Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Berkowitz, Daniel A

First Committee Member

Oates, Thomas

Second Committee Member

Sanders, Katrina

Third Committee Member

Singer, Jane B

Fourth Committee Member

Vogan, Travis


Using myth, media memory, and boundary work as the theoretical underpinnings, this research aims to understand how journalists manipulated meanings assigned to a single subject over a long period of time. The research explores how journalists shaped and reshaped former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno, and how journalists imprinted evolving cultural values on Paterno. As “what matters” within a culture shifts, the journalistic narrative of authority figures and heroes shifts along with it to reflect new or emerging cultural values.

The research also examined what happens to a profession when it faces severe structural unrest. In this case, disruption to the Paterno narrative was caused by new technologies that increased access to the profession. To accomplish these research goals, the researcher employed qualitative and historical research methods, including archival research, textual analysis of newspaper, magazine, and online articles, and a critical historical analysis that allowed for input from multiple paradigms.

The examination of shifting, long-term journalistic narrative matters because it helps us understand how cultures respond and adapt to gradual changes in values or sudden moments of public trauma. This research also offers journalism professionals insights into how new technologies affect industrial structures.

Public Abstract

Joe Paterno coached football at Penn State University for 61 years, including as head coach from 1966 to the night in early November 2011 when he was fired. With Paterno as its main character, this dissertation aims to understand how journalists narrate a single subject over a long period of time. Descriptions of Paterno, who was appreciated by journalists for most of his career, radically changed as America experienced cultural shifts.

From the late 1960s through the 1970s, journalists celebrated Paterno as a radical outsider who could heal college football’s corruption. During the 1980s and 1990s, journalists held up Paterno as a champion of conservatism. His values became college football’s values. Lastly, when scandal at Penn State University ended his career, a new generation of digital journalists turned Paterno into a symbol of everything wrong with the hero‐making tendencies of sports journalism.

Journalists built themes around Paterno over a half‐century that reinforced popular public sentiment. They embedded America’s cultural values onto Paterno’s image so that he came to represent America. When he ultimately betrayed those values, journalists worked quickly to salvage their professional reputations by either repositioning Paterno outside of American culture or by explaining to readers why they should continue to appreciate Paterno’s overall body of work. Paterno’s firing sent shockwaves through the profession of sports journalism, including helping to legitimize nontraditional news organizations while delegitimizing the work of mainstream journalists.


publicabstract, Boundary work, Journalism studies, Memory, Myth


viii, 183 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 152-183).


Copyright 2016 David Asa Schwartz