“How the Penny Press Brought Great Journalism to Populist America,” by me, at The Daily Beast.
You may not know the name of this image, but you’ve almost certainly seen it — or a variation of it, at least.
Entitled Daybreak, it was created in 1922 by Maxfield Parrish, the legendary artist whose 148th birthday was yesterday. An instant viral sensation, the painting’s popularity only grew as the century unfurled, becoming, like Benji Franklin’s “Join, or Die,” a sort of pre-internet meme.
The “Join, or Die” snake is one of America’s most recognizable, beloved and replicated icons. Emblazoned on flags and t-shirts, pillow cases and iPhone cases, and even on tv show title cards and in comic books, the image is upheld today as a both specifically as an emblem of American independence, and generally as bid for unity against a common oppression. But the world’s most adored reptile didn’t start this way.
Created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754, the “Join, or Die” snake originally signified loyalty to the English empire. It wasn’t a call to action, but an order to fall into line. It was only later that “Join, or Die” evolved into a revolutionary rallying cry — and when it did, it became America’s first meme, too.
“I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world,” so said Henry R. Luce, the founder of Life and Time magazines who was born on this date in 1898.
Today marks the 277th anniversary of Boston-based publisher Andrew Bradford releasing American Magazine; or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies.
Meanwhile, three days from now, February 16, marks the same amount of time since Bradford’s protégé and later rival, Benjamin Franklin, published his The General Magazine, and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America.
Neither publication lasted very long: American Magazine shuttered after three months and Franklin’s in six. Media in America, and in general, has always been a tough gig – and that’s putting it nicely.
As a journalist who has struggled with how, when and sometimes even why to cover Trump, I understand the media’s obsession with covering this “unconventional president.” I’m also aware of how people’s own disbelief over and outright repulsion to this president has shaped coverage of his administration. Hopefully this analysis from the Washington Post will make all media folk question their motives when pursuing a Trump-related story:
Most national media only started to pay attention to Puerto Rico after days of silence by Trump (as they jumped on the story, they seemed to forget the fact that they had also undercovered the island’s plight). When Trump started a fight with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, Puerto Rico finally started to get more coverage.
I agree this president needs to be taken to task for the many offensive, outlandish and un-American things he has done, is doing and will undoubtedly do, but it is worth constant reflection to make sure stories are being pursued for the right reasons. The PR story should have been a story before the Trump angle. It’s great that the administration’s lackluster, potentially corrupt and undoubtedly race-based response to the PR crisis is getting attention, but shouldn’t people have cared about Puerto Ricans’ struggles before Trump ignored them?
It’s official: after months of speculation and two failed attempts, Meredith is buying Time Inc, with ample help from the reliably right-wing Koch brothers.
This is just the latest story about conservative figures snapping up or consolidating struggling media outlets: American Media bought Us Weekly earlier this year from Wenner Media, basically securing their hold on supermarket tabloids — they also publish the National Enquirer, the National Examiner and Star, reaching and shaping millions of voters in the process — and Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of 193 television stations in 100 markets that reach 40% of the market, is hoping to merge with Tribune Media, a deal that would extend their reach into New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
While FCC rules prohibit such massive, monopolistic media solidifications Donald Trump’s pick over there, Ajit Pai, is helping clear the opposition so that the pro-Trump company can have its way. Pai’s also helping the Trump administration eliminate Net Neutrality, effectively allowing telecommunications companies to restrict access and content they deem unacceptable. This is all extremely frightening — and not simply because the interests here are all conservative.
The consolidation of so much media by any political group or interest poses a grave threat to free speech, free speech that’s already being assaulted by none-other than the President of the United States. If we want our democracy to be the best it can be, we need opposing views to inform the public; control of the media by one political party or another just takes the nation one step closer to dictatorial territory. Sure, freedom of speech may exist in such a climate, but does it matter if its drowned out by bigger, more powerful and more omnipresent outlets?