I Media Main I Media by Decade I Media by Genre I Media Timeline I
Dominance of Newspapers
At the dawn of the new century, the media consisted mainly of newspapers and various periodicals. News, entertainment and advertising were packaged into one paper, and not divided into special sections. Newspapers and magazines were limited to local and regional news as there were no extensive communication systems like we have today. Specials like the outbreak and progress of a war or government and business scandals were usually assigned to in-house reporters who would be sent on location.
Media in the first decade of the 20th century became big business in America, as did other industries like oil, steel and railroads. The jobs created by these growing industries attracted millions of new immigrants, many who spoke little English, and depended on the daily penny papers to learn the language. Publishers saw the potential in the booming population. Profit was the goal of the pulishers, while the news was secondary. Stories that could sell the papers were the most important. Newspapers had only one section (an average of 12 pages) and were visually crowded, with a variety of stories in simple language, usually to do with local government and business issues. Simple line drawings (explaining major stories) and exciting headlines.
Investigative reporting emerged during this period. The first real investigative reporters worked dilligently at uncovering serious issues like injustice and frauds on behalf of the immigrant poor and those who needed to voice their opinions. There was yellow journalism, characterised by brief speculative stories. Meanwhile, muckraking provided more in-depth coverage and stemmed from various reform movements to improve conditions in America. [The term "muckraking" was first coined by President Theodore Roosevelt in April 1906 describing reporters digging up the muck (dirt) and raking it up (exposing it).]
Advertising was done primarily in newspapers or periodicals. As industrialisation and mass production grew, the advertising field began developing, and newspaper chains were well-positioned to accommodate these large advertisers in need of a mass audience. In fact, newspaper profits came only from sales and advertisments. The first decade's advertisements mainly sold unregulated cures and tonics. The sensationalism in journalism directly influenced the way advertisers potrayed their products. A typical advertisement read: Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets for the Liver Makes Weak Women Strong, Sick Women Well by giving Strength to the Stomach, Purity to the Blood and Life to Lungs.
The motion picture preceded radio and television as an entertainment medium. Louis and August Lumiere presented the first motion picture for pay at the Grand Café of Paris in 1895. Public screenings also occurred in Belgium and Germany. The first public presentation in a theater was in 1896 in USA, using Thomas Edison's improved Vitascope. An early western/ cowboy movie, "The Great Train Robbery" by Edwin S. Porter of 1903, was the first film to tell a unified story. Earlier films had only shown fragments of motion.
At first, films were shown at fairgrounds or as an act in music halls or variety programmes, together with other live performances. As audiences and profits grew, cinemas were set up, then converted from shops or cafes. Exhibitors hired films to show from distributors rather than outright buying them. Films became longer, and began to tell more complex stories.
In 1900, the radio was intiated into the 20th century by American engineer Reginald A Fessenden who transmitted the first human voice by radio to a receiver over a mile away in 1900. On 12 December 1901, Italian physicist Gugielmo Marconi sent and received the first wireless transmissions over the Atlantic. He later founded the American Marconi Company later to become the Radio Corporation of America. Small, short-range transmissions were sent out to dispatch news, forming the basis of radio and television "news flashes". The quality and quantity of the transmissions were to continually increase in the coming decades.
Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), made the St Louis Post-Dispatch a success, after becoming its owner in 1878. He bought the New York World in 1883, and using illustrations, cartoons and bold news coverage, helped his paper compete against William Hearst's New York Journal in sensationalism and circulation. He improved the lives of journalists by endowing Columbia University (NY) with $2 million for the founding of a journalism school. After his death in 1911, Pulitzer Prizes (funded by Pulitzer's bequest) in journalism were awarded every year to American reporters, cartoonists, photographers and news organizations by Columbia's president. Categories for the prize include Meritorious Public Service, Reporting, Feature Writing, Criticism and Commentary and several others. When the Pulitzer Prize was first issued in 1917, it was worth $500. By 1996, it had increased to $3000.