Paul Lazarsfeld and the Trajectory of the American Media Reform Movement, 1922-1955

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This thesis explores a previously neglected period in American public broadcasting history, that of the early- to mid-1950s. Engelman (1996) has described the 1950s as 'The Foundation Years', a time in which large philanthropic foundations - most prominently the Ford Foundation - invested in non-commercial broadcasting. While the importance of the Ford Foundation to the development of public broadcasting has been noted in the literature, it has never been explored in any detail. Where it is discussed, the focus tends to be on the practical support that the foundation offered, funding the production and distribution of programmes. My focus is not on the practical support offered by the Ford Foundation, but rather on the contribution that the foundation attempted to make to the philosophical debate regarding the place of broadcasting in American public life. I argue that the Ford Foundation intended, in the early 1950s, to breathe new life into the media reform movement that had been advancing the cause of public broadcasting throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Following the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) 1952 decision to reserve a portion of the broadcast spectrum for educational television, and at the behest of Robert M Hutchins, the Ford Foundation established a Television Advisory Committee (TAC). The purpose of the TAC was to undertake a wide-ranging, critical review of the place of television in American society, similar to that undertaken by Hutchins' own Commission on the Freedom of the Press. One of America's preeminent media scholars, Paul F Lazarsfeld, was appointed to Chair the TAC, yet its original aims would never be realised. In this thesis, I argue that Lazarsfeld himself was largely to blame for impeding the work of the TAC, to the long-term detriment of American public media.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award dateJan 2016