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Dead Tree Media

, 376 pages

23 halftones

September 2018



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Dead Tree Media

Manufacturing the Newspaper in Twentieth-Century North America


Popular assessments of printed newspapers have become so grim that some have taken to calling them "dead tree media" as a way of invoking the medium’s imminent demise. There is a literal truth hidden in this dismissive expression: printed newspapers really are material goods made from trees. And, throughout the twentieth century, the overwhelming majority of trees cut down in the service of printing newspapers in the United States came from Canada.

In Dead Tree Media, Michael Stamm reveals the international history of the commodity chains connecting Canadian trees and US readers. Drawing on newly available corporate documents and research in archives across North America, Stamm offers a sophisticated rethinking of the material history of the printed newspaper. Tracing its industrial production from the forest to the newsstand, he provides an account of the obscure and often hidden labor involved in this manufacturing process by showing how it was driven by not only publishers and journalists but also lumberjacks, paper mill workers, policymakers, chemists, and urban and regional planners.

Stamm describes the 1911 shift in tariff policy that gave US publishers duty-free access to Canadian newsprint, providing a tremendous boost to Canadian paper manufacturers and a significant subsidy to American newspaper publishers. He also explains how Canada attracted massive American foreign investment in paper mills around the same time that US publishers were able to gain greater access to Canada’s vast spruce forests. Focusing particularly on the Chicago Tribune, Stamm provides a new history of the rise and fall of both the mass circulation printed newspaper and the particular kind of corporation in the newspaper business that had shaped many aspects of the cultural, political, and even physical landscape of North America. For those seeking to understand the travails of the contemporary newspaper business, Dead Tree Media is essential reading.

Michael Stamm is an associate professor of history at Michigan State University. He is the author of Sound Business: Newspapers, Radio, and the Politics of New Media.

"Looking through the lens of the US newspaper as an industrial operation, this excellent book ranges up and down the supply chain connecting the woods operations, milling, shipping, editorial, printing, and distribution. The result is nothing less than a history of the material foundation of twentieth-century news. With this fresh perspective on both the news and the paper it was printed on, Stamm has composed the most imaginative history of the newsprint industry in more than a generation."

"Tying media history with the history of industrial capitalism through the example of the Chicago Tribune company and its vertical integration across the US-Canadian border, Dead Tree Media makes a raft of very significant contributions to North American history and the history of journalism. An original and refreshing approach to the history of media, this pithy book pushes me to think anew about how I will teach and write about North American journalism and business history. Stamm deserves great credit for putting together such a thoroughly researched, innovative, and fascinating piece of work."

"Dead Tree Media is a penetrating study of one facet of United States–Canada relations in the twentieth century as engineered by Robert R. McCormick to supply the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News with mountains of newsprint. A study of the all-too-familiar tale of the cutting of North American forests, it is also a story of corporate paternalism, right wing rhetoric, supping with the devil without the long spoon, yes-men, political ambitions, the making of a company town, and decades of ecological destruction of Québec spruce forest. It shows an American takeover of Canadian rivers in a region of low population regarded as anything-goes wilderness and the birth pangs of today’s giant Hydro-Québec. Canadian and American historians will be greatly interested in these pages."

"Historians have written telling international histories of single commodities: salt, corn, cotton. In this splendid book, Michael Stamm tells the story of newsprint. In doing so, he deftly reinterprets not only the history of American newspapers but also the histories of tariffs and trade, natural resource exploitation, and US-Canadian relations."

"This engrossing book has much to offer media scholars, economic historians and followers of the new materialisms in cultural analysis. Offering itself as a ‘natural history of the newspaper,’ Dead Tree Media shifts the study of news media from debates over journalism’s purpose to the history of trees, fibres, rivers, fire, and ice. Stamm deploys a dazzling array of sources to show how one firm, the Chicago-based Tribune Company, shaped the economic and political destiny of an entire country."

"In this path-breaking work, Michael Stamm brilliantly combines the traditions of political economy and cultural history with meticulous archival research. He evocatively demonstrates how the industrial newspaper emerged and developed on a vertically integrated continental basis, with particular reference to the extensive cross-border operations of the Chicago Tribune Company."

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