The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
The death of Abraham Lincoln from an assassin’s bullet was one of the most important events in the history of the United States. The significance of the event was not only in the fact that the President was murdered in cold blood. The importance of the event can be measured in terms of its context. U.S. presidents were assassinated in the past; nevertheless, their demise was not as crucial to political and social evolution of the United States as the death of Abraham Lincoln. A few days before his death, Americans welcomed the end of one of the bloodiest wars in the country’s history. Furthermore, Lincoln was a popular president due to his stance on slavery and his success in guiding the nation out of the hellish Civil War. Viewed from the perspective of 21st century journalism, one expects a certain type of speed and diffusion of information coming from the source as it spreads to the general public and saturates the different sectors of society regarding the news itself and its implications to the social, economic and political aspects of American life. If the assassination of Abraham Lincoln occurred in the present time, people would know details of the assassination attempt in real-time and discuss it using social media tools.
Comparing the Dates of the Articles
At this early juncture, it is interesting to note the delay in broadcasting the news. The Daily Eastern Argus, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Albany Journal, and The Alexandria Gazette published the news a day after the event. The fifth article in The New York Times contained information of the same event, but it was published on a later date. The four articles were published on April 15, 1865 while Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. However, The New York Times articles were published on April 17, April 25, April 29, and April 30.
Comparing the Information in the Articles
In the newspaper called the Daily Eastern Argus, the assassination of the president was not in the headlines (“The assassination of President Lincoln,” 1865). The event was one of the most important events in U.S. history, and therefore, people expected it to appear as the main focus of attention in the newspaper. In order to read the news about the assassination, a person reading the newspaper had to have prior knowledge about the incident so that he or she could scan the whole newspaper and find the news. Newspaper publishers learned about the death of Lincoln after they have printed the news; thus, the story that they carried simply referred to the event as an assassination attempt and not yet the demise of the beloved President.
In the Albany Journal, the same type of information and the same type of presentation was observed (“Assassination of President Lincoln and Secretary Seward!” 1865). The news about the President’s assassination was also relegated to the second page of the newspaper. The same thing can be said about the information in The Alexandria Gazette and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In fact, a cursory reading of the four articles will lead to the assumption that it came from a single source.
The news about the incident was presented differently in The New York Times articles. One of the primary reasons for the difference is the fact that the articles were at least three days after the incident (“Our great loss,” 1865). The other articles from The New York Times were published ten days after the incident. Thus, there was more information regarding other aspects of the assassination attempt, such as details about the planning phase of Lincoln’s assassination attempt; the massive turnout of people at the funeral wake; and the westward progress of the funeral cortège.
Comparison with the Boston Massacre
The proponent of this study assumes that newspaper publishers are dealing with numerous constraints such as editing, lay-outing, and the actual printing of the newspapers. Thus, it is impossible to expect the news to come out in print on the day when it occurred. One can just surmise the reason for the strange layout of the newspapers mentioned earlier (“Murder of President Lincoln,” 1865). The news about the President’s assassination was supposed to acquire preeminent status, thus, it was supposed to have been printed in the front lines of newspapers (“Appalling tragedy,” 1865). At first, the proponent of the study thought that this was due to the numerous constraints that the publishers had to contend with. Due to the lateness of the hour, it was understandable that there was no time to adjust the original layout that was decided upon earlier that evening.
If one compares it to the reporting of the Boston Massacre, the difference between the 18th century and the 21st century news reporting will be significant because the telegraph was not yet invented at that time. In case of Lincoln’s assassination, the dissemination of information was made possible through the telegraph. Thus, it can be argued that the report about the Boston Massacre will be sketchy at best. It will take a longer time before the rest of the country will know about the pertinent information, such as the main actors and the catalysts of the said incident.
The Style of Reporting
Even if the publishers of The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer were smart enough to perceive the importance of headlines, this was done in a less powerful way. There was no effective utilization of the attention-grabbing power of headlines. It was enough to simply print it and display it as the primary news of the day because readers would naturally drift their eyes from the left to the right and thus glance at the first story and read it. The attention-grabbing capability of a well-designed headline enables the newspaper to compel more people to buy and immediately read the news. However, in the said newspapers, the information about Lincoln’s assassination was not printed in larger fonts so that the news could stand out from the rest of the information that was competing for the attention of the readers.
It is also interesting to analyze the communication style that was utilized by the publishers. There was a great deal of formal terms that were utilized. Thus, the news about the assassination was delivered through a very formal message. From the point of view of the 21st century observers, the use of formal language made it sound like a topic that was appropriate only in certain elite circles. In other words, the information that was circulated was not accessible to other members of the general public.
How the News Could Have Been Communicated in the Present Time
It must be pointed out that the absence of rapid news deployment teams and sophisticated communication tools are the main reasons for the outline and content of newspapers in the end of the 19th century. Therefore, the delivery of information was considered bizarre from the point of view of modern observers.
If the event occurred today, the information will spread at a faster rate. The significant difference in speed of the communication process is attributed to the use of modern mass media methods as well as social media platforms. In the context of modern mass media platforms, newspaper reporters would have been present from the time President Lincoln stepped out of the White House and proceeded to watch the show at the Fort Theater. In other words, there would have been a steady stream of paparazzi and representatives from the major TV networks to cover the activities of Lincoln.
At this point in time, Lincoln was like a celebrity. The war ended at a high note, and there was a general feeling of contentment with the objective where the country was headed. At the same time, it was important to know what Lincoln was thinking. Thus, newspaper reporters would have followed him around. Furthermore, modern reporters have powerful communication devices at their disposal. They would have been able to provide live images of the event as it transpired. They would have been able to provide accurate and timely reports regarding the condition of the President.
Although the modern mass media tools would have created a different reporting format for newspaper and TV networks, the presence of social media platforms would have provided a more radical approach to the information dissemination processes. Modern mass media tools would have provided quick access to the Ford Theater and the private residence wherein the president was brought after he was shot. However, the speed and type of presentation will be different if Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were used as a part of the information dissemination strategies.
There was a point in the ongoing story wherein the murderer jumped into the stage and shouted to the crowd words that contained the motto of the State of Virginia. His actions gave away his identity as a sympathizer for the Confederacy. This portion of the story was reported blandly by reporters at the time of the incident. However, with the use of social media tools, the citizens of the United States would have seen a video or at least still images of the gunman as he exited the Ford Theater. It would have provided a dramatic component to the reporting of the story. In addition, a significant number of the audience in attendance becomes a part of the information dissemination process as they use their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to discuss the event. Thus, in a shorter period of time, America would have known significant and trivial matters about the assassination of Lincoln.
The type of information that was disseminated to the public was affected by the tools that were available to the reporters. Thus, there was a considerable delay in the spread of information. If the event occurred in the present time, the news would have spread faster because of the existence of modern mass media tools. However, the content and the type of information transmitted would be radically different due to social media platforms. In the 21st century, ordinary citizens are not passive receivers of the news; they participate in the creation of the news due to their ability to communicate with other members of the community and the rest of the general population.