The media in USA
Although there are two American news services operating worldwide — the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) — the tremendous size of the nation, the variety of time zones, and the general preoccupation with mainly local issues make it difficult for national daily newspapers to exist. "The New York Times", with a circulation of 900,000, is perhaps the most influential daily newspaper, followed by "The Washington Post" and "The Los Angeles Times", "The Christian Science Monitor" has become known for its in-depth analysis of major news developments. An attempt has been made to introduce the "popular" "US Today" on a nationwide basis; and "The Wall Street Journal", broadened from a strictly financial paper to one with general news interest, comes close to being a national newspaper.
All large American cities have at least one newspaper and, although mainly concerned with local affairs, they are also read in other States.
Periodicals exist for virtually every type of interest, some with just a tiny circulation, others like "The Time" with a circulation worldwide of more than 6 million copies. More than 50 of the leading magazines produce over one million copies of each issue.
New periodicals keep appearing. There has been a great growth in suburban newspapers, which siphon readers from the big-city press. Most successful of these has been New York's "Newsday". Founded in 1940, it is today one of the country's leading evening papers.
In a single month some 9000 different magazines appear in the United States. Americans all across the country buy millions of copies of these periodicals, which treat every imaginable subject in the range of human thought and endeavor. There are publications for farmers, apartment dwellers, cooks, weight lifters, and antique collectors, among many others. Men and women of every age group, adolescents, and children can all find magazines specifically aimed at them. Sports of every variety and special interests in every conceivable field are covered.
Although individual magazines come and go, the magazine business continues to be the most zestful, competitive, and imaginative of all publishing endeavors, and there are no signs that the public appetite for its products is about to diminish.
More and more the Nation seems to be getting its news from radio and television. But it is the newspapers and magazines that have the time and the space for the most careful interpretation of the news. The newspapers in the United States continue to deal most effectively with local news and to relate the national news to the locality. Despite persistent warnings of its imminent doom, the age of print is far from over.
THE POWER OF THE PRESS
On September 25, 1690, news-hungry Bostonians, who had to wait months for papers from Britain, bought the first copies of the American Colonies' first newspaper. It was a small four-page journal with one blank page on which readers could fill in their own news.
The paper was fairly sensational for its day, with reports of smallpox and fevers, a suicide, Indian raids, and a scandalous story about the King of France.
That first issue was also the last because the printer, Benjamin Harris, had not obtained the license required by law. More than a decade passed before Americans saw another native newspaper.
The press in the United States has followed a smoother path since 1690. Relations between press and government have not always been the most cordial, for the press has traditionally tended to be its determined — but loyal — adversary. Since 1791 the First Amendment to the Constitution has guaranteed freedom of the written word from action of the Federal Government, a guarantee that has been tested and consistently upheld through the years.
The Media indeed have uncovered and made public many secrets the government would have preferred to keep secret (such as the Watergate scandal), leading to constant tension between journalists and government officials. Some people say that the media — and television in particular — have become so influential that in effect they are the political process, shaping public opinion.
The power of the press has not always been used for noble purposes. From the very beginning there have been examples of sensationalism, inaccuracy, and, occasionally, slander. But for the most part the story of the press is one of responsibility, for the press, whether in its staid journals, glossy ladies' magazines, or television documentaries, has on the whole dealt responsibly with the freedom guaranteed it by the Constitution and has fulfilled its primary duty: to inform the public of the truth.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
Although both radio and television are geared more to entertaining than to informing, they have become increasingly concerned with the news. Certain radio stations are devoted entirely to news and opinion, with spot announcements, editorials, and in-depth reports.
There is no national radio station in the United States, but every large city has dozens of independent stations, which range from twenty four hours a day news to rock and classical music.
The first commercial radio station took to the airwaves in 1920. At the beginning of 1922 there were 30 stations in operation; by the following year, more than 500. The creation of the first two multi-station networks, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1926 and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) the following year, turned broadcasting into a coherent medium. In 1930 more than 12 million US families had radios; 20 years later 40 million families — nearly 92 per cent of the American people — were avid listeners.
The earliest entertainers performed free, grateful for the publicity; the manufacturers of radio equipment paid for most programming. Then the idea of financing programs with advertising began to emerge and soon proved profitable beyond the wildest dreams: by 1929 the Ford Motor Company was paying $1000 a minute for prime time (the popular evening hours), and the price was climbing.
For better or for worse, Americans in every corner of the continent are simultaneously laughing at the same jokes, listening to the same news, cheering the same teams, and dancing to the same music. Radio also affected the economy by introducing new products to millions of potential customers. President Roosevelt mastered the medium and used his "fireside chats" to help restore the nation's confidence in its own future.
The National Broadcasting Company started experimental television broadcasts in New York City in 1930, but it was not after the World War II that television truly developed.
The first publicly available sets had round screens ranging in size from 5 to 9 inches, and viewers had to sit up close to see. The first commercial appeared in the summer of 1941.
In 1946-47 broadcasters and set manufacturers renewed their efforts to get full-scale TV broadcasting underway. In 1947 there were just 14000 sets in use. By 1949 there were nearly 1 million; by 1955— nearly 30 million; and by 1960— 60 million. Colour and ever-large screens added to TV's mass appeal, and by the 1990s more than 96 per cent of all American households had one or more sets.
In 1946 there were 6 television stations in the United states; in 1973 there were 927 and now there are about 1000 commercial television stations. More than 600 of these are affiliated with the big private national television networks, ABC, NBS and CBS, which show their programs at the same time throughout the nation during prime time (the hours in which most people watch television, usually 7.30 p.m. to 11 p. m.). The rest are either independent or in smaller networks. An increasing number of Americans also subscribe to cable television stations.
Television, along with the other media, reflects, the popular mood of the day, but no amount of print coverage can match the immediacy and thrill of certain television reporting. Via satellite, television can bring the world live coverage of any event, even the unforgettable landing of the United States' historic men on the Moon.
Television publicity value has become enormous. Televised congressional hearings have made national heroes of previously obscure Representatives and Senators. Street gangs hold press conferences for the television cameras.
Public television, funded by Government grants and private donations, does not only provide a select blend of entertainment and information. Thanks to such programs as "Sesame Street" and "Electric Company", it has also helped teach a whole generation to read.
Like print journalism, broadcast journalism has generated its share of controversy. Television stations have come under attack from local minority groups for ignoring their interests; congressional committees have investigated television programs. Unlike newspapers and magazines, however, radio and television stations in the United States act under the implied restrictions of a Government license, granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The FCC, while it cannot censor program content, has the power to review a station's operations to determine if it is acting in the public interest and can suspend the license if it decides the station is not. There is always the possibility that threats of suspension may be used in attempts to intimidate stations. Fortunately the electronic media have in general followed in the tradition of public responsibility set by newspapers and magazines.