Journalism By the Book: An Interpretive Analysis of News Writing and Reporting Textbooks, 1867-1987

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Arthur J. Kaul

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


The purpose of this dissertation was to analyze the lessons on news writing and reporting contained in textbooks used throughout the history of journalism education. The analysis was based on 254 news writing and reporting textbooks published from 1867 to 1987 that were listed in ten standard bibliographies of journalism books. Most journalism textbook lessons are largely arbitrary, imprecise, and difficult to justify as appropriate intellectual activity for university students. Despite the growth of journalism study and research, the most recent textbooks retained much of the quality of the same lessons which first appeared in the earliest textbooks. News was usually described in terms of vague values or elements. News was defined frequently as simply a piece of information that had to be relative to other information. The main technique of reporting and writing was to reject subjectivity, always separate fact from opinion, tolerate interpretation, and embrace objectivity. Ethics primarily consisted of loyalty to editors and publishers and adherence to established codes. Textbooks frequently contained criticism of movies and novels that portrayed reporters as misfits and sensationalists and offered superficial lists of wholesome characteristics journalists must embody. Early journalism educators often justified the need for their discipline by arguing that it would raise the standards of journalism. Such lessons did not raise standards; they merely adopted practices already prevalent in journalism and gave them a form of academic legitimacy. Meanwhile textbook lessons offered little or no opportunity for students to ponder very significant moral, philosophical, and cultural questions connected to news writing and reporting. In this way journalism education was less likely to encourage analytic thinking and more likely to help media industries make profit by giving them a professional perspective and providing a convenient source of labor to exploit.