Faculty Colloquium Series: Randall Sumpter

“The Craft of Journalism: Writing the Rule Book in the Gilded Age”

Tuesday, 1 November 2016, 4-5 p.m.
Location: 311 Glasscock Building
The paper is available to members of the Center’s listserv, or by contacting the Glasscock Center by phone at (979) 845-8328 or by e-mail at glasscock@tamu.edu.

Randall S. Sumpter | Associate Professor, Department of Communication, 2016-17 Internal Faculty Residential Fellow, Texas A&M University

Randall S. Sumpter is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communications at Texas A&M University. His research focuses on the evolution of journalistic work routines from 1875 to the present day. It seeks answers to three questions: How do various social forces and institutions shape these routines over time? How do the resulting mass messages, in turn, shape our society and our perception of the social world? Who, at any one time, is included and excluded in this constructed reality?  His work as a news professional during a seventeen-year period before entering the academy has informed this research agenda. His most recent publication, “‘Girl Reporter’: Elizabeth L. Banks and the ‘Stunt’ Genre” (2015), was in american Journalism .

Media historians have offered multiple explanations for why the rules for news work were standardized during the last decades of the nineteenth century, but they are less certain about the social processes that spread these standards. Explanations for standardization include that editors placed more value on “on-the-scene” reports, human interest stories, and narratives based on facts gathered through informal interviews. These stories were acquired by roaming reporters who brought back to the news room predictable story components. Second, technical developments made it possible to produce quickly large newspapers and that, in turn, increased the productivity demands on reporters. Finally, economic conditions for publishing, which mirrored the “boom-and-bust” cycle in other industries, became less favorable during the latter part of the century. Editors and publishers responded by employing poorly paid, inexperienced reporters, who would find it easier to produce stories if taught some standardized steps. These workers, however, received minimal training, and traditional sources of instruction did not exist. This manuscript (a) reviews the emerging work standards, (b) explains how knowledge brokers spread these standards through communities of journalistic practice, (c) shows how the same communities developed parallel standards for rule breaking to mitigate abusive employment practices in the absence of a unionized work force, and (d) concludes by examining how new media and new competition at the start of the twenty-first century once more triggered rule writing in an effort to redefine news and the standards for collecting and presenting it. As a whole, this manuscript challenges progressive theoreticians’ assumptions about press history. Journalists, who apparently inherited a nineteenth century reliance on their own rather than professional ethics, also still show a proclivity for rule breaking.

The Faculty Colloquium offers faculty an opportunity to discuss a work-in-progress with colleagues from different disciplines. By long-standing practice, colloquium presenters provide a draft of their current research, which is made available to members of the Glasscock Center listserv. Each colloquium begins with the presenter’s short (10-15 minute) exposition of the project, after which the floor is open for comments and queries. The format is by design informal, conversational, and interdisciplinary.

The Glasscock Center extends a warm invitation to faculty and students to join in a discussion of Professor Sumpter’s work-in-progress. The paper is available to members of the Center’s listserv, or by contacting the Glasscock Center by phone at (979) 845-8328 or by e-mail at glasscock@tamu.edu. To join the Center’s listserv and receive regular notices of colloquia and other events, please register at http://listserv.tamu.edu/archives/chr-l.html.