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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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2. Cooking Up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurrences: Colonial and Revolutionary America 11


2. Cooking Up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurrences: Colonial and Revolutionary America John Adams described their activities as “cooking up paragraphs, articles, occurrences, &c., working the political engine.”1 Toiling late into the night, Samuel Adams, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and others wrote news stories and essays in the office of the Boston Gazette, and Country Journal that filled the pages of the most radical newspaper in America and then the columns of newspapers throughout New England and the rest of the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States. Years later, the future second president called that work the “real revolution.” If you wanted to understand the American Revolution, he said, you didn’t need to study the cannons, mus- kets, or the battles between colonists and Britons. No, you needed to spend time with the newspapers and pamphlets of the day. There, Adams explained, was where a revolution in the hearts and minds of Americans occurred. The printed word captured the attention of people and swayed public opinion toward separation from Great Britain, which led to revolution and the for- mation of the United States of America.2 THE GOODLIEST TERRITORY People turned to the press to define America before settlers began arriving from Europe. Seeing the potential for their respective countries, European specu- lators, eager to populate the New World, subsequently “cooked up” pamphlets, books, and broadsides that described “the mysterious land across the Atlantic” as “alive and beautiful and thrilling.” In a sense, the colonization effort of...

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