The Hutchins Commission

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of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning.” The Hutchins Commission’s new focus was on truthfulness and understanding presented in context, with the recognition that the media was a key component of a democratic society, thus served an important role in terms of social responsibility. Accuracy remained essential, but facts didn’t count for much unless they contributed to more comprehensive understanding of the broader picture.

Life and Time magazine publisher Henry Luce, who had funded the commission over the four years, disavowed the Hutchins recommendations. Other critics cited the commission members, all academics, as out-of-touch and unrealistic. The Chicago Tribune’s influential publisher, Robert McCormick, commissioned one of his reporters to write a book rebutting the commission. Gradually, however, a post-Bennett sensitivity took root—in no small part because of the journalism-enabled McCarthy travesties that began in 1950. Also, a 1948 textbook by Curtis McDougal, Interpretative Reporting, was building traction in journalism schools with its emphasis on reporting that sought not just to relay information but also to make sense of it.

6.3.2 Changing News Dynamics 1. Objective: Explain how news delivery changed when new platforms


New platforms for news opened cracks in the Bennett Model, first with radio, then, more significantly, with television. In the 1920s when radio was emerging as a news medium, people heard human voices delivering the news. News suddenly was connected with personality. This was unlike the anonymity of unsigned stories in the newspapers of the time.

Television When news became a television staple in the 1950s, people not only heard but saw reporters. This gave television news an additional personal dimension. The anonymity of news, a component of the Bennett Model, was rendered infeasible.

Television formats also undermined the Bennett Model of delivering news as fact devoid of interpretation. Television formats favored brief stories, typically with reporters having 60 seconds to work with roughly 140 words. That’s six or seven

sentences—hardly enough, except for the simplest stories, for audience members to make any sense of the facts. Out of necessity, television reporters developed techniques, mostly in wrapping up their brief stories, that provided what the Hutchins Commission called “meaningful context.” Consider these:

The claims of the defense attorneys conflict with police reports, as well as some eye-witness accounts. Now it’s up to the jurors to decide who is telling the truth.

The Jurgen political ads are incendiary to say the least. The question now: How will Rodriguez respond?

Those kinds of context-creating comments were unthinkable in pretelevision news practices. They helped open the door beyond a just-the-facts style of reporting.

Internet In the 1990s, the Internet essentially made everyone a journalist. One didn’t need a journalism degree or any indoctrination in traditional journalistic practices to blog. Unlike the Bennett Model, blogging was full of contextualized facts, editorializing and not-so-objective slants. The impact of the blogging movement was increased audience acceptance of contextualized information, even those stories where journalists clearly stepped over the line between objective reporting and advocacy journalism.

6.3.3 New Platforms and Dynamics 1. Objective: Compare U.S. newspaper industry environments over time

The environments in which news businesses functioned were very different in the eras when the Bennett Model dominated and later when the Hutchins Model began to gain traction. Although no year clearly delineates the two eras, a useful dividing point is 1947 when the Hutchins Commission called for reforms.

Abundant Newspaper Dailies In Bennett’s time, pre-1947 and also before broadcasting, most people had access to news from several local or nearby newspapers. The idea was that these papers would

be driven to improve their coverage by competing for readers. It was a marketplace model typical of the period, with robust and unfettered competition fully seen as capable of serving the public good.

One-Paper Towns By the mid-1900s, the number of competing dailies had diminished and the era of one-paper towns was on the horizon. This new environment worried the Hutchins Commission scholars. Competition was an incentive for newspapers to better service the information needs of the public. Although radio was gaining a role in the news arena by 1947, when the Hutchins Commission issued its recommendations, newspapers remained the dominant news medium by far. Television news was yet to be invented.

Responding to one-paper towns, the Hutchins Commission called on newspapers to shift their focus from free-market competition to being self-inspired and socially responsible. It was undeniable that competition was waning as a dynamic to fuel a high quality of public service. Gradually, the idea of social responsibility as a driving force in news took hold, albeit unevenly.

Audience Fragmentation Today the Hutchins Model premise about a shrinking universe of news sources is no longer valid. Television networks long ago became a significant rival to newspapers for national news. The establishment of the 500-plus channel television universe with cable and satellite delivery further strengthened television’s hold on the news. Audiences fragmented into niches that met narrower interests, including news geared to sub-audiences within the mass audience. By 1996, when media mogul Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, there was a clear audience for ideologically influenced programming. The audience fragmentation then accelerated exponentially with the Internet. A whole new news environment has challenged the underlying premises of both the Bennett and Hutchins models.

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