Here’s what looks like a fascinating account of a historical struggle in nineteenth and early twentieth century America: Ronald R. Rodgers, The Struggle for the Soul of Journalism: The Pulpit vs. the Press, 1833-1923 (University of Missouri Press). Of course, the struggle resulted in the ostensible triumph of the press over the pulpit in the twentieth century. Or did it? In the new era of “fake news” and the systematic loss of authority of institutions like the press (and the church), one wonders just who vanquished whom. Perhaps everyone lost.
In this study, Ronald R. Rodgers examines several narratives involving religion’s historical influence on the news ethic of journalism: its decades-long opposition to the Sunday newspaper as a vehicle of modernity that challenged the tradition of the Sabbath; the parallel attempt to create an advertising-driven Christian daily newspaper; and the ways in which religion—especially the powerful Social Gospel movement—pressured the press to become a moral agent. The digital disruption of the news media today has provoked a similar search for a news ethic that reflects a new era—for instance, in the debate about jettisoning the substrate of contemporary mainstream journalism, objectivity. But, Rodgers argues, before we begin to transform journalism’s present news ethic, we need to understand its foundation and formation in the past.