Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



This study examined journalistic press criticism between 1865 and 1930. It sought to understand how the first modern journalists conceived of their profession in a period of great transitions. As the study revealed, journalists writing about journalism between 1865 and 1930 discussed recurring themes such as commercialization, sensationalism, advertising, and ethics. They expressed ambivalence toward the rise of big business in their field and the consequences it could have on the quality of the work. In the process, journalists also defined journalism as a profession providing a public service or as a business aiming solely for circulation and profit. Definitions shifted depending on the period during which the journalists wrote. Criticism during the period under study often reflected the social and cultural trends journalists witnessed. During the postbellum era, it mirrored the belief in the American Dream of wealth, well-being, and democracy. In the 1890s, criticism focused on the downsides of commercialism, expressing the fears people felt toward the new corporate giants. During the progressive period, the writings of press critics revealed the pride they felt in the civic services journalism provided. But World War I brought an end to progressivism. During the 1920s, disillusioned journalists criticized “mediocre” journalism. Their frustration echoed that of the old generation of progressives. Underlying the journalists’ criticism was also the perception they had of news. Excited about the democratic promise of this new concept, postbellum critics praised journalism more than they criticized it. During the 1890s, and despite the downsides of commercialism, journalists never lost hope because, for them, news democratized information. The progressive period seemed to confirm the democratic potentials of news, promoting pride among critics. But the propaganda campaigns of World War I broke the spell, as critics realized that news was potentially susceptible to propaganda. The establishment of public relations as a profession based on the spinning of news during the 1920s further aggravated the problem. Journalists, who had kept their optimism throughout the previous fifty years, became concerned, in the 1920s, that many newspapers did not live up to the democratic promise of the press.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Hamilton, John Maxwell