Crisis, race, and journalistic authority in postwar Philadelphia

Nicole J Maurantonio, University of Pennsylvania


Using a series of case studies to examine how the interactions between three institutional settings—the news media, police, and the mayor's office—informed the negotiation of journalistic authority in times of crisis, this dissertation locates the place of print news broadly, and Philadelphia's four dominant newspapers specifically, within the post-World War II U.S. urban landscape. Through analyses of letters to the editor alongside news coverage, columns, editorials, and visuals, this dissertation traces the dynamic interplay between individuals and institutions, arguing that journalistic narratives reflected news organizations' at times antagonistic and at other times complicit relationships with Philadelphia's mayor and the city's police. I argue that news organizations were not merely impartial storytellers providing a language with which to narrate crises. Journalists inscribed a rhetoric of racial marginalization that shaped discourses surrounding race and “radicalism” within the city.^ This dissertation is organized around five crisis moments within Philadelphia's recent history, selected not only for the intense challenges they posed to the institutions at stake but also for their public visibility: the 1964 riots in North Philadelphia, the 1970 police raids on Black Panther headquarters, the city of Philadelphia's first deadly confrontation with the controversial MOVE organization in 1978 in Powelton Village, the death of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 and the trial of his alleged killer, journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue by Philadelphia police. Each case, I argue, reveals journalists' varied strategies for negotiating the challenges of covering extraordinary incidents within the city. While the consequences of journalistic narratives may not have always been intended or desirable, what these five case studies reinforce is the power of journalism to shape the ways in which events are seen and subsequently remembered. The crisis on Osage Avenue in May 1985, the most devastating incident in Philadelphia's recent history, did not occur in a vacuum. It was set against the backdrop of unresolved crises past—the narratives of which lingered throughout the city.^

Subject Area

History, United States|Journalism|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Maurantonio, Nicole J, "Crisis, race, and journalistic authority in postwar Philadelphia" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3328620.