I am a political and cultural historian, and my research is organized around inquiries into media and journalism history. My explorations of these subjects have resulted in published scholarship on such topics as the political economy of news and journalism, the materiality of media, the relationship between radio sound and printed text in the 1930s, media reform campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s, the intellectual history of communication theory, and religious broadcasting on radio and television.
My first book, Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011, paperback 2016), traces how American newspapers have responded to competition from “new media,” which in the few decades after 1920 meant radio broadcasting. Confronted by a new aural medium that could be used to distribute both information and paid advertising, many newspaper publishers began broadcasting as a way to meet this new competition directly. Papers around the country, from large metropolitan dailies to smaller local papers, established radio stations, in the process creating a new type of media corporation with a public presence in multiple media. Concern about the influence of these new multimedia corporations was widespread, as they seemed to critics to be not manifestations of strategic decisions by firms in the media business but instead institutions that could attain too much power to shape public discourse and stifle the circulation of diverse perspectives through the mass media. The outcome of the struggles between corporations, policymakers, and critics over how to regulate these new kinds of media businesses ultimately decided who would have the power to shape the emerging public sphere that included radio alongside newspapers, and who would control the institutions undergirding American society and politics. For those interested in the travails of the contemporary newspaper business in the digital age, the book offers a historical perspective on how newspaper publishers have for almost a century responded to a media environment in which new media have displaced them as the first providers of news.
Over the past several years, my work has been international in scope and is increasingly incorporating insights from environmental history. I have recently published work comparing the development of news broadcasting in Britain and the United States and analyzing global newsprint scarcities in the first half of the twentieth century. My forthcoming book, Dead Tree Media: Manufacturing the Newspaper in Twentieth-Century North America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), provides a new history of the rise and fall of both the mass circulation printed newspaper and the particular kind of corporation in the newspaper business that shaped many aspects of the cultural, political, and even physical landscape of North America. Popular assessments of printed newspapers have become so grim that some have taken to calling them “dead tree media” as a way of invoking the medium’s imminent demise. There is a literal truth hidden in this dismissive expression: printed newspapers really are material goods made from trees. And, in the twentieth century, the overwhelming majority the trees cut down in the service of printing newspapers in the United States were in Canada. Dead Tree Media is an international history of these commodity chains connecting Canadian trees and US readers. Based on original research in archives across the United States and Canada including many newly available corporate documents, Dead Tree Media offers a rethinking of the material history of the printed newspaper by tracing its industrial production from the forest to the newsstand. In doing so, this book provides an account of the often hidden labor involved in this manufacturing process by showing how it was driven by not only publishers and journalists but also lumberjacks, paper mill workers, policymakers, chemists, and urban and regional planners. Ultimately, the book offers a reconstruction of the obscured and forgotten environmental, industrial, and labor processes that together were involved in manufacturing the physical pages upon which news and advertising were printed and disseminated as newspapers. By considering the printed newspaper as a product of industrial capitalism and international commodity chains, Dead Tree Media offers a new material history of one of the core elements of twentieth century politics and culture.
I teach a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses on post-Reconstruction United States history as well as more specialized courses on media and journalism history.