Sid Bedingfield is an associate professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Bedingfield entered academia after spending more than two decades as a professional journalist covering political contests in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of Newspaper Wars: Civil Rights and White Resistance in South Carolina, 1935-1965 (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and co-editor with Kathy Roberts Forde of Journalism and Jim Crow: White Supremacy and the Black Struggle for a New America (University of Illinois Press, 2021).
When and how did you become involved in AJHA?
In 2008, a paper I wrote for Ken Campbell’s media history course at the University of South Carolina was accepted for presentation at AJHA’s conference in Seattle. I was allotted ten minutes on a panel moderated by Leonard Teel. At about the 12-minute mark, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. Leonard was wind-milling his right arm like a third-base coach waving the runner home. I was encouraged to do a better job timing my presentations.
Your co-edited book with Kathy Roberts Forde, Journalism and Jim Crow, has won multiple awards—including the AJHA Book of the Year. What do you believe is the importance of this topic?
The book takes a fresh look at the rise of Jim Crow in the South by focusing on newspapers as institutions of power within their communities. It documents the role of the white press in building white supremacist political economies and social orders in the New South—and the critical role of the Black press in resisting those efforts. The publishers and editors who ran major white newspapers used the soft power of public discourse, but they exerted hard power, too. They were political actors who worked closely with other institutions of power—the Democratic Party, the railroads, mining companies, and other industries eager to take advantage of cheap labor in the emerging New South.
How does the book fit into your overall research agenda?
I began my research on journalism and its role in the nation’s racial politics when I joined the faculty at the University of South Carolina in 2007. My first book, Newspaper Wars, showed how the white, mainstream press had collaborated with politicians and business leaders to resist Black equality in the mid-twentieth century. Kathy saw the same thing in her initial research on Henry Flagler and his control of newspapers in Florida. That research launched the Journalism and Jim Crow project, but you can trace its roots to our many long conversations about journalism, race, and democracy during our years at USC.
How does your professional journalism experience informed your approach to media history?
During my time at CNN, I watched Roger Ailes build Fox News into a ratings juggernaut, and I saw how he worked closely with political and business allies to wield the network as a political weapon—an extremely effective political weapon.
How does your historical knowledge influence your teaching?
My research on journalism and democracy infuses all my media history courses, including a new one this semester where I’m taking students into the university’s special collections archive to conduct research in the papers of Hedley Donovan, editor-in-chief of Time, Inc, during the 1960s and '70s. This week, they are scouring Donovan’s papers for material on coverage of the Vietnam War.
What are you working on now?
In the short term, I’m working on multiple articles, including one on contemporary Black advocacy journalism, the mainstream press, and the public sphere. I also have launched a book project on Journalism in the Jim Crow North. Early days on that one.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of academia?
My wife and I have three aging pets, and it sometimes feels like they dominate our spare time. But we spend most of our free time focusing on our grandkids—ages 8 and 5—and rooting on our daughter, who works in politics at this fraught moment in our nation’s history. Not for the faint of heart.