Journalism and the American Renaissance
The period in American Literature known as the American Renaissance was a time of great change in our country. It was an age of westward expansion and social conflict. Americans were divided on such volatile issues as slavery, reform and sectionalism that ultimately led to the Civil War. Emerging from this cauldron of change came the voice of a new nation - a nation with views and ideals all its own. The social, economic, technological and demographic revolution that was taking place at this time set the stage for a new era of writers. The voice of the nation found a home, first, on the pages of the newspaper. It was there that the hopes, fears and political views of Americans were represented. The newspaper united Americans by giving them a vehicle to voice their opinions and concerns. The result was a newfound spirit of solidarity that opened the door to the first great period of creative writing in America known as the American Renaissance.
The ranks of Americaâs greatest imaginative writers overflow with men and women whose careers began in journalism (Fishkin 3). The birth of the penny press created hundreds of new newspapers along with jobs that authors like Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain were eager to fill. The affect that journalism, with its respect for fact, had on the early authors of America was profound (Fishkin 4, 6). It fostered a style of writing that put truth above rhetoric and first hand knowledge above hearsay. Writing for a newspaper required that the writer be immersed in the events taking place in the world around him and report what he saw, heard and felt. It brought the writer into the realm of the everyday raw experiences of life ö life as an American.
The development of the newspaper in the early 19th century was a slow, steady process. The early newspapers were very limited in their scope. A typical newspaper was four pages long, sold only by subscription, and aimed at a small, almost exclusively male audience, mainly interested in business and politics. The chief purpose of the newspaper, at this time in history, was to supply financial and mercantile information to businessmen and to promote the viewpoint of a political party. The news pages were filled with articles dealing with national, state and local governments along with editorials and news reprinted from other newspapers. Journalism had very little in common with the popular literature of this era ö poetry, romances and fiction ö in both form and subject matter (Robertson 2, 3).
However, the emergence of the penny press in the 1830âs redefined the role of the news and established a strong connection between journalism and popular literature. The penny papers were no longer sold to a select group of subscribers, they were sold in the street for one cent - to the working class American - both men and women. The press broadened its attention beyond business and...