A Century Later, Our First President’s Words Still Ring True

By Chris Roberts, Alabama

This summer’s ballyhoo over the centennial of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication is particularly important to one part of the AEJMC community – the Newspaper and Online News Division. After all, the group was formed to think about journalism and journalism education – and in 1912, that meant newspapers.

Broadcast news was years away and the Internet a science-fiction fantasy when 18 journalism professors came to Chicago that year to found the American Association for Teachers of Journalism. Despite changes to the organization, the world, and to journalism since that first meeting, many of the questions about journalism have changed little.

For proof, look no further than the words of Willard Grosvenor Bleyer, who founded the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin and was the AATJ’s first president. Curtis MacDougall described “Daddy” Bleyer as a “practical idealist” who was “dry as dust” in the classroom (Nelson, 1987, p. 5) but also “the outstanding pioneer in journalism education (Rogers, 1994, p. 19). Bleyer died in 1935 in his early 60s, yet his efforts in moving journalism study into a more scholarly pursuit survives to this day. His work also survives in the seminal books he wrote: The Profession of Journalism in 1910, Newspaper Writing and Editing in 1913, Types of Newswriting in 1916, How to Write Special Feature Articles in 1920, and Main Currents in the History of American Journalism in 1927.

Those main currents of 1927 seem like ripples compared to the tidal waves that have swamped print journalism in the past decade. But other main currents in journalism remain constant. As we head toward this summer’s centennial convention, consider how some of Bleyer’s quotes (selected by myself and Michael Andrews, a University of Alabama doctoral student) remain as vital today as they did nearly a century  ago:

“The problem [of journalism education,] therefore, is to show aspiring writers how to present discoveries, inventions, new methods, and every significant advance in knowledge, in an accurate and attractive form.” (How to Write Special Articles…, p. iv.)

 

“Instead of thinking of readers as a more or less indefinite mass, the writer will  find it advantageous to picture to himself real persons who may be taken as typical readers.” (How to Write Special Articles…, p. 20).

 

“No other profession has a more vital relation to the welfare of society or to the success of democratic government than has journalism. … The most essential training which the university can give to a student thinking of journalism is to equip him broadly with the knowledge of the ages and give him such intellectual power that he will be continually fertile in applying that knowledge to present conditions.” (Quoted in Bronstein, C, & Vaughn, S, “Willard G. Bleyer and the Relevance of Journalism,” Journalism and Mass Communication Monographs 166, June 1998.)

 

“Ideal conditions of newspaper editing and publishing are not likely to be brought about by legislation.” (The Profession of Journalism: A Collection of Articles on Newspaper Editing and Publishing, 1918), p. x).

 

“The most vital matters for both men and women are their home and their business interests, their success and their happiness. Anything in the day’s news that touches directly or indirectly these things that are nearest and dearest to them, theywill read with eagerness.” (p. xiii)

 

“In so far as the newspaper performs a public function, its usefulness will be measured by the character of the service that it renders. Its standing will be determined by the extent to which it serves faithfully the community, the state, and the nation.” (p. xxiii)

 

“To present the news effectively is as important as to get it. Many a good piece of news has been spoiled in the writing.” (Newspaper Writing and Editing, 1918, p. 60)

 

To sum up journalism a century ago and today, we close with this quote from the foreword of his Professional of Journalism book: ”There is no one simple solution for the complex problems of journalism” (p. xxii). Because of that, what we do as mass communication educators remains as important today as it was a century ago.

Sources

  • Nelson, H. L. (1987). Founding father: Willard Grosvenor Bleyer, 1873-1935. In Emery, E., & McKerns, J.P., AEJMC: 75 years in the making: A history of organizing for journalism and mass communication education in the United States. Journalism Monographs 104.
  • Rogers, E. (1994). A history of communication study: A biographical approach. New York: Free Press