It is undeniable that the journalists who arose early in American history such as Sam Adams and Tom Paine had a profound effect on the birth of the nation, but if we were to judge them based on today’s standards and ethics for journalism, how would they fare?
Sam Adams, an early writer for the Boston Gazette during the 1700s, used the newspaper medium at the time to foment dissent against British troops stationed in the American colonies at the time. To this end he created what could be considered a precursor to the associated press, the “Journal of Occurrences.” Through this service, where articles written by Adams were reprinted across the colonies, stories of the British troop’s cruelty spread. The problem was that Adams was making all if not most of it up.
The modern equivalent of Sam Adams would be, in my opinion, a widely read newspaper columnist with syndication in multiple papers across the country. Unfortunately he would be found to have a very poor standing when it came to the code of ethics all journalist must adhere to. The level to which he took bending the truth and spreading lies would be unequivocally unacceptable by today’s standards. Lucky for him then that history can only judge him by the standards of the time and all the good that came of his actions.
Tom Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” was responsible for a lot of the patriotic fervor that arose during the American Revolution. He did so with a flair for writing that could be considered a precursor for future ideals of journalistic writing. He wrote plainly, not crudely. In short he wrote for the common man in a way that had not been done before. His writing was clear and accessible to everyone who could read.
Ethically he stands up better than Sam Adams. He did not fabricate anything as his columns were clearly opinion and not the reporting of facts. The only thing I can find that would probably not be acceptable today, and even then it would have to be examined in context, would be that some of his writing was done at the behest of political figures.
I think that the closest equivalent to Tom Paine today would be a blogger, albeit a very wide read and influential blogger.