May 30, 2014

H-Net review of Prophets of the Fourth Estate: Broadsides by Press Critics of the Progressive Era

Andrew Salvati of H-Net has written a review of the Litwin Books title, Prophets of the Fourth Estate: Broadsides by Press Critics of the Progressive Era, by Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks. His review starts like this:

Comcast, Disney, NewsCorp, TimeWarner–in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the corporate parentage and commercialization of American news organizations are widely recognized and well entrenched. Even PBS has gotten into the ratings game by subscribing to Nielsen. For critics, the commercial orientation of the news media inevitably conflicts with ideas about the role of a free and independent press in a democratic society. As media ownership is concentrated in fewer hands and becomes organized on a for-profit basis, it seems less likely that journalism can provide a venue for public deliberation or present an effective check on these powerful interests.

In their recent book Prophets of the Fourth Estate, communication scholars Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks show us that this kind of critical perspective on the press is part of a tradition in American journalism that predates the rise of corporate media in the late twentieth century. Turning to the activist journalism of the Progressive Era, Reynolds and Hicks republish some of the earliest expressions of press criticism–a strand of muckraking that denounced the corrupting influence of commercial interests on American newspapers and periodicals. Featuring the work of Oswald Garrison Villard, Charles Edward Russell, and Moorfield Storey, among others, the reprinted articles presented in Prophets of the Fourth Estate, together with Reynolds and Hicks’s contextualizing essays, are a worthwhile addition to the existing literature on the critical journalism of the early twentieth century.

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