American Journalists in the Great War
Rewriting the Rules of Reporting
University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2017, 312 pages
Book Review published on: June 30, 2017
The responsibility for ensuring that citizens of America are receiving truthful information concerning world events sits squarely on the shoulders of journalists and the press. Author Chris Dubbs begins American Journalists in the Great War with an illustration of the anarchistic professional norms that reporters were accustomed to during the era of World War I. He depicts an environment without standards or rules. His prelude spotlights the various reporting styles that ranged from embellished dramatizations of actual stories to created reports, or “fake news” as it is called today.
Throughout the book, Dubbs retells historical encounters of numerous American journalists. His book explains how a journalist’s role was transforming as the war progressed. Readers will develop an admiration for the extent to which journalists were willing to go to report information. They were civilians, with no military association, who risked their lives to obtain small pieces of news. Some went as far as catching a cab to reach the battles that occurred in Louvain. Many of the reporters traveled without any documentation that protected them from being identified as spies. Oftentimes, reporters found themselves in dire predicaments—situations that included being held in custody, at risk of deportation, or facing death for being a spy.
As involvement from other countries increased throughout the war, the reporters encountered different problems. The French and British governments supported a coalition of reporters and eliminated the wandering of battlefields without credentials. The coalition provided legitimate documentation for reporters to be able to access the war, but the reports were censored. The citizens of France in Britain knew very little about what was actually happening for a large portion of the war, a peculiar position to be in considering that those countries were sacrificing so much.
Interestingly, depending on the reporters, one could read stories about a particular city or an event written from very different perspectives. The writings of reporters ranged from compassion for those non-German citizens who were affected to pretending that the atrocities were justified. The chapter “What is an Atrocity” flawlessly narrates the difference in how reporters shaped their stories based on their relationships with the Germans. Their personal opinions were reflected in their stories, and those opinions oftentimes deterred from the facts.
Overall, the book is a fascinating collection of stories. Each chapter contains subsections that deliver entertaining, historical, professional explanations of reporters such as Stanly Washburn and E. Alexander Powell. This book will resonate with more than those interested in journalism. Those that are interested in learning about World War I from another point of view will appreciate a book that retells the stories behind the stories published by the press. An additional benefit of the book is the photographs of some of the reporters. The author could have improved the book by choosing fewer reporters to spotlight, but the small amount of content on some of the reporters leaves the reader wanting to know more.
Book Review written by: Staff Sgt. Lindsay N. Tramel, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas