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The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation

The Active Voice


David Copeland

In 1897, William Randolph Hearst said that his newspaper did not simply cover events that had already happened. «It doesn’t wait for things to turn up», Hearst said. «It turns them up.» This book traces the close relationship between media and the United States’ development from the colonial period to the twenty-first century. It explores how the active voice of citizen-journalists and trained media professionals has turned to media to direct the moral compass of the people and to set the agenda for a nation, and discusses how changes in technology have altered the way in which participatory journalism is practiced. What makes the book powerful is that its assessment of the influence and use of media encompasses many levels: it explores the potential of media as an agent for change from within small communities to the national stage.


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1. Introduction 1


1. Introduction In 2005, Lu Ann Cahn, a reporter for Philadelphia’s NBC affiliate, burst into a Colwyn Borough meeting and took over the microphone set up for public comment. There, with cameras running and officials bewildered, Cahn claimed that officials in Delaware County were using taxpayers’ money to fund an ille- gal bar for borough managers, the police chief, and other elected officials in the fire station of the dry borough. Cahn’s guerilla tactics included infiltrat- ing the bar with hidden cameras to support her claim. Armed with that infor- mation, she attacked borough officials at the meeting, Cahn’s stint at the microphone being the central portion of the story. For her work, Cahn and WCAU-TV won an Emmy for investigative reporting in regional news, and Delaware County’s “Dirty Little Secret,” as the report was called, was exposed. The bar closed, and county money was no longer diverted into illegal activi- ties. A little more than a century earlier, John Cockerill, managing editor of New York publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s World, sent an aspiring reporter named Nellie Bly “undercover” into the city’s Women’s Asylum on Blackwell’s Island to reveal the treatment of those housed there. After Bly spent ten days in the asylum, Pulitzer sent a lawyer to Blackwell’s Island with papers to free Bly. She then filled the pages of Pulitzer’s paper with stories of the horrors of the asy- lum. Bly, the reporter, was the central figure in the reporting, but the exposé helped to change the way the...

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