The Browser > FiveBooks Interviews

Posted on: Monday January 16, 2012

Amanda Smith on Newspaper Dynasties


Amanda was interviewed by Eve Gerber for The Browser

From the Hearsts to the Murdochs, powerful families have often controlled the newspapers we read. The author, and Kennedy family member, tells us why they do it and where it leads

Newspaper dynasties are the subject of the five books we’re about to discuss, and of your recent book,
Newspaper TitanThe Infamous Life and MonumentalTimes of Cissy Patterson. What attracted you to the subject of newspaper families?

I got interested in Cissy because of isolationism. Looking at her life, I found her larger family to be fascinating and it occurred to me that there were a lot of parallels between her families and other newspaper families throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.

The Hearsts, the Scripps, the Binghams, the Sulzbergers, the Chandlers and now the Murdochs, we seem almost as interested in reading about newspaper families as we are in reading the papers they publish. Why?

Many became oligarchs within their cities, particularly in the United States with, for instance, the Chandlers in LA and the Medills in Chicago. The prominence of the newspaper and the prominence of the city and the success and growth of both were intertwined.

Newspaper dynasties were very influential and powerful in their domains. They had the ability to become kingmakers and to influence public opinion. In a number of cases, that sense of entitlement was passed down to the children along with the expectation that their offspring would occupy a prominent role in society and in making public opinion, which they often characterised as for the good of the country. I imagine they believed that they used their influence for the good of the country and whether it was or not is always open to debate. And of course, a lot of newspaper families, the successful ones, became incredibly rich. Newspaper dynasties are not as common as they used to be. The Murdochs are one of the few who are left.

About 80 years before Rupert Murdoch entered the UK tabloid market, Alfred Harmsworth was pioneering the populist tactics of tabloid journalism at London’s Daily Mail. Your first choice is a book about the Harmsworths by Sally Taylor. Tell us about The Great Outsiders.


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