Michael Stamm’s book Dead Tree Media: Manufacturing the Newspaper in Twentieth-Century North America (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018) begins with the simple but thought-provoking premise that, not too long ago, newspapers were almost exclusively physical objects made out of paper. This meant that producing a newspaper implied industrial production, mills, and a distribution system that could deliver daily-produced issues to individual consumers. But most of all, it meant trees. Lots and lots of trees. Newspapers acquired timber lands, chopped down trees, and managed international supply chains. A simple premise then opens up an entire world of industrial processes that might appear distant from us denizens of the digital age.
In this highly innovative work of media history, Stamm, a Professor of history at Michigan State University, pulls readers into that world, guiding them through newspaper boardrooms in big American cities, lumber camps and company towns across Canada, and laboratories that were experimenting with newsprint waste so as to synthesize new products and squeeze ever more revenue out of the process (who knew that the parent company of the Chicago Tribune was one of the largest manufacturers of synthetic vanilla in the 1950s?). The book will interest communications scholars, media historians, historical scholars of political economy, and many others.
Dexter Fergie is a PhD student of US and global history at Northwestern University. He is currently researching the 20th century geopolitical history of information and communications networks. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @DexterFergie.