The Christian Roots of Journalism.


The nature and function of news in the public life of seventeenth-century New England and the legacy this conception of news left for the development of American newspaper journalism in the eighteenth century are explored in this paper. The paper argues that the origin of American news–its subject matter, style, and method of reporting–is deeply rooted in the religious culture of seventeenth-century New England and that the doctrine of divine providence helped to shape the nature of news and news reporting in America. The publications of Samuel Danforth, Increase Mather, and his son, Cotton Mather, all leading seventeenth-century religious figures, are examined in the paper to illustrate the eclectic, reportorial method of inquiry. The paper claims that the characteristics of news and news reporting that emerged in seventeenth-century New England–event orientation, supported by reportorial empiricism and authoritative interpretation–left an ambiguous legacy, a legacy for “both” orthodoxy and heresy in modern American journalism. The paper concludes that Puritanism in America provided a rich environment for the growth of news and for the growth of a particular methodology for identifying, gathering, reporting, and publishing news stories, and that for the most part, the first newspapers, such as the “Boston News-Letter,” continued the news reporting style that had been central to the teleological news system of seventeenth-century New England.

Source: David Paul Nord, Teleology and News: The Religious Roots of American Journalism, 1630-1730. 1990.

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