Study Preview Penny newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett recognized fresh information as a commercial commodity in the 1830s. The fresher the news, the more eager the audience. Roughly 100 years later, a group of leading scholars, including Robin Hutchins, President and Chancellor for the University of Chicago, formed the Commission on Freedom of the Press (informally called the Hutchins Commission), in response to concerns that the press’ autonomy was diminishing. In 1947, the Hutchins Commission concluded that the news media plays a vitally important role in democratic society, and as such has a moral obligation to consider the needs of society when making journalistic decisions, and the impact news stories have on society. The conclusions of the Hutchins Commission are often referenced within the context of social responsibility theory, and remain a central theme in journalism codes of ethics to this day.
Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:
6.2.1 James Gordon Bennett 1. Objective: Relate James Gordon Bennett’s newsgathering practices to
current media techniques
The contemporary concept of “news” is less than 200 years old. A struggling New York printer, James Gordon Bennett decided to start his own newspaper, and with a plank laid across two flour barrels for a desk, a dilapidated press, and barely enough type, Bennett produced his own humble penny sheet, the New York Herald in 1835. An early Bennett story, shocking but irresistible for readers, was a front-page interview with the fashionable madame, Rosina Townsend, after one of her prostitutes was slain. Bennett was there as police investigated. He packed juicy detail into a story loaded with quotations. It was the first published news interview in history. More importantly, it showed Bennett’s knack for identifying and the incorporating details into a news story to draw readers.
Bennett quickly recognized that being first with a news story gave him an advantage over his competitors. His obsession with getting news to readers quickly placed an emphasis on timeliness, which became an important element in the concept of news. Bennett became so impassioned about timeliness that he often went to great measures to ensure that he was the first among all local newspapers to break a story. For instance, he used small, fast boats to sail out to Sandy Point on the coast beyond New York to pick up parcels of newspapers and letters from arriving oceanic ships and then quickly sailed back to the city before the ships arrived and docked. This practice resulted in him breaking news stories hours before other newspapers. In another case, Bennett himself went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many European vessels landed before continuing down the coast. With a news packet in hand he hired a locomotive to take him back to Boston, Worcester, and New London, where he took a ferry to Long Island, and then another locomotive to New York. That news was days ahead of the competitors. Bennett never relented in his quest for quick news. After Samuel Morse invented the telegraph in 1844, Bennett instructed reporters to use the infant network that was being built around the country to send back their dispatches without delay.
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