How did the media contribute to the public's lack of faith in the economy during the Great Depression?
In the 1920s, the media and popular culture had contributed to spread euphoria about consumer culture that came to be closely identified with and celebrated as modernity. This enthusiasm for modern products was often contrasted with traditional values which were parodied as old-fashioned. The advent of the Great Depression, however, suddenly showed that the media could also go the opposite way and destroy the myth of consumer culture that they had created.
The media machine itself was one of the victims of the Depression. Newspaper circulation declined and advertising revenues went down by almost half their value. several film studios declared bankruptcy as a result of shrinking audiences. Yet, the media remained tools that could mold nation-wide beliefs. In the 1920s and 1930s, sound was an important addition to the media both through films and the radio whose reporting reached half of the American homes by the mid-1930s. With sounds and images, in addition to the written word, the media painted vivid and dramatic pictures of the impact of the Depression on the lives of the poor. Reporters and photographers joined forces and travelled aound the United States creating the genre of photojournalism. Appearing in widely-circulating magazines such as Survey Geographic and Life, photojournalist essays combined powerful articles with sensitive and intimate photographs that constitute an importance legacy for the history of photography. Photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Margaret Bourke-White have left images that document the harsh realities of the Depression. Although these pieces may have damaged the faith of Americans in a swift recovery, they were generally progressive efforts and acted as a support to Roosevelt's New Deal program. They validated the President's argument that the federal government should manage economic affairs.
Roosevelt soon realized that the media were decisive in shaping a positive image of his Administration in the American mind. Conservative magnates such as William Randolph Hearst, Roy Howard and Robert McCormick were the owners of large newspaper chains. Thus they often took a negative attitude toward the actions of the Administration and tried to prevent Roosevelt's plan to restore confidence in the American people. They largely ignored the President's press releases. Yet, the President countered this hostility with an assertive use of the media through his press conferences and the famous "fireside chats".
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To answer this question, think about the media today. The media tend to report, more than anything, the bad news. Bad news is more interesting than good news and so it gets played up much more than it warrants. Now translate that to the time of the Depression.
During the Depression, there was bad news in abundance. Things really were bad. But media coverage of the Depression could make people feel worse about things than they otherwise would have. If there is a lot of coverage out there of people who are unemployed, factories that are shutting down, and other sorts of economic problems, the people around the country are going to feel like the economy is not going to get better. This will make them feel discouraged and lack faith in the economy.
So, by reporting all the bad news, the media contributed to the public's lack of faith in the economy.
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