A Cornell law student recently co-edited a book about journalism in World War I — a period marked by both powerful public influence and a “noted lack of objectivity” — that was released earlier this year, nearly 100 years after the November 1918 armistice.
The AEF in Print: An Anthology of American Journalism in World War I, co-edited by John-Daniel Kelley law, covers the story of U.S. involvement in World War I chronologically through the lens of local American magazine and newspaper articles, allowing the reader to experience the war as a citizen living through its events today.
“I have always been drawn to [World War I] in some part because it is so often overshadowed by its flashier sequel: the second World War,” Kelley, whose great-grandfather fought in WWI, told The Sun.
“While reading about the actual battles is always exciting, I find I am most interested in the situational context surrounding the conflicts,” he continued. “What led to them, who were the major actors before, during and in the aftermath?”
Kelley and his co-editor Chris Dubbs, a military historian, felt that a journalism anthology was the “right format” to show a modern citizen exactly what someone in 1917 would have seen in their morning paper. Additionally, Kelly said that the book is now able to shine more light on stories that went underreported due to racial biases in the early 20th century.
“[One article is about] two African American soldiers who won the prestigious French War Cross medal. While stories about African American heroism during the War were eagerly printed in African-American-run newspapers, they did not always reach as large an audience,” Kelley said.
One of the hardest aspects of creating this anthology, Kelley said, was deciding what works to include. With a plethora of stories, it was difficult to choose which stories made the cut.
“We discovered far more articles that were fascinating, and which would have fit well into the anthology, than we actually had room for,” Kelley said — and the editors were on a tight schedule to release the book before the centennial of the armistice.
As 100 years have passed, it is evident that many things about reporting have changed since World War I, Kelley added.
“Standards for journalistic norms and ethics would not be solidified until the decade after the War ended, so this period of war reporting often was marked by a noted lack of objectivity,” Kelley said.
“Propaganda is a part of all wars, but there is a marked contrast between the quality and objectivity of analysis from American journalists before the U.S. entered the war and the reporting that was done in the period after the U.S. entered the war,” he continued.
Kelley said that during the process he was also struck by both the “profound impact” that war reporting had on the homefront and how quickly reporters were able to confer information back to home, which he described as a “true novelty.”
Kelley’s next project will be a legal note about the U.S.’s territorial claims in the High Arctic for Cornell’s International Law Journal. His book, The AEF in Print: An Anthology of American Journalism in World War I was published in May.