Saturday, August 7, 2010

New Book on Henry R. Luce

Alan Brinkley has recently written a biography on Henry R. Luce, founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines entitled The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century.

Here is an excerpt from Bill Keller's April 22, 2010 review in the New York Times that illustrates why the life of Luce can be seen as a fascinating and relevent topic to anyone with an interest in journalism and the role of mass media:

"Of all the arguments under way these days at the noisy crossroads of the news business, none is quite so basic as the debate over journalistic authority — who has it, and what it is worth.

On one side . . . is a view that the democratizing power of the Internet has rendered traditional forms and values of journalism obsolete, and with them, not incidentally, the idea that people should pay for news. Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian of London, observed recently that the old world in which journalists were trusted to filter and prioritize the news is now in tension with 'a world in which many (but not all) readers want to have the ability to make their own judgments; express their own priorities; create their own content; articulate their own views; learn from peers as much as from traditional sources of authority.' Among the more utopian partisans of this wisdom-of-the-crowd view, the reliance on professional journalists is seen as elitist and stifling.

On the other side is a conviction that a significant population of serious people feel the need for someone with training, experience and standards — reporters and editors — to help them dig up and sort through the news, identify what’s important and make sense of it. That in no way precludes enlisting the audience as commentators, as contributors and as collaborators . . . But in this view . . . the authority of professional journalists is both a valuable convenience for readers without the time or inclination to manage a tsunami of information on their own, and a civic good, in that a democracy needs a shared base of trustworthy information upon which to make its judgments.

Henry R. Luce can be considered a founding father of the authority school — for better and for worse."

Considering the role these magazines have played in documenting history and remembering events, it may be insightful to consider the man and his aims and how they may have manifested themselves in our collective memory through these pages.

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