Research and Insights

CJC at the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

March 12, 2016
New York University

Ron Rodgers, professor, Department of Journalism

The Social Awakening and the Soul of News

Abstract: The paper argues that the impulse for the struggle defining the ethics of the newspaper press as it shifted from a partisan to a commercial model at the turn of the last century was the notion of the “social awakening”– in this case the Progressive era’s awakening to the after-effects on society of Herbert Spencer’s ethical system of laissez-faire politics and extreme individualism that had held sway for so many years. This notion of a social awakening was expressed in a number of ways with an overlapping association of ideas hinged to it – William Howard Taft once called it the “quickening of the public conscience” – and countless observers referred to it with little in the way of explanation since it had become such a commonplace conceit.

This paper explores the long conversation about news ethics as it was hinged to the social awakening and the derivative of that discussion – the ineffable notion of the soul of news. The soul – at its most basic – was linked to the “general awakening of the social consciousness” and was part and parcel of a moral argument about news and service to society that trumped the demands of the market and its constraints on journalistic conduct and content.

Rick Shumate, PhD candidate

Quick on the (Horn-Rimmed) Draw: Barry Goldwater’s Life in Political Cartoons

Abstract: Over the course of a 34-year political career that nearly brought him to the pinnacle of political power, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona — known by his intimates for a robust sense of humor — amassed a remarkable collection of political cartoons depicting his own political life. This compilation of more than 500 cartoons largely consists of the artists’ original renderings, many of them autographed and sent by cartoonists who knew of Goldwater’s interest in collecting their work. The collection traces Goldwater’s career from his early days in the Senate, when he was a lonely conservative voice crying out in the political wilderness, through his rise to the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 and the ensuing landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson. It picks up again during the Vietnam era, when Goldwater became a staunch and somewhat incongruous defender of Johnson’s war policy, and on through the Watergate scandal, where, in the end, Goldwater helped ease Richard Nixon out of the White House. The collection concludes with the final epoch in Goldwater’s long political life as the GOP’s colorful, cantankerous grandfather, assailing religious conservatives he believed were harming the very conservative movement he helped build.

This study is a qualitative content analysis of the Goldwater cartoon collection, which is housed at Arizona State University. Drawing on previous cartoon analysis literature (Ginman & Ungern-Sternburg, 2003; Kline & Hill, 2010; Marín-Arrese, 2008; Medhurst and DeSousa, 1981), this analysis looks at how the cartoonists used irony, incongruity, and exaggerated personal traits, among other techniques, to create concrete, visually oriented narratives designed to both persuade and entertain their readers — in Goldwater’s case, often featuring his trademark horn-rimmed glasses and picturing him as a gun-slinging Western cowboy. The theoretical framework for this study is provided by the General Theory of Verbal Humor (Tsakona, 2009), which holds that humor results from the interaction of two competing scripts within a single text, a hallmark of political cartoons. This interaction is what resonates with readers, providing a unique, parsimonious form for communication of political ideas that can also facilitate persuasion.

This historical analysis of the Goldwater collection provides an opportunity to trace two different lines of development in political communication: first, how depictions of a single politician (in this case, Goldwater) developed and changed over time, and, second, how political cartoons as a genre developed and changed from the 1950s, when the collection began, to the late 1980s, when Goldwater retired from public life. Thus, this study extends scholarly knowledge by expanding understanding of the role political cartoons play in American political life, using Goldwater’s career and his collection as a case study.