Dependent as radio was upon newspapers jealous of their own prerogatives, upon sponsors reluctant to offend potential customers, and upon network executives sensitive to private and public criticism, it was a singular accomplishment that American broadcasting ever developed a significant news format. Yet, it not only produced influential news reportage, but, with the creation of programming peripheral to current events, radio also established the most important development in twentieth-century reporting—broadcast journalism. During the years in which radio was the ascendant popular medium, this novel dimension in journalism affected not only the opinions of listeners and the public's general level of knowledge, but also the direction of governmental policy and the evolution of the nation. Furthermore, by the mid-1950s the achievements in radio news had established the groundwork for even greater achievements in television.
As it matured in radio, broadcast journalism developed several distinct aspects. Reporting the news was, of course, the primary responsibility. Whether this entailed reading dispatches into a microphone, or venturing into the streets of a foreign country to uncover news, radio eventually displaced newspapers as the principal source for Americans of information about current events. The panel discussion and news interview programs were outgrowths of reportage. As such, they were stylized news conferences in which questioning and discussion created a more informed audience and often led to newsworthy revelations.
The radio documentary was also a product of broadcast journalism. When it flourished in the postwar years, it proved a persuasive format through which to present extended analysis and interpretation of the news. The most significant aspect of radio journalism, however, was the news commentator. At once a reporter and an editorialist, by the mid-1930s the commentator represented the highest form of opinionated broadcasting in a commercial medium where freedom of speech and program content were often secondary to economic profitability.