Books on newspaper/media dynasties

Dynasties and in particular newspaper dynasties are a great topic to follow and read.

Amanda Smith picks five books which provide some more spice on the topic.

Newspaper dynasties are the subject of the five books we’re about to discuss, and of your recent book, Newspaper TitanThe Infamous Life and MonumentalTimes of Cissy Patterson. What attracted you to the subject of newspaper families?

I got interested in Cissy because of isolationism. Looking at her life, I found her larger family to be fascinating and it occurred to me that there were a lot of parallels between her families and other newspaper families throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.

The Hearsts, the Scripps, the Binghams, the Sulzbergers, the Chandlers and now the Murdochs, we seem almost as interested in reading about newspaper families as we are in reading the papers they publish. Why?

Many became oligarchs within their cities, particularly in the United States with, for instance, the Chandlers in LA and the Medills in Chicago. The prominence of the newspaper and the prominence of the city and the success and growth of both were intertwined.

Newspaper dynasties were very influential and powerful in their domains. They had the ability to become kingmakers and to influence public opinion. In a number of cases, that sense of entitlement was passed down to the children along with the expectation that their offspring would occupy a prominent role in society and in making public opinion, which they often characterised as for the good of the country. I imagine they believed that they used their influence for the good of the country and whether it was or not is always open to debate. And of course, a lot of newspaper families, the successful ones, became incredibly rich. Newspaper dynasties are not as common as they used to be. The Murdochs are one of the few who are left.

This one on how WaPo came up is really interesting:

Your last selection concerns one of those respected eastern papers that theLos Angeles Times imitated. Please introduce us to Katharine Graham’s Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography, Personal History.

The family of Katharine Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, had very little money but he had great success on Wall Street. He eventually became what was at the time called a “Dollar-a-Year man”, a public servant in Washington who believed he owed his adoptive country something so he worked for almost nothing in various administrations. In the same spirit, he bought The Washington Post at bankruptcy in 1933. He didn’t really know anything about newspaper publishing at the time but decided that another way to contribute to his country was to publish a newspaper. It didn’t sell well at first and Meyer poured a lot of money into The Post but ended up making it into a very well respected newspaper. Phil Graham, his son-in-law, took up and maintained that standard.

Personal History is surprisingly straightforward. Graham grew up with great wealth and privilege but wasn’t supercilious. She is forthright about her foibles; she doesn’t blink and she doesn’t make excuses. She tells some hard truths about herself. It’s the story of a woman who wasn’t really raised to take over the family newspaper but who ended up doing so when her husband killed himself.

She decided to run The Washington Post and therefore found herself in the middle of multiple momentous moments in American political history, like Watergate. Her support for the break-in investigation and the publication of the Pentagon Papers had a profound effect on the course of American history and the course of American journalistic history. She presided over the scoop of the century.

Also, it’s a great history of Washington, DC, from World War I through the 1990s. Just as any story about the Chandlers is also a story about Los Angeles, any story about Katharine Graham is also a story about Washington, which was a sleepy backwater and is still a rather small community compared to its importance on the world stage. It certainly was when Kate Graham was a young woman.

Will media dynasties survive:

The Washington Post Company is now run by Katharine’s son Donald Graham and the paper is led by her granddaughter Katharine Weymouth. So the paper is transitioning to its fourth generation of family leadership. The Grahams of The Washington Post, the Blethens of The Seattle Times and the Sulzbergers of The New York Times are continuing their dynasties into the 21st century. Can media dynasties thrive despite the crisis in printed media?

That’s the $64,000 question. The dynasties that have survived in the past and probably will survive in the future are the ones that adapt to the realities and technologies of the present. The Murdochs excel at adapting. They’ve got into television and become multinational. It will be interesting to see what’s going to happen with the phone hacking scandal. That’s an illustration of a publication using modern technology to their advantage, except they got caught. The bottom line is I don’t really know which publishing dynasties will survive into the 21st century. But as the hacking scandal shows, it’ll be interesting to watch.

Superb stuff.. Most should be good books to read…

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