much of the credit for unpacking the extremely complicated scheme goes to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting over the next couple of years (assisted, as the scandal unfolded, by legions of others) led to Nixon’s resignation.
Ms. Magazine Founded
Before its debut as a “one-shot” in New York magazine in 1971, a “women’s magazine” typically offered little more than recipes, child-raising tips and makeup tutorials. However Ms., whose first regular issue debuted in July, broke the mold. It became a national phenomenon by broaching an entirely different set of “women’s issues,” including abortion rights, advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment and domestic violence.
Rupert Murdoch Buys First U.S. Newspaper
Australian-born Murdoch became a media baron using tactics hauntingly similar to those of William Randolph Hearst — buy a newspaper and then boost its circulation with sex, scandal, human interest stories and a hardcore conservative slant. It worked in Australia and then in Britain, and next he acquired the San Antonio News. More U.S. purchases followed.
On Aug. 8, Nixon gave a somewhat maudlin, nationally publicized speech announcing his resignation from the presidency — a first in American history.
Cronkite Diplomacy in the Middle East
When Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat declared in a Nov. 9 speech that he was prepared to go to Israel for the sake of peace, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite immediately arranged an interview with him, during which Sadat said he would go to Israel that very week. Cronkite then asked Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin about the proposal, and Begin responded that he’d meet him at the airport. Six days after this coup hit the airwaves, it actually happened. Though secret plans to do this very thing had been in the works for months, it was Cronkite who, at the very least, lent a sense of urgency to the proceedings.
A few years after Watergate forced him from office, Nixon sought a way to rehabilitate his image. Fielding a bunch of presumed softball questions from TV personality David Frost sounded like just the ticket. But during 28 grueling hours of taping, Frost first mollified Nixon, then pounced with incisive questions. In the end, a defeated Nixon told the camera, “…I let the American people down. And I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life. My political life is over.”
Iran Hostage Crisis Creates Nightline and Late-night News
On Nov. 8, the fourth day of the Iran hostage crisis, ABC News started airing a late-night program called “The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage.” Long before the 444-day standoff with Iran ended, the program was renamed Nightline, and its anchor, Ted Koppel, became a national figure. The program ushered in late-night news and set the stage for 24-hour coverage.
After four years of development, America’s first 24-hour news channel debuted on June 1. Though derided in its early days and hampered by small budgets, the station had one built-in advantage other TV news services simply couldn’t match: It was on all the time. But though CNN was the first all-news network, it would soon have company.
USA Today Founded
Launched by Gannett, USA Today billed itself as the first national general interest newspaper. Its subscription base exceeded 2 million in the ’90s, and its liberal use of graphics and shorter stories, though derided in some corners at the time, have now become standards at many newspapers.
National Newspaper Circulation Peaks
The weekday circulation of daily newspapers reached a never-since-equaled peak of 63.3 million. Now 35 years later, it sits at around 30 million.
Fairness Doctrine Repealed
The Fairness Doctrine, which mandated that broadcast networks provide time for contrasting views, came about in 1949, when it was feared that the three major broadcast news sources (NBC, CBS and ABC) could put forth politically biased agendas. The FCC abolished the rule in 1987, paving the way for hard-right talk radio shows and highly partisan TV broadcast operations.
Baby Jessica Rescue
When Texas-born, 18-month-old Jessica Morales fell down a 22-foot-deep well on Oct. 14, she instantly became the nation’s most famous child. The 24-hour news cycle, a brand-new phenomenon, provided wall-to-wall coverage of the event, until she was rescued after 58 hours underground.
Gary Hart Scandal
For centuries the news media simply ignored the extramarital dalliances of elected officials. When Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart denied rumors of womanizing, The Miami Herald, acting on information from an anonymous informant, wrote that he spent part of a weekend with a young woman (later identified as Donna Rice). Ironically, the news broke on the same day Hart, in a New York Times story, dared the media to follow him around. The two stories, and the many that followed, ended Hart’s career. The scandal put politicians on notice that from then on, their personal affairs were definitely not off the record.
Tom Brokaw at the Berlin Wall
It seems hard to believe in this age of constant news coverage, but when the Berlin Wall fell on the night of Nov. 9, the only news agency that captured it live was NBC News and Tom Brokaw.
World Wide Web Invented
Versions of the internet, which linked various research institutes and government offices, had existed since the late ’60s. But it wasn’t until Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (a data access system utilizing websites and hyperlinks) that it caught on in a big way with the public. It was, perhaps, the most fateful step in the development of an information network that today distributes both information and disinformation in the blink of an eye.
KTLA Broadcasts Rodney King Video
On March 3, after Los Angeles Police Department officers pursued and arrested taxi driver Rodney King (who was driving while intoxicated), they tazed him, kicked and punched him, and then struck him with batons more than 50 times. The only reason anyone knows this happened is because a bystander filmed the incident. When the videotape went public, the case blew up into a national police brutality scandal — the first of an ever-increasing number of such incidents, as videotape and then cellphone cameras became ubiquitous.
Gulf War Coverage
If Vietnam was the first televised war, the 1991’s Desert Shield and Desert Storm were the first military actions to get the 24-hour treatment. CNN, for one, came into its own with in-depth, and pretty much endless, coverage from the Middle East.
Robert Packwood Sexual Misconduct
The template for exposés of powerful men abusing female subordinates was set on Nov. 22, when a Washington Post story chronicled extensive sexual abuse by Sen. Robert Packwood, R-Ore., against 10 women working in his office. The case unfolded in what would now be called the standard way: Packwood took almost three weeks to address the issue and apologize. Then, several weeks later, another Washington Post story listed a further 13 women who had stepped forward with accusations against Packwood. He resigned from the Senate in 1995, under threat of expulsion.
ABC Versus Big Tobacco
On Feb. 28, ABC’s news magazine show “Day One” aired a story claiming that the tobacco industry “spiked” cigarettes by adding extra nicotine, making them more addictive. Philip Morris filed a $10 million libel lawsuit against the network, which the company won. ABC issued a primetime apology for mistakenly reporting that tobacco companies add nicotine, and the network paid $15 million to cover Philip Morris’s legal fees.
Jerry Mitchell Helps Send the Killer of Medgar Evars to Prison
Mitchell, an investigative reporter for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackon, Miss., has been called everything from a “white traitor” to “the South’s Simon Wiesenthal” for his work bringing the perpetrators of some of the South’s worst civil rights crimes to justice. His most noted “cold case” successes include uncovering new evidence that led to the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evars; the imprisonment of Sam Bowers for ordering the firebombing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer; Bobby Cherry for the death of four young girls in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church; and Edgar Ray Killen for orchestrating the 1964 Freedom Summer murders.
O.J. Simpson Trial
The proceedings, in which former NFL star-turned-actor O.J. Simpson was tried for the brutal murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, offered yet another example of how the 24-hour news cycle changed the nature of journalism. When Simpson famously tried to flee in a Ford Bronco, the slow-motion chase was broadcast live (NBC even interrupted the 1994 NBA Finals); the televised, 134-day trial received wall-to-wall coverage, with reporters and news vans literally ringing the courthouse; and the verdict was read aloud live on all major networks and cable news outlets.
When this online clearinghouse for the small-time trading of goods and services debuted, few could imagine that it would become an existential threat to newspapers. But indeed it did, offering for free what were essentially want ads and personal announcements, like those sold by newspapers in their “Classifieds” (which were big revenue sources).
Fox News Founded
After failing to purchase CNN, Rupert Murdoch (with TV producer and former Republican political consultant Roger Ailes), developed Fox News, which debuted on Oct. 7.
AP Coverage of Matthew Shepard Murder
On the evening of Oct. 6, openly gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was drinking alone at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyo., after a meeting of the campus LGBT student group. He was subsequently lured away by two locals who pistol-whipped Shepard, robbed him and left him tied to a fence. He was discovered a day later and died of his injures on Oct. 12. But by that time his case already had attracted international attention as a hate crime. His assailants both received consecutive life sentences, and Shepard’s story became a touchstone for the LGBT rights movement.
Drudge Report Breaks Monica Lewinsky Story
On Jan. 17, an unremarkable-looking, little-known website claimed that Newsweek was sitting on a story about an affair between a White House intern and President Bill Clinton. That innocuous mention turned into a political firestorm that resulted in Clinton’s impeachment. It also showed that in the age of the internet, keeping secrets was harder, far harder, than ever.
Bush/Gore Election Debacle
The confusion over who actually won the 2000 presidential election, or subsequent recounts to determine who owned Florida’s electoral delegation, was hardly a shining moment for anyone. But one of the biggest debacles happened on election night, and it was entirely owned by CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and CNN. Suffice it to say that the state was first called for Gore, then declared “too close to call,” then awarded to Bush and then moved back to “too close to call.” It’s considered one of the biggest live blunders in TV history.
The 9/11 Reporting
It was as if Pearl Harbor had been broadcast live. Actually it was worse, because 9/11 happened in the literal backyard of most of the nation’s broadcast media outlets. Reporters covering the story for the major networks could be seen covered in dust from the World Trade Center collapse, or gasping for air along with civilians fleeing the scene. Videos of the disaster were as likely to come from civilian cellphones as they were from professional videographers. It was information overload at its most excruciating — to the point where the president of ABC News ordered that the video of the jets hitting the towers not be rebroadcast endlessly.
For a brief moment during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Baghdad-born Salam Abdulmunem was one of the world’s most famous journalists. His site, “Where is Raed?” borrowed the name of his Beirut friend, Raed Jarrar, to throw Iraqi officials off his trail. During the war he offered a blow-by-blow account of the invasion from Abdulmunem’s vantage point in the suburbs of Baghdad. Rumors that the blog was a fake were put to rest when a reporter from The Guardian tracked him down in 2003.
Dan Rather’s Bush National Guard Story
Using later-discredited documents, 60 Minutes, in a story by Dan Rather, questioned whether George W. Bush properly completed his early ’70s National Guard service. The firestorm that followed forced Rather to personally apologize for the story.
Judith Miller Jailed for Not Giving Up Sources
New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 12 weeks in jail on contempt charges for refusing to testify about her sources in an investigation about a 2003 “outing” of a CIA operative in a Robert Novak column. Miller, who had never written a story about the incident, finally agreed to testify after receiving a letter and phone call from her source, plus a promise that she would only have to testify about her communications with that source.
Hurricane Katrina Coverage
The massive storm that swamped New Orleans brought out the best and worst in modern journalism, just as it did in people. With local communications in disarray, heroic local reporters fought long odds to get the news out, and TV crews sometimes guided rescuers to undiscovered victims. However the media also helped spread unsubstantiated rumors of rapes and other crimes. Internet websites proved to be both founts of information, and of rumormongering.
The Huffington Post Launched
Originally conceived as a liberal response to the conservative Drudge Report, the all-digital publication (renamed HuffPost in 2017) has evolved from a collection of celebrity blog posts into more of an online version of a conventional newspaper.
WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange’s website has released a great deal of classified data over the years, and created more than its share of political scandals.
Katie Couric Becomes First Female Evening News Anchor
On Sept. 5, former “Today Show” co-anchor Katie Couric became the first solo female network nightly news anchor.
The nonprofit newsroom ProPublica was established in New York City to produce investigative journalism in the public interest.
Virginia Tech Citizen Journalists
The most telling video from the April 16 Virginia Tech shooting massacre, which left 32 dead and 23 wounded, was shot not by a journalist, but by student Jamal Albarghouti, using a cellphone. It was seen by millions on YouTube and CNN. As the shooting unfolded, often the most up-to-date news went out not just through regular channels, but via text messages and blogs.
Murdoch Acquires The Wall Street Journal
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. acquired the Journal when it purchased Dow Jones for $5 billion. The company planned to develop the paper into a competitor for The New York Times.
Online News Overtakes Print
The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that, for the first time, Americans got more news from websites than they did from print sources.
The Washington Post Publishes Its “Top Secret America” Series
In a Herculean feat of data mining, hundreds of thousands of documents from public agencies and private firms were tweezed through to produce this series of articles about the expansion of American secret organizations post-9/11, published in The Washington Post.
Jeff Bezos Buys The Washington Post
As Bezos, the founder of Amazon, admitted at the time, he doesn’t know much about journalism, but he does know about the internet. In that vein, he’s helped “reinvent” the Post as a media and technology company.
On June 6 both The Washington Post and The Guardian published reports based on information leaked in part by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about an NSA program called PRISM, which gives the NSA direct access to the servers of U.S. technology companies, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
ESPN: The Magazine Publishes “Beyond the Breach”
In an age of tweets and 500-word blog posts, ESPN devoted its entire feature well to one immense story — a decadal survey of New Orleans, 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, by Wright Thompson.
The Rise of Fake News
In 2014 BuzzFeed editors noticed a huge volume of made-up, U.S.-oriented news stories that all emanated from a tiny Macedonian town called Veles. Turns out some 140 sites in Veles were churning out what would soon be called “fake news” — clickbait pieces designed to grab views (and advertising revenue) on Facebook. The stories, including that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump for president, were made up out of whole cloth, yet still drew millions of eyeballs. Interestingly, though Hillary Clinton first used the “fake news” phrase on Dec. 8, 2016, it was Donald Trump who seized on it, most often to denigrate unfavorable press in the mainstream news media.