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Dead Tree Media

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.