Chapter 23
20th Century and Beyond

Chapter 23 - 20th Century and Beyond

Broadcasting was the most profound development for 20th century journalism. The century began with newspapers and magazines firmly entrenched as sources of news and information, but the taming of electromagnetic waves was well underway. Within a decade, radio had advanced far enough so that many people could see its possibilities. When the Titanic sank in 1912, radio helped spread the news faster than it had ever been sent from a remote area. The world was never the same.

Just as radio burst onto the scene, newspapers began a long, slow decline. The levethian newspaper companies of the late 19th century found that they had outgrown their markets, and after the 1920s many died or were consolidated. That trend continued into the 1970s.

Competing with newspapers for the attention of news consumers were not only radio but the newly invented newsmagazine. Time, with its weekly publication schedule, gave readers a different perspective on the news and entertained them with a lively and distinct writing style. Beginning in 1936, Life magazine showed readers the world in pictures as they had never seen it before. When the world exploded into war in 1939, these new media were ready to bring consumers information in ways they had never received it before.

After the war, television entered American homes with visual versions of all of the formats that radio had pioneered -- news, game shows, dramas, comedies, variety shows, etc. Television news took over as the nation's chief source of news and information, and by the end of the century, it had not relinquished that position.

But by the end of the century, television had a challenger on the horizon. The World Wide Web was developing as a new and, in some ways, completely different news medium. It gave users more control and offered them more choices than any medium had ever done. Its potency for journalism in the 21st century was apparent, and in the first decade of the new century, it is being realized.

Study questions

  • What was the most important development in journalism in the 20th century?

  • Why did newspapers decline?

  • The chapter discusses the development of the audience "as an important consideration in the practice and economics of journalism." What is meant by that?

  • What were some of the problems that had to be overcome in the development of radio?

  • What were the three events of the 1960s that were important in the development of television news?

  • How is the development of the World Wide Web as a news medium likely to change journalism?

Chapter notes

Father of broadcast news.
Even by the 1930s, when radio was entering its second decade as a news medium. the concept of presenting news had not been completely formed or standardized. The man who did that was Edward R. Murrow. But more than give broadcasters a form and structure, Murrow was known for his hard rock integrity and -- when the situation called for it -- his courage. Read this short biography and then follow the links to find out more about his life.

History of the Internet. The Internet (and thus the World Wide Web) is the confluence of two strands of post-World War II thinking: one, information is multiplying faster than any one individual can keep up with it; and two, information needs to be transferred over long distances, or conversely, individuals in many places need to have access to information. A third consideration was the Cold War -- the 40-year period after World War II when the world was divided into eastern (Soviet) and western (American) camps. This link is a good timeline of the history of the Internet ( with links to other sites that expand on these concepts.

Scopes monkey trial. One of the most important events of the 20th century was the Scopes Monkey Trial (see pages 428-429 of the book) -- not because the trial itself was so important but because of the societal and cultural forces represented there. Simply put, it was science versus religion. Many people felt then that Darwin's theory of evoluation contradicted what they thought the Bible said about the way the earth was created. That same cultural division is still echoing through American society today, nearly 100 years after the event. The Scopes Monkey trial is mentioned in the book because it is one of the first big news events to be covered by radio, but its importance to American history goes beyond that. If you are curious, here's some additional information about the trial:

Court TV: The Greatest Trials of All Time (
PBS: The American Experience: The Scopes Monkey Trial (; there is a section of this site devoted to the WGN broadcast of the trial. (

Key concepts and terms

• The most profound change in journalism in the 20th century came with the development of broadcasting, first radio and then television.

• At the end of the 20th century, a new medium – the web – promised to render more profound changes to the profession.

• Radio brought news events to its audience immediately, often as they were happening; consequently, audiences were able to share a single experience.

• The 20th century was the era of the Big News Event – from the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee, to World War II.

Muckrakers – journalists who looked deeply into the ills of society, such as the abuses of child labor and governmental corruption, and wrote long exposés; the term was coined by Theodore Roosevelt.

Radio Act of 1927 – established that the U.S. government owned the airwaves and had an interest in controlling how they were used.

Newsmagazine – a type of publication pioneered by Henry Luce and Brittan Hadden, founders of Time, that summarized and wrote entertainingly about the events of the week.

Edward R. Murrow – the chief European correspondent for CBS radio during World War II; Murrow set the standard for broadcast news.

• Television came of age as a news medium in the 1960s with its coverage of three major stories: the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam.

Watergate – the name given to the scandals of the Nixon administration in the 1970s that eventually resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974; Watergate was a watershed in American journalism because it was a story pursued by two young reporters for the Washington Post, Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 23

Library of Congress American Memory archives

CNN 20th anniversary special project


Media History Project


American Women's History Project

Media History Monographs

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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