Member Spotlight: Andie Tucher

19 Mar 2024 11:16 AM | Autumn Lorimer Linford (Administrator)

How did you become involved in AJHA?

I’ve been a member of AJHA for so long I don’t even remember exactly when I joined—though I know it was in the Dark Ages of Microfilm, when I was a graduate student constantly explaining to classmates and professors how the intellectual rewards of reading old newspapers could ever outweigh the miseries of spending hours with my head inside a microfilm reader. So I was thrilled to discover an association full of scholars who just got it—just got both the value and the pleasure of studying the many and changing ways societies have told themselves stories they recognize as consequential and are willing to accept as true.

Later on a Joseph McKerns research grant sent me to Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, where the rich collections of 19th-century journalists’ papers got me thinking about the many different ideas of what journalistic “truth” could mean. That laid the foundation for my latest book, Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History.

Since you’ve written a whole book focusing on fakes, frauds, propaganda, and humbug, do you think journalism is irredeemable?

No, no, no! Journalism has a lot to answer for, but I had, and have, no intention of catastrophizing it. Part of what I wanted to do was explore on their own terms the ever-evolving and surprisingly diverse expectations of what newspapers were for and what “truth” meant. But I also make the argument that the twentieth-century turn toward objectivity, for all the rightful concerns that ideal has always raised, was also a genuine effort by journalists of good will to stamp out the fakes and the humbugs–and that we still have something to learn from how that worked.

How has the way you do newspaper research changed since those Dark Ages of Microfilm?

Obviously digital search engines have radically altered some of the ways we do research. Having essentially eliminated the tedium of page-by-page scrolling and scanning, they now allow us to zoom in on, say, rival papers’ accounts of obscure events, or the evolving uses of a word, or the journey of a rumor or story from paper to paper, or how often particular reporters got bylines.

But using search engines can also tempt us to stick to only those questions we already know how to ask and whose answers we can already envision. And as someone who has always loved historical newspapers for their intimate connection to communities long gone and the stories they told about what mattered to them, I still enjoy diving at random into the higgledy-piggledy columns of some local paper (whether digitized, filmed, or in hard copy) and imagining myself among those who read and discussed it back when its ink still smeared. Decades after I first happened upon the column of telegraphic news in the Vincennes (Indiana) Western Sun for March 21, 1868, for instance, I am still wondering what its readers made of the squib that read, in its entirety, “Rats cannot live in Alaska, because their holes freeze up, nor in St. Thomas, because their holes are turned wrong side out by earthquakes.” What did “truth” mean to those readers? How did that story fit into their vision of their world?

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of academia?

I’m not a bad photographer—I do street photography with an SLR camera—and I am a terrible pianist. (Cheerfully terrible. Also terribly merciful; I have an electronic keyboard and a set of headphones, so no one hears me but me.)

Andie Tucher is the H. Gordon Garbedian Professor of Journalism and Director of the Communications Ph.D. Program at Columbia Journalism School. Her latest book is Not Exactly Lying: Fake News and Fake Journalism in American History (Columbia UP, 2022). 

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