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SUPERBLOG The Impact of Technology on Journalism: From Telegraph to Television

Posted by: | November 22, 2011 | No Comment |

The world had long operated under the logical assumption that if you wanted your news to spread, you or someone else had to get themselves out there and spread it yourselves. There was no magic string connecting one town with another by which news, ideas, and trade could be spread. That was ludicrous…

Until the 6th of January of 1837 that is. That day was the day that the first telegram was sent in the United States by Samuel Morse. The message read, “A patient waiter is no loser“. That day everything changed. All of a sudden editors eager for the best stories in the nation did not have to scramble about and wait for weeks as an actual physical copy of some far flung daily mosied its way across the country on a train, or a pony; they could receive it as fast as the wires would carry it (very fast indeed).

The impact that the telegraph had on the gathering and reporting of news is staggering. The invention facilitated the connection of news agencies across the country and across the world. This enabled owners to turn their newspapers towards national and international news more than ever before. Without the need for a physical copy, news could happen in El Paso in the evening and make the front page in Boston by morning.

The telegraph also made the correspondent a far more important role. News agencies needed people in the field who were going to telegraph back the news of the day. With a broad stroke, news bureaus and correspondents became a necessity to stay current. Not even 10 years after the first use of the telegraph in 1837 there were telegraph bureaus running across the country, and even one in the Supreme Court.

If the telegraph revolutionized the old system of written news, giving papers the means to find interesting stories all over the nation, then the radio revolutionized the even more ancient system of spoken news. Word of mouth had always been the people’s go to form of news gathering. One needed only to step down to the local tavern and keep an ear out and he could have the news of the town. With the advent of Marconi’s invention (he called it wireless telegraphy I believe) the words of a New Englander mouth could be heard by a Californian as clearly as if the two were sitting together.

News agencies scrambled to use the new medium. The public clamored to it as well. Word of mouth had just been made global. News did not have to be simply gleaned off of a black and white page now; it could be heard. Journalism in this age was constantly speeding up. Stories broke in minutes and hours, not days and weeks. Now narrators, later to be named anchors became another part of the great news machine. Radio was an entirely different medium than print, allowing the two to co exist without having to compete very much.

Once radio had been well established it gave local communities an umbrella of coverage under one station; uniting towns in the same voice, news, and music. Whereas the newspaper benefited greatly from being able to cover broad areas of the world for news, the radio united smaller communities of people but centered itself locally as well as nationally.

Radio’s impact on the field of journalism was to open up and make news for everyone. Radio widened the scope of people who could receive the news from just the man who buys his paper to any person within earshot of the machine. With this new medium the news reached the masses and thus became even more influential to society and the way that events happened even as the reporters corresponded them.

The next step looks, to modern students, obvious. We had gone from the page, to the voice, the only thing missing was to see the person who was giving us our news. Television, though, started with more of a whimper than radio; selling huge amounts of hardware with no programming. The movie Avalon captures the very moment when television changed the lives of all America, with the first episode of Howdy Doody. That day, everything changed.

Television changed the way that America preferred to take in their news, putting more pressure on the media to condense their news and present only the best to their viewers. Television also heralded the beginning of News Personalities on the national scale. Men like Kronkite, Murrow, and Rather brought huge audiences to their networks based solely on their credibility, manner, and voice.

TV News widened the audience that news could get to even more. Television may have been the factor that took news from widespread to completely ubiquitous. One set could reach any number of people. The importance of credibility, and the old news axiom “to know your readers” (in this case viewers) skyrocketed with such great amounts of money and success on the line in the news.

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