Today I’m reading Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers (Basic Books, 1978), Michael Schudson’s smart and wonderfully readable history of the ideal of objectivity in journalism.
I’m not sure that the subtitle (the “social history” part of it anyhow) would the best descriptor for this book if it were written now, because Schudson’s object of inquiry is really an idea, a new conception of the role and rules of journalism that developed in response to early, broadly shared 20th-century anxieties about epistemological uncertainty. However, he is not concerned with this idea in the abstract (n.b.: is there any such thing as an idea in the abstract, really?), but rather with how this idea found expression in the social world of the newsroom and the cultural artifact of the newspaper page. Still, calling this study a social history made good sense, I think, in 1978, when the wings of intellectual history’s angel were just beginning to turn the wind, or turn upon it, in new directions. Continue reading