“We Have No Newspapers . . . Dull! Dull!”: Mass Media Dependency During the American Civil War

Betty Houchin Winfield, Chad Painter


This study ties contemporary media dependency theory with the historical reliance on mass media during the American Civil War. Researchers used a thematic textual analysis of references to newspapers and magazines in personal correspondence found in 32 published collections of approximately 1,000 soldiers’ letters. Consistent with media dependency research, soldiers needed media information for understanding of self in the horrific world they were living in; for orientation of actions in the battles (or anticipated behavior for battles expected); and for entertainment relief as escapism. Researchers found four additional media dependency components: a validation of the experience; reliance for a better explanation than what an individual correspondent could express; a check on accuracy about the coverage due to what the soldier witnessed or thought; and an emotional longing for local news about family and friends.


media dependency, American Civil War, newspapers, media history, textual analysis

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