RED BLOOD AND BLACK INK: Journalism in the Old West by David Dary

RED BLOOD AND BLACK INK: Journalism in the Old West

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Gunslinging meets typesetting in this sporadically interesting history of frontier reporting. Dary (Seeking Pleasure in the Old West, 1995), head of the School of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, considers the role of newspapers in the framing of Western history--and Western myths. He notes that most frontier newspapers were organs of the Democratic Party, advancing that organization's political aims; he also writes that in some instances papers ""sold their editorial opinions to the highest bidder,"" whereas many others, more honestly, got by taking on job printing on the side. For all that, Dary has a tendency to lionize frontier editors as ""masters of vigorous English"" who ""knew or concocted virile expressions,"" rather than expose them as servants of the political machine. Dary's narrative skips about in time and theme and is often repetitious. The author also prefers anecdote to analysis, so that his book is really a catalog of stories about newspapers and newspapermen--and, in a late chapter, a few newspaperwomen--and not a meaningful history of Old West journalism as such. Some of those stories do much to enliven the book, however, including one involving an exchange of editorials between rival paper owners in Doniphan County, Kansas; one calls the other a ""skunk,"" and the latter replies with an astonishing string of invective, calling his foe a ""crane-necked, blobber-lipped, squeaky-voiced, empty-headed, snaggle-toothed, filthy-mouthed, box-ankled, pigeon-toed, red-footed . . . Black Republican."" Dary also profiles journalistic heroes like E.W. Howe, the editor of a free daily paper in Atchison, Kansas, who wrote 40 items a day and whose work became nationally popular. Dary's book has its moments, but it doesn't quite make the price of admission.

Pub Date: March 12th, 1998
ISBN: 0700609555
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Knopf