The Birth of Broadcast Journalism

Mar 6, 2020

Benjamin Franklin suggested that "without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom. No such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech."
Credit Wikimedia Commons

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Book-Bytes. This is a discussion of the book, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism  by journalist Bob Edwards. 

In reading this book from a sociological perspective, I am reminded of how media and technology interact with society, and can not only shape, but be shaped by cultural trends. 

Just as a reminder, to those not familiar with Murrow's name, Edward R. Murrow is famous for his cutting-edge journalism, including his World War II radio reporting, the team of well-trained reporters he mentored, his goals to educate the public on current events, his efforts to save scholars from Nazi Germany, and for standing up to the persecution of colleagues by the powerful McCarthy political machine under the guise of anti-Communism.  Upon reflection, Murrow's story is as timely today, as it was when Murrow lived it. 

As a double-bonus, the book is written by Bob Edwards, himself a journalism celebrity, known for his decades as NPR's Morning Edition host.  As such, the book is written in easy-to-read, straight-forward prose and makes a very interesting read, even if you are not a fan of journalism. 

Why is this book an important read? 

Our Founding Fathers were aware that in order to sustain a Democracy, and to encourage equal opportunity, we needed an educated and informed public.  With that goal in mind, they established the 10 Bill of Rights, which prominently included Freedom of Speech.  They also provided for Public Education and the Postal Service to create a system to keep populace educated and informed.  In fact, many consider News Media to be the 4th pillar of democracy, and the public watchdog to the other branches of democracy (Judiciary, Executive, and Legislative). 

Understanding the history of how our news media and journalism has evolved gives us an appreciation for the struggles to maintain the Freedom of Speech and the value of accurate reporting.  Such freedoms require constant vigilance and protections against political interests that seek to undermine them for their own gain. 

With that in mind, this biography of Edward R. Murrow underscores the heroic efforts of journalists to "speak truth to power", in the face of much risk at the hands of the powers-that-be.  In Murrow's case, he succeeded in being spokes-person for social injustice and being an agent of change through his work.  Yet he, ultimately, was himself pushed out of CBS by corporate and political interests. 

It is important to remember these lessons from battles once fought, for freedoms, once lost, are difficult to regain.  They should be nurtured, respected, and not taken for granted. 

In today's troubled times, the relevance of this history is poignant and revealing.  Only through ethical journalism can the public be informed of corrupt political machinations.  We must beware of political forces that seek to undermine the public's faith in truth and journalism.   In the fall of Democracy, the news media and the Freedom of Speech become the first causalities. 

As such, Murrow's story becomes a beacon of hope and inspiration for journalists everywhere to keep up the courage in the quest for discovering and sharing the truth.  This book is well-worth the investment in time. 

Enjoy reading. Again, this is Nicole English from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University wishing you happy BookBytes!