Remembering the Time When Radio Was Accused of Being The Death of JournalismS

So you know how the newspaper industry has long been whining incessantly about the internet killing journalism? Well, this isn't the first time they've made such claims! They went nuts during the 1920s and 1930s over the threat from radio.

Slate's Jack Shafer points out that a book published in 1995 by Gwenyth L. Jackaway, Media at War: Radio's Challenge to the Newspapers, 1924-1939, offers some fascinating insights into the striking parallels between the print vs. radio war of the 20s and 30s and the print vs. internet war going on today.

Like today's Web, radio harmed newspapers commercially by disrupting the institutional identity they had carved out, Jackaway writes. The upstart media forced journalists and readers to ask, "[W]ho is a journalist? What is news? How should the news be delivered? What are the rules regarding the form and content of an acceptable news message?" Radio also fractured the existing institutional structure that partnered newspapers and wire services to deliver national and regional news. Radio could easily bypass newspapers and funnel news directly from the wire services to audiences. And, last, radio battered the institutional function of newspapers with live broadcasts of everything from sporting events to political conventions, allowing listeners to hear the news as it happened instead of reading about it 24 hours later.

Newspapers had every right to carve out just and enforceable intellectual-property rights for their copy, but their crusade against radio often lapsed into full scale disparagement of the new media. Some print journalists and industry leaders claimed that radio content was inaccurate, skimpy, sensationalist, and trivial and that its practitioners were amateurs. When radio news was accurate, they asserted, it was either a bunch of headlines from a newspaper or a story directly pilfered from one. Does any of this sound familiar?

Shafer goes to note that the print media establishment claimed that their writings were "sacred rhetoric" and that the rogue gallery of thieves and buffoons in radio who were leeching off of them threatened to bring our sacred democracy to its knees. The print folk also did everything in their power to block radio journalist's ability to secure press credentials in order to gain access to the nation's power brokers.

To answer the "Does any of this sound familiar?" question posed by Shafer in the excerpt above, the answer is yes, it most certainly does. Obviously.