Media at War: Radio's Challenge to Newspapers, 1924-1939

Gwenyth Jackaway

Between 1924, when the first presidential election returns were reported on radio, and 1939, when the Associated Press lifted its ban on providing news to stations, the American newspaper industry fought a vigorous but losing battle to maintain a monopoly over the distribution of news. Though divided initially over how to deal with the threat of radio news, print journalists were eventually able to put aside their differences and take joint measures against what they believed to be such incursions. Matters reached a head in 1933 when the wire services stopped providing news to the networks, the American Newspaper Publishers' Association resolved to cease carrying radio program logs, and news piracy suits were filed against particular stations. In December 1993, CBS and NBC agreed to curtail gathering their own news and instead finance a Press-Radio Bureau to supply broadcasters with AP, UP, and INS bulletins under very restrictive conditions.

This partial victory for the press proved to be short-lived, however; the Biltmore Agreement (named after the hotel in New York where it was negotiated) was scorned by many stations, which turned to new independent services such as Transradio for news. Before long UP and INS began selling news to radio and AP later followed suit. At the same time, many newspapers applied for their own radio licences or purchased existing stations.

Based on the author's 1992 doctoral thesis for the University of Pennsylvania and influenced by works such as Meyrowitz's No Sense of Place (1985), Media at War: Radio's Challenge to Newspapers, 1924-1939 re-interprets the Press-Radio War from the standpoint of a communications rather than the traditional economic perspective. In resisting radio news, Jackaway argues convincingly, print journalists were trying to defend an established set of unwritten rules governing the flow of information in society; they were seeking to maintain not simply personal profits but 2 what they perceived to be a democratic communications environment.

Through an in-depth case study of this particular confrontation, the author develops a conceptual model for understanding the issues and tactics that generally characterize conflicts between established and emerging media. The basis of her model is the idea that "media wars are waged by communication institutions to preserve the power they derive from their established identity, structure, and function" (p. 154). Although the presentation of this model is unnecessarily repetitious and undermines the book's readability as media history, the model itself is clearly applicable to other situations and is well illustrated in the three chapters of original research devoted to the press's threatened identity, structure, and function.

Where problems arise is with the author's larger assumptions about technological change. Although stressing that it is the use to which new communications technologies are put that matters, she views their development not only as inevitable but also as largely beneficial for an open and democratic society. In the case of early American radio, this assessment may well be valid, given the way, for example, that politicians like Roosevelt were able to use radio to offset press hostility to the New Deal. However, Jackaway's view that older communications institutions should stop resisting newer ones and simply learn to adapt--which, she says, would save resources--ignores her own point that any given technology can be shaped in quite different ways. Ironically, her acknowledgment that print journalists were legitimately concerned about the impact of radio on news values demonstrates that certain forms of resistance by established media could be valuable in determining the direction of newer ones.

  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO