David Shedden

David Shedden is a researcher and the library director at the Poynter Institute. Poynter Online daily feature: Today in Media History http://www.poynter.org/category/media-history/

P-It's an Honor

Today in Media History: Jimmy Breslin’s 1963 JFK column: ‘It’s an Honor’

On November 26, 1963, The New York Herald Tribune published “It’s an Honor,” one of the most memorable newspaper columns of all time.

Jimmy Breslin tells the story of President John Kennedy’s funeral from the perspective of Clifton Pollard, a gravedigger at Arlington National Cemetery.

This is how Breslin’s story begins:

“Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. ‘Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?’ Kawalchik asked.

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P-Two 1914 Sports Stories

Today in Media History: Two sports stories from 100 years ago today

Two important sports stories took place 100 years ago today. Both involved proud parents.

One was in Pennsylvania, and the other, about 2800 miles to the west, in California.

On November 25, 1914, the lead story in Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger was the high school championship football game between Northeast and Central. Here is a story excerpt about the afternoon game:

“Northeast football warriors won the Gimbel trophy this afternoon, and with it the scholastic championship of Philadelphia by defeating Central High 2 to 0. A blocked kick in the third period gave the victors their only score when the ball was recovered behind the goal line by a Central High player.

….The ball was blocked and rolled in the crowd 10 yards back of the goal. A wild scramble followed, and when referee Torrey finally got to the bottom of the mass of players he discovered the ball in possession of Butler, of Central High.

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P-AOL and Netscape

Today in Media History: Do you remember these old AOL commercials?

On November 24, 1998, America Online (AOL) announced that it would be acquiring Netscape Communications Corporation for $4.2 billion in stock.

In the late 1990s AOL was one of the largest online companies in the world. On January 10, 2000, America Online and Steve Case announced plans to acquire Time Warner for roughly $182 billion in stock and debt.

But what do many people remember about AOL from this period? The TV commercials.

Here are a few:

This 1996 video says, “The future. Now available on America Online.” (I believe the music is also from the future: “The Jetsons theme song.”)

“Can you believe what’s possible these days….Your own personalized newspaper.” (1996)

And then there were all those disks AOL used to send through the mail.

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P-Edison Phonograph

Today in Media History: Before digital recording there was Edison and his 1877 phonograph

The digital recorders we use today can trace their history back to the 1870s. There were a number of inventors who built the foundation of audio technology, but one stands out.

On this date in 1877 Thomas Edison introduced his phonograph. The device was unique because it could both record and play sound.

What were his historic first words on the new machine? The original recording no longer exists, but he supposedly said hello, then read the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and ended with “ha ha.”

In 1940 actor Spencer Tracy gave us an idea of what Edison’s first recording was like.

The following 1933 newsreel features someone who worked with Edison and heard his historic “hello” and “ha.”

“In the end, they named it the phonograph. But it might have been called the omphlegraph, meaning ‘voice writer.’ Or the antiphone (back talker). Or the didasko phone (portable teacher).

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Today in Media History: Was the Teletype machine the Twitter of the 20th century?

It was exciting to read Twitter when it first began sharing breaking news in 2006.

In the early part of the 20th century, newsrooms must have felt the same excitement as the first (and often loud) Teletype machines began printing out news updates.

Although the technology had been around for a number of years, and the Associated Press started experimenting with teleprinter machines in 1914, commercial Teletype service didn’t start until November 20, 1931.

The clattering sounds of Teletype news would fill newsrooms for years to come.

This video shows an old United Press Teletype machine in use.

Just imagine all the important news stories AP machines printed out from 1914 through the 1980s.

“Thanks to Teletypes, America read 20th-century history the day it was made. Da dacka-dacka. Lindy makes it! Dacka-dacka. The Hindenburg explodes! Dak-dak-dak. Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor! Germany surrenders! Atomic bomb destroys Hiroshima! Kennedy shot!

Clattering keys, ringing bells and scrolling paper churned from those squat, black boxes with the glass lid.

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P-Gettysburg Address

Today in Media History: Reporters describe Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, various newspapers, magazines, and even the AP wire service reported on President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

President Lincoln was not the featured speaker at the November 19th dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln didn’t read his short address until the main speaker, Edward Everett, had finished delivering a two-hour speech.

Here’s a video recreation of the Gettysburg Address:

Depending on their political leanings, newspapers added their own comment to coverage of the speech.

“On the day following the Gettysburg dedication, many of the nation’s newspapers reprinted the speech, along with the one given by Edward Everett. Reaction to Lincoln’s address was frequently divided along political lines.

Newspapers critical of the President had snide things to say about the speech’s brevity and inappropriateness to the occasion. Lincoln supporters, on the other hand, published glowing reviews and noted the classical elegance and heartfelt emotion of the address.

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P-Reading Sunday Comics

Today in Media History: The first Sunday for color comics? November 18, 1894

November 18, 1894 was the first Sunday you could sit down with a cup of coffee and read the color comics. On this date, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper published the first color Sunday comics supplement.

What have been some of the popular comic characters since the 1890s? Here are ten:

This old film gives us an idea of what it must have been like to watch newspaper presses print the comics in the 1940s.

Another great 1940s example took place in June 1945. During a New York City newspaper delivery drivers strike Mayor LaGuardia went on the radio and read the Sunday comics.

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P-This American Life

Today in Media History: Act One: ‘This American Life’ begins in 1995

Ira Glass started a radio show 19 years ago today, on November 17, 1995.

It sounded like this.


Ira Glass: ….Well, one great thing about starting a new show is utter anonymity. Nobody really knows what to expect from you. This interviewee did not know us from Adam.

OK, we’re what? About a minute. We’re one minute five into the new show. Right now, it is stretching in front of us, a perfect future yet to be fulfilled. An uncharted little world. A little baby coming into the world, no little scars on it or anything.

….Well, from WBEZ, in the glorious city of Chicago, Illinois. The name of this show is Your Radio Playhouse. (The show’s name changed the following year.) I’m your emcee, Ira Glass.


….OK, so the thing about new beginnings is that there are the ones that we actually undertake and then there are the ones that we just wish for.

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P-Nellie Bly

Today in Media History: In 1889, journalist Nellie Bly began a trip ‘around the world in 72 days’

On November 14, 1889, journalist Nellie Bly (aka Elizabeth Cochran) began a successful attempt to travel around the world in less than 80 days.

She completed the trip with eight days to spare and soon wrote the book, “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.”

“Nellie Bly was an American journalist known for her investigative and undercover reporting. She earned acclaim in 1887 for her exposé on the conditions of asylum patients at Blackwell’s Island in New York City, and achieved further fame after the New York World sent her on a trip around the world in 1889.

….she traveled around the world in an attempt to break the faux record of Phileas Fogg, the fictional title character of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days, who, as the title denotes and the story goes, sails around the globe in 80 days. Given the green light to try the feat by the New York World, Bly embarked on her journey from New York in November 1889, traveling first by ship but later also via horse, rickshaw, sampan, burro and other vehicles.

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P-NBC Orchestra

Today in Media History: Did you hear the first broadcast of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1937?

There was a time when broadcast networks needed their own orchestras.

The first performance of the NBC Symphony Orchestra took place, on NBC radio of course, 77 years ago today.

The orchestra became famous largely due to its conductor, Arturo Toscanini.

What better way to learn about an orchestra than to hear it. Here is a recording from one of the orchestra’s last performances.

Rossini: The Barber of Seville: Overture
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 in B minor Op.74 “Pathétique”
Carnegie Hall, New York City
March 21st 1954

The following excerpt comes from an essay posted by the Library of Congress called, “Adagio for Strings”– Arturo Toscanini, conductor; NBC Symphony (November 5, 1938).

“Even amongst this prestigious lot, ‘NBC Symphony’ held a major cachet, if only due to the presence of Toscanini, the then living symbol and embodiment of classical music in America, a position solidified by his 1939 appearance on the cover of ‘Life’ magazine.

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