“This isn’t the other papers… I’m going to teach everybody in the cities, on the farms, on the frontiers to like important news. This country’s growing up… It doesn’t want any more colonial gazettes with local gossip, but big newspapers with news of the world.” — Horace Greeley
While “hyperlocal” online news is the industry buzzword of this decade, journalism’s role in delivering enlightenment and international news was featured in this 1936 tribute to the high ideals of American newspapers.
It was among the celebrations of American history and values presented in the first year of the DuPont Cavalcade of America series, itself a landmark in public-service broadcasting as corporate image-making, which ran until 1953 on radio and for another five years on television. [audio
Cavalcade Episode: American Journalism (The dramatic presentation is preceded by five minutes of light classical music, which was Cavalcade’s format at the time. Skip ahead to the 5:20 marker if you want.)
While the announcer notes that America had printers from colonial days, he points to the revolutions in journalism in the 19th century to introduce three scenes. The first is the 1831 arrival of the industrious and Bible-reading Horace Greeley on a New York printer’s doorstep at 5 a.m., then skips a decade or two to illustrate his goals as publisher of the Tribune.
Greeley’s campaigns to both fight political corruption and enlighten the general public are dramatized by a confrontation between the publisher and his business manager, who argues for the style of the more sensational crime-filled penny papers of the day as a way to reach the immigrant masses.
But Greeley says enlightening the masses is a more important goal than mass-circulation. The dispute is resolved when an Irish cleaning woman comes in — clearly part of the masses — and refuses to part with her copy of the Tribune until the whole family has read about the political corruption in their ward.
As noted elsewhere on this site, Cavalcade — and other radio series — often featured Greeley as a model for American journalists.
Along with Greeley’s Tribune, this “American Journalism” Cavalcade episode presents the rise of modern newspapers with The New York Herald, telling the story of reporter Henry M. Stanley’s African safari in search of Dr. David Livingstone, ending not only with Stanley’s famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” but with Livingstone’s response to the reporter’s request for an interview: “First, tell me the news of the world.”
In short, Cavalcade was not subtle about making its point:
“In America many modern newspapers have imitated the energy and enthusiasm of such journals as the Herald and the enlightened tone of such papers as the Tribune, so that American journalism holds the respect of the world.” — Cavalcade of America
Almost 20 years of episodes are available online in the Old Time Radio Researchers Group Cavalcade of America collection at the Internet Archive.