Media History Exchange, 2018 Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference

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Baseball and the News
Ron Rodgers

Last modified: 2018-01-27

Abstract



In 1913, the journalist and psychologist H. Addington Bruce declared that “baseball is something more than the great American game – it is an American institution having a significant place in the life of the people.”[i] That was an authoritative declaration echoing similar inculcations over the decades that worked to enthrone baseball in the nation’s firmament. However, for several years before Bruce was writing and for several years afterward the “national game” was also the target of an extended conversation – especially in the newspapers and publishing trade journals – about “the overgenerous publicity given baseball by the newspapers” and critical of the “baseball magnates” who rarely offered recompense to the newspapers in the form of paid advertising. Indeed, an editorial in the newspaper trade journal Editor & Publisher titled “Baseball Magnate’s Greed” appeared the same year as Bruce’s tribute.[ii]

The press’s critique of baseball began in the late nineteenth century with complaints about newspapers overstuffed with baseball news[iii] and “the rowdyism of the professional games.”[iv] Then, from first decade of the twentieth century and for the next two decades similar protests and debates about the place of baseball in the nation’s newspapers continued unabated until the Chicago Tribune’s 1921 campaign to persuade the nation’s newspapers to follow its lead and “squelch the baseball evil”[v] by running fewer and shorter baseball stories and allotting more space to local amateur sports.[vi] The impulse for much of the critique was hinged to a degree to the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s early twentieth-century campaign against the “free publicity evil” of every stripe. Meanwhile, the impetus for the Tribune’s effort was also seasoned with the World Series scandal of 1919 and a seeming devotion to the ideal alternative of amateur sports.  To that point, a Tribune editorial reiterated its reasons for cutting space for game news was to give amateur sports more space and that “professional baseball has been damned by gamblers” – most pointedly the Chicago White Sox scandal.[vii]

This paper, however, is about more than a surface account of a dispute between newspapers and the national game. Here within this critical juncture can be found shared articulations about the interface between journalism and public relations, to include efforts to work out issues such as the definition of news and news values; distinctions between news and publicity, advertising, propaganda, and pseudo events; freedom of the press in the government’s efforts to force a definition of news; the proportionality of news coverage; the commercialization of sports; the mission of the press; and newspapers and the public interest.

 


[i] H. Addington Bruce, “Baseball and the National Life,” Outlook, May 17, 1913, 104.

[ii] “Baseball Magnate’s Greed,” Editor & Publisher, October 18, 1913, 352.

[iii] “Our National Game,” The National Police Gazette 44, no. 353 (June 28, 1884): 11.

[iv] Untitled Editorial, The Independent 52, no. 2708 (October 25, 1900): 2594.

[v] Untitled Editorial, Editor & Publisher, August 27, 1921, 28.

[vi] “The Shears for Professional Baseball,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 24, 1921, 8.

[vii] “Less Ink for Professional Baseball,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 30, 1921, 6.


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