Sunday, March 3, 2013

Blog post (from readings) #11: (Due Monday, March 4) 
Douglas, Susan J. "WWII & the Invention of Broadcast Journalism." Post thoughts or questions about the reading to the class blog for discussion. What struck you as interesting? What did you learn that you think you might remember five years from now?


  1. This idea of whether a newscaster should be an "upper-class pedant or guy next door" is an incredibly interesting one to me. The conflict between seeming informative and seeming friendly is one that all writers/broadcasters have to face, and the truly great ones are able to combine the two (in less of a disjointed way than the example given in the reading). In my opinion, I think it is better to stray on the side of informative, rather than friendly. You do want your audience to be comfortable, but most importantly, what THEY want is information.

    I also found the discussion of the Lindbergh trial very interesting. I knew quite a bit about the trial, but the aspect that certain journalists essentially made their career on it was something I was not aware of. I know things like that happen from time to time now, but even Sara Ganim, who did terrific coverage of the Penn State story last year, did not elevate all the way up to national syndication like Boake Carter did.

    Edward R. Murrow's story is one I am also familiar with, in large part thanks to Good Night and Good Luck, but I found the different ways he circumvented calls for objectivity particularly fascinating. For example, his readings of British newspapers and interviewing of British soldiers will be something I expect to remember five years from now.

  2. I find the main takeaways from the Halloween Eve broadcast of The War of the Worlds to be really interesting. The article talks about how it showed the nation, the industry as well as the listeners, how much power radio had. But the article also talks about how after this sort of incident, they realized how dumb the population of their listeners was, says the article. For them, I assume it was very obvious the broadcast was a fictitious event, but I think for the average listener, it was incredibly possible it could’ve been real given what the nation had been through. From this, the industry realized they needed to simplify their material, which is sometimes true to broadcast script today. Most script text is very simple and easy to understand. I never realized the War of the Worlds broadcast had anything to do with that.
    I also though it was interesting the article explained the common misconception that World War II was a visual war. I definitely had the impression that by then, everyone was watching the war on their televisions. The article highlights that while there were visual elements in the movies and snippets here and there, the majority of the day-to-day coverage people received was from the radio. I think that’s something about history that this article clarified for me. The war had other impacts of course as well; other main one being how the general public realized what was going on abroad in relation to the U.S. government. The government never really had to worry about how the nation felt about their exact moves abroad, until the advent of radio and the war. The federal government could get away with less because of all the coverage. I don’t think I realized the size of the impact that radio had during wartime.

  3. I also think that it is interesting when the question is raised regarding just how friendly a journalist can be. We see this all of the time in sports. Local media are very favorable toward the area's athletes. They take pictures with them and always compliment them after games. Is this ethical, or should they strictly stick to being objective?
    I think that it is okay to have somewhat of a balance. When you are interviewing someone, they need to feel comfortable talking to you. Being rigid won't help. But at the same time it is important to be able to report accurately.
    On an unrelated note, the War of the Worlds broadcast always intrigues me. I can't believe the panic that consumed the people. I compare this somewhat to social media, and how people are always sharing earth-shattering photos that are not real. People believe the photos and they spread them, making people believe in false things. It shows that people often do not hesitate to believe the media, regardless of reputation.

  4. I had never made the connection before that more people began to tune in to radio coverage of the war overseas at the same time the government was imposing rations on gas. It's not so different from today, when most people don't spend more than a few minutes or half an hour reading a paper book or newspaper. But then, there's a power outage, and the same materials that seemed so boring before are suddenly a huge diversion.
    I also think it's interesting that in the 1920s and 30s, news commentators were more common on the radio than news broadcasters. Even though there's a lot more objective journalists today than columnists or analysts, it doesn't usually seem that way because of all the interaction with readers through blogs and comment sections.

  5. The idea of a radio personality was really interesting in this reading. There were certain characteristics associated with every announcer at the time. This was mostly due to the increased partisanship of radio commentators. It was interesting that Winchell was considered too feminine for his gossip and passionate broadcasts. Yet the "Murrow Boys" were masculine and came to embody broadcasting during the war. They all had their opinions, but their delivery of the news set them apart. They were all able to capture the attention of the nation because they talked as if they were speaking directly to listeners in their homes. At the time there seemed to be a divide in every demographic - age, gender, class - as to preference between the radio and newspapers. It was mainly the youth, women, and low-to- middle class people who listened to the radio. That, however, changed whenever some sort of breaking news came from abroad. The human voice was more personal than written text and events seemed closer to home.

    This reading really detailed how radio commentators became personalities during wartime. People seemed to care more about Ed Marrow, whom they would constantly hear on the radio, updating them about the war in Europe. He, himself, was a topic that Scribner ran a profile on him that described Murrow as "tall, without being lanky, darkish without being swarthy, young without being boyish, dignified without being uncomfortable....He's more a Scotch-and-story man [190]." This account sounds a lot like celebrity profiles now. He seemed to be everything the public wanted him to be (or at least what the Scribner writer wanted him to be).

    It's weird to read about a time where radio had such a strong effect on people. We're such a visual culture now that we feel things are real if they are captured in a photo or video. During World War II, hearing commentators give out their opinion or audiences cheering and yelling in the background during a campaign speech, transported people to the action and that was novel then. Today it's more of a "you've got to see it to believe it" mentality where just hearing an account isn't always enough to believe it. People want visual proofs.

  6. The part of this reading that I found most interesting was the Biltmore agreement. The concept of this agreement was funny because I cannot imagine it in place today. There would be no way to enforce it today with the Internet and bloggers and social media tools. I also thought it was interesting that it existed in 1933 though. To promise to not broadcast any news that happened within the past 24 hours seems like a waste of the resource that is radio. At the same time, however, it was kind of nice that multiple news sources (the newspaper and radio) worked together and helped each other out, rather than having radio just completely step on the toes of newspaper. I realize that radio got the short end of the stick in this scenario, but at least it allowed both sources to exist, as opposed to today where print resources are declining and declining.

    Another interesting aspect of the reading was Walter Winchell. I really enjoyed reading about him for several reasons. First was the feminist aspect of his work. It wasn’t surprising that feminism would be criticized. It was surprising, however, that a man would be criticized for feminism. Second, I was intrigued by the way he always tried to involve himself in his stories. Described as a “shameless self-promoter,” Winchell was the opposite of an unbiased journalist. Perhaps in the 30s it wasn’t as big of a deal as it is today, but it seemed slightly ridiculous. It’s one thing to have a political preference and to have that show through, but it is another thing entirely to actively try to become a part of the news you’re reporting and to try to turn the attention constantly on yourself while reporting a story. He even went so far for attention that he allowed himself to be used by different administrations as a way to spread propaganda. This is unethical on so many levels. Regardless, he sounded like quite a character and I’d listen to his broadcasts.

    I also really enjoyed the “post-World War I slang.” Reading about “Adam-and-Eveing it” and “phffft” and “made whoopee” made me think that if people on the radio today still talked like that I would probably listen to it more.

  7. I found it interesting that - given all the talk these days about "digital disruption" and the havoc that technology and the immediacy of the news has wrought on modern journalism - that newer mediums had found ways to displace print journalism as early as 1938. With the onset of the radio as a means for receiving news content (and by 1940 81 percent of American families owned a radio set) consumers no longer needed to get their news from the streets, thus killing the newspaper "extra."

    Another anecdote I found intriguing was that despite the common perceptions of World War II as a visual war (largely the product of watching the History Channel and Ken Burns-esque documentaries), the war was in fact one that Americans listened to. Every perception I have of life during the War consists of packed movie theaters showing newsreels of the war (re: scenes from Inglourious Basterds), when in fact gas rationing prevented families from significant traveling and general technological limitations to the broadcast journalism industry made World War II the radio war.

  8. What struck me first during this reading was disappointment that people did not have the foresight to better save early radio broadcasts for posterity. When the new medium of television was invented, radio became so passé it wasn’t even thought worth saving. This seems so strange today, when everything we do is saved somewhere—records of e-mails and texts, photos sent to Facebook, family videos put on YouTube… our lives and works are now completely backed-up by the Internet. However if the Internet were to fail somehow, we would be left with nearly nothing. We are either making life very easy or impossibly difficult for future historians.

    I found it interesting reading about the way radio was used to move the American public away from isolationism before and during WWII. Our perception nowadays is that every American was completely on board with our involvement in WWII—it has become the ultimate real-life depiction of a good vs. evil battle in world history—and radio helped create that perception. Where radio created patriotic feeling and widespread support in WWII, the next big medium, television, would do just the opposite during the Vietnam War by bringing horrific images right in to people’s homes. Both these episodes in history underscore the power of media in influencing public perception.

    I thought the Biltmore Agreement was humorous; given the free flow of information today, it’s hard to imagine such guidelines being followed, and not at all surprising that they were not. It makes no sense that the medium most quickly able to reach homes was banned from reporting breaking news, and the American people saw it that way as well.

  9. By the time that broadcast news on television was “invented,” so many people were already captivated by the idea of radio. They used it for all forms of entertainment, and most importantly, how they got their news. In my opinion, the reason why so many people were reluctant to accepting daily news broadcasts on television was due to the fact that it was outside their comfort zone. Many people had grown up to the various voices on the radio, and by nature, they trusted what the heard through the airwaves. Seeing them on television was a completely different story. By the time the television news broadcast was pushing to become viral, the golden age of radio was still thriving.

    The visual perception was something that Americans clearly weren’t use to. They went through two world wars and heard events like the Munich Crisis and Lindbergh Trial. They did this all without actually seeing anything. The idea of accepting and trusting television broadcast journalism was not as easy as it seemed. Majority of radio journalists could not always transfer to television because they did not have the “face” for television. Ultimately, the new invention called on its viewers to give up their bias and “give in” to the new technology.

  10. The concept that WWII was a radio war and most people found out about the war was through the radio was interesting to me. I don't think that before I read this I actually thought about how did people find out what was going on in Europe. I just assumed most people read about it in the newspaper or saw it in the theaters. The reading points out that this misconception is based on all of the documentaries and images that are shown now to demonstrate the atrocities that were taking place at the time. After reading about how people actually found out about the fighting through hearing it on the radio, it made me think, why isn't this taught? It makes sense though that people took to the radio to hear the news. Radio was a growing medium and had become increasingly popular. Also the war was at the back end of the depression and many people couldn't afford as much and it was difficult to get gas with the ration in place. Radio during the war set the stage for war coverage for the wars to come.

  11. What struck me as interesting is the raw, American masculinity of all the newscasters mentioned in the article—the male archetypal war correspondents including Ed Murrow, Bill Shirer, and Bob Trout. I can’t help but think how these radio broadcasts defined concepts of masculinity in American culture and how they romanticized World War II GIs, as evident by the quote that it gave listeners a new “perfectly calibrated masculinity…the strong, brave, everyday guy who was a team player…altruistic and selfless.”

    It’s interesting to think that while radio invited active listener participation and intimacy, it also invited a set view and image of how the world looks outside one’s home; a world of big, strong, men fighting for the country as women stay at home listening in. On the other hand, radio was blind in that anyone could listen to it. Everyone, no matter black or white or whatever, listened to the same exact broadcast. What I think I’ll remember five years from now is Douglas’ description of the intimacy Americans felt while listening to radio broadcasts, because as someone who didn’t really grow up listening to radio, I can’t really relate to that feeling.

  12. I found it very interesting that on the very first page of Douglas’ work she points out something every journalism professor I have had at the University of Maryland has mentioned, the newspaper has been made obsolete. Most interesting is the fact that she is making the distinction that radio coverage in the fall of 1938 is what rendered newspapers obsolete and not cable television news or the all encompassing internet. Immediacy is paramount in news and it is not surprising that radio played such a vital during WWII.

    I will remember from this reading that World War II was not the war that people saw in newspaper pictures or newsreels at the movies but as Douglas says, “this was a war people listened to.” I bet the coverage of the war and things surrounding it like the New Deal were more exhaustedly covered by radio then they would have been if television news had been around. Radio made commentators go into detail, the public was well informed of the developments during WWII.