Meticulously researched, adeptly written and, most important, historically significant. That's the appropriate way to summarize "News for All People," an in-depth chronicle of American media and the way they have treated minorities.
It is an important work.
The authors have cobbled together the research, the writings and the people that have played significant roles in the media since colonists passed out leaflets to get their views to others. And they leave no stone unturned.
They start with the first recognized newspaper, "Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick," which was touted as a vehicle of truth, then summarily labeled Indians as "miserable savages." They continue through the decades with an accounting of how newspapers, then radio, then television, then the Internet thrived. And along the way they intersperse their work with the way minorities of every color and creed were treated.
Fast forward from Colonial days to 1827.
In New York City, where slaves were liberated long before the Civil War, the New York Enquirer labeled "free negroes a nuisance incomparably greater than a million slaves." Note the lower case "n" in negroes, yet another racist treatment the authors report wasn't rectified until the Associated Press altered its style book.
Historical notes such as that, taken in isolation, do little but put a dent in the American media's treatment of races. But when culled and put together, patterns emerge, philosophies get spotlighted and fighters for racial equality get the credit they deserve.
"News" does more than trace racial treatment by the media. It also expertly examines race relations within the media, providing illuminating statistics that show how underrepresented minorities were in gathering and reporting the news.
Take, for example, 1972, when a survey found that of the nation's 23,111 newsroom employes, 235 were African-Americans, or 1 percent.
It wasn't until the second half of the 20th century, the authors note, that media organizations came to recognize not only the necessity, but also the importance, of a diverse workforce.
The authors possess personal insight for their chronicle. Juan Gonzalez, former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, has won a national award for investigative reporting. He co-hosts a syndicated TV and radio show and writes a column for the New York Daily News.
Joseph Torres, a former journalist, was a director of the Hispanic journalists group and now serves as governmental affairs adviser for a media reform organization.
The authors neglect no races in detailing the bigotry and bias of the media. Black Americans, especially their portrayal by Southern newspapers, get the bulk of the attention. But the treatment by the media of native Americans in the Northeast and West, Asians in the far West and Hispanics in the Southwest also help illuminate the problem minorities faced when they found themselves on the pages of newspapers or in the broadcasts of radio or television stations.
The book also benefits by melding the policies of the media with the policies of federal and state governments. The Telecommunication Act and its varied changes through various administrations plays an important role in how races were impacted by the broadcast industry.
For instance, the authors report, the Federal Communications Commission once licensed a radio station run by an organization devoted to the principles of the Ku Klux Klan.
It is an important work. Not so much for its detailed look at the development of the American media, but for the scrupulous way it examines how minorities fared as that development took place.
Lee Coppola, in a long career, has been a newspaper reporter, TV reporter, federal prosecutor and dean of St. Bonaventure University's Jandoli School of Journalism.
News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media
By Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres
Verso453 pages, $29.95