“Like any other reader, presidents tend to like newspapers when they think they side with them, and fume when they don’t. They may hate the press, but they know they need the press--and then they hate the fact that they do," states Patt Morrison in her new book. She knows what she is talking about, having an unassailable knowledge about newspapers and journalism, and as an experienced journalist for several decades.
Some 20 years ago newspapers struggled economically to survive, and re-examined assignments for journalists and photojournalists, especially those who covered overseas assignments. Vying with other forms of news, 24/7 television and the internet, and the growing presence of social media, hard copy newsprint needed to justify its existence.
Morrison presents an overview history of U.S. newspapers: their importance at a time when they were the only means of supplying the public with current information; the large family-owned publishing houses, and their landmark architectural buildings; the comic sections; reporting popular culture; "the unheard voices and unseen faces" of women and minorities; sensationalistic reporting in order to sell papers, and to promote certain economic/political/social points of view; documentation of the inherent dangers of the profession, covering wars and uncovering controversial information; and fun facts, items and memorabilia.
Reporters and journalists are more important than ever. Throughout this book, Morrison addresses freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the journalist's creed to inquire, to thoroughly and obsessively investigate and document news events. She quotes a Texas newspaperman and United Press war correspondent, who had definitive thoughts about the press and democracy, long before he became the most trusted man in America. According to Walter Cronkite, this is the way it is,
"A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name ...This is the meaning of freedom of the press. It is not just important to democracy; it is democracy."
Readers should not be misled by what appears to be a decorative coffee table book. There is a great deal of well-documented information, supplemented by illustrations and photographs, and overall book design by artist Amy Inouye. The work of Patt Morrison is not to be missed, in print or in person. Her knowledge, insight and wit were evident in a recent appearance at Central Library. She writes for the Los Angeles Times, can be heard as a guest on KPPC, and interviewing others at Patt Morrison Asks.