History of Newspapers
By Mitchell Stephens
For Collier's Encyclopedia
(article on History of Television from Grolier Encyclopedia)
NEWSPAPER, a publication that appears regularly and frequently, and carries news about a wide variety of current events. Organizations such as trade unions, religious groups, corporations or clubs may have their own newspapers, but the term is more commonly used to refer to daily or weekly publications that bring news of general interest to large portions of the public in a specific geographic area. The United States had 1,611 general-circulation daily newspapers in 1990 -- 14 percent fewer than it had in 1940, before the arrival of television.
The news in general-circulation newspapers is gathered and then written up by reporters. Photographers shoot pictures to accompany the stories and graphic artists contribute charts and diagrams. Editors assign reporters to stories, check over those stories, write headlines for them, determine where they will be placed in the newspaper and work on the paper's "layout" -- the arrangement of stories, photographs and art on each page. An editor-in-chief or an executive editor usually supervises the paper's news staff. The newspaper's publisher has overall control of its business and news operations.
General-circulation newspapers play a role in commerce through the the advertisements they carry; they provide readers with information of practical value, such as television schedules, weather maps and listings of stock prices; and these newspapers provide a source of entertainment through their stories and through such features as comic strips and crossword puzzles. However, one of the most important functions of the general-circulation newspaper -- a crucial function in a democracy -- is to provide citizens with information on government and politics.
Leaving newspapers free to perform this function was considered important enough by the first Congress so that they specifically protected it in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1791, which, among its other guarantors of free expression, prohibits Congress from passing any law "abridging the freedom...of the press." In 1787 Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Precursors of newspapers. Human beings exchanged news long before they could write. They spread news by word of mouth on crossroads, at campfires or at markets. Messengers raced back from battlefields with reports on victories or defeats. Criers walked through villages announcing births, deaths, marriages and divorces. Stories of unlikely occurrences spread, in the words of one anthropological report, "like wildfire" through preliterate societies. These early efforts to exchange news are discussed in the book "A History of News" by Mitchell Stephens.
With the arrival of writing and literacy news reports gained added reliability and, in advanced societies like that of Rome and China, became more formal. Rome had a particularly sophisticated system for circulating written news, centered on the acta -- daily handwritten news sheets, which were posted by the government in the Roman Forum from the year 59 B.C. to at least A.D. 222 and which were filled with news of such subjects as political happenings, trials, scandals, military campaigns and executions. China, too, had early government-produced news sheets, called the tipao, which were first circulated among officials during the Han dynasty (202 B.C. to A.D. 221) and were printed at some point during the T'ang dynasty (618 to 906).
The printing press was used to disseminate news in Europe shortly after Johann Gutenberg invented the letter press, employing movable type, in the 1450s. One of the first printed works that might qualify as news was an Italian account of a tournament printed in about 1470. A letter written by Christopher Columbus, reporting on his discoveries, was set in type and circulating in Barcelona before Columbus arrived there in April of 1493. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, thousands of printed newsbooks, short pamphlets reporting on a news event, and news ballads, accounts of news events written in verse and usually printed on one side of a single sheet of paper, circulated in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the new European colonies in America. The first news report printed in the Americas described an earthquake in Guatemala and was printed in Mexico in 1541.
Although they touched upon a wide variety of news, these newsbooks and news ballads did not qualify as newspapers because they each appeared only once, to report on only one story, and they each had no identity separate from the particular news story they told.
The first newspapers. The modern newspaper is a European invention. It owes little or nothing to the Roman acta (No copies of which survived), or to the early experiments in news dissemination developments in China. (Modern newspapers were introduced to China in the nineteenth century primarily by missionaries and other foreigners.)
The oldest direct ancestors of the modern newspaper appear to have been the handwritten news sheets that circulated widely in Venice in the sixteenth century. Venice, like most of the cities that played a major role in the early history of the newspaper, was a center for trade and therefore for information. These Venetian news sheets, known as avisi or gazette, were filled with information on wars and politics in Italy and Europe. They were distributed weekly as early as 1566 and were seen as far away as London. The style of journalism they employed -- short sets of news items, forwarded from a particular city, written under the name of that city and the date on which they were sent -- was the style that would be used in most early printed newspapers.
The oldest surviving European printed newspapers were both published weekly in German in 1609 -- one in Strasbourg, Relations: Aller Furnemmen, printed by Johann Carolus; the other, Aviso Relations over Zeitung, printed by Lucas Schulte, probably in Wolfenbuttel. (To evade government prosecution, these papers did not name the city in which they were printed.)
The printed newspaper spread rapidly through Europe. Printed weeklies appeared in Basel by 1610, in Frankfort and Vienna by 1615, in Hamburg by 1616, in Berlin by 1617 and in Amsterdam by 1618. An English official at the time complained that his country was being "reproved in foreign parts" because it lacked a publication to report "the occurents every week." The first newspaper printed in England appeared in 1621. France produced a newspaper of its own in 1631. But printers in Amsterdam, a center of trade and of political and religious tolerance in the early seventeenth century, were exporting weeklies in French and in English as early as 1620. Italy's first printed weekly appeared by 1639 at the latest, Spain's by 1641.
The oldest surviving newspaper written in English appears to have been published in Amsterdam in 1620 by Pieter van de Keere, a Dutch map and print engraver who had lived in London for a few years. This first English newspaper begins not with a title -- in those early years papers often did not have consistent names -- but with an apology: "The new tydings out of Italie are not yet com." This newspaper ended with a typographical error: Its date was written at the bottom of its second and last page as "the 2. of Decemember."
The roundabout path news traveled to this first English newspaper is well illustrated by the following item: "Out of Ceulen [Cologne], the 24 of November. Letters of of Neurenburge of the 20 of this present, make mention, that they had advise from the Borders of Bohemia, that there had beene a very great Battel by Prage...." This news then had to be translated into English, printed and shipped to London. Nevertheless, this was the most timely form in which the English ever had been offered news in print.
The publishers of these early weeklies had to struggle to find fresh news items with which to fill their papers every week. (Many, particularly in England, failed to meet this demanding schedule, and their newspapers appeared late.) They had to struggle to fulfill what one early publisher called the reader's "expectation of weekely Newes." These struggles sped up the process of printing news. Editors could no longer print items at their leisure; there was always that weekly to fill. The pace of events would soon adapt itself to this weekly schedule, as it would later adapt itself to the schedule of daily newspapers and, in recent decades, of hourly broadcast news reports.
The oldest surviving newspaper actually printed in England appeared On September 24, 1621, under the characteristically long title: "Corante, or weekely newes from Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Bohemia, France and the Low Countreys." Its publisher gave only his initials, N.B., and unfortunately for the history of English journalism, there were two active printers in London with those initials -- Nathaniel Butter and Nicholas Bourne. Cases have been made for both of them as England's first newspaper journalist. In Paris, Theophraste Renaudot began publishing his Gazette de France in 1631. It was the second newspaper printed in France, but it was a particularly thoughtful, though cautious, publication and would survive in essentially the same form until the French Revolution in 1789.
The early newspapers (The earliest known use of this word in English was in 1670) were generally printed in one of two formats: in the style of the Dutch papers, or "corantos," in which the reports were packed densely only two or perhaps four pages; or the style of the early German weeklies, which were pamphlets in which the news was spread over eight to twenty-four pages. The various English publishers, including Butter and Bourne, who sometimes competed but often worked together on series of early English newspapers, first used the Dutch style, but switched to the German style by 1622.
News items in these early newspapers were still printed pretty much as they came into the print shop. News of a battle in the Thirty Years War, which was then raging on the Continent, might appear under the name of Vienna, Frankfort or Prague or any other of the handful of cities in which it might have found its way into a letter or a newspaper that in turn found its way to that print shop. A newspaper might report under one date that a city was under siege and then under another date that it had fallen. It was a system of journalism that was easy on printers but not on readers. One of the first attempts to change this system, to actually edit stories into more readable narratives, was made in London. This early editor's name was probably Thomas Gainsford, and he appears to have begun work on a series of early English newspapers in 1622.
Freedom of the press. These newspaper featured items from all over Europe and occasionally America or Asia. But with very few exceptions (mostly in Holland), they never reported any news about the country in which they were printed. Print shops were tightly regulated; in most countries they required government licenses to print; and they could be quickly shut down if they printed anything that offended the authorities. Europe's rulers allowed them to print newspapers as long as these papers did not presume to discuss any local or national issues or events.
The first major change in this arrangement came in the years before the outbreak of the English Civil War. As Parliament, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, struggled with King Charles I, national news suddenly assumed a new importance, and newspapers, liberated by the breakdown in the king's authority, began to feel free enough to discuss it. The first English newspaper to attempt to report on national news was a sedate little weekly entitled, The Heads of Severall Proceedings In This Present Parliament, which appeared in November 1641. This paper soon had a number of competitors. "And now by a strange alteration and vicissitude of the times," one editor at the time explained, "wee talk of nothing else but what is done in England...."
The ideal of freedom of the press was articulated with great eloquence in England 1644 by John Milton in his Areopagitica, which, however, was concerned primarily with books and took little notice of these scruffy, little weekly newspapers. Nevertheless, these newspapers, among the first in the world to escape government control, were conducting an important experiment in what a free press might do.
Along with their political coverage, newspapers in England in the 1640s, according to the historian Joseph Frank, were among the first in the world to use headlines, to print advertisements, to illustrate stories with woodcuts, to employ a woman -- "a she-intelligencer" -- to collect news and to have newsboys, or more commonly newsgirls, sell papers in the streets. They were also among the first newspapers to compete with newsbooks and news ballads in coverage of sensational events like bloody crimes. By 1649, these newspapers had an opportunity to report on a particularly newsworthy national story: "This day the King was beheaded, over against the Banquetting house by White-Hall..."
When, after the beheading of Charles I, Cromwell was able to consolidate his power, he cracked down on the press, allowing only a few authorized newspapers to be printed. But the English press burst free again during the Glorious Revolution in 1688. The Licensing Act lapsed in 1695, and a belief in the importance of a press that had the right to criticize government eventually took root in England and was transplanted to its American colonies.
As newspapers became more reliable and began appearing more frequently, they began to play a major role in commerce, through their advertisements and by printing price listings and market reports. A German newspaper, published by Lucas Schulte, had begun appearing two times a week in 1625. The world's oldest surviving printed daily newspaper, Einkommende Zeitung, appeared in Leipzig in 1650. The first successful English daily was the Daily Courant, which first appeared in London in 1702. In the early eighteenth century, according to journalism historian Stanley Morison, the newspaper gained "a hold on London's commercial classes which it never lost." At that time, too, great essayists like Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift began publishing newspapers filled with their social and political commentaries in London -- though these papers were more similar in content to modern-day opinion magazines.
The first American newspapers. Britain's American colonies, because of their sparse populations and strict governments, entered the world of the newspaper relatively late. Public Occurrences, Both FORREIGN and DOMESTICK was printed in Boston on September 25, 1690. The first story in this the first newspaper printed in America seems well chosen: "The Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth, have newly appointed a day of thanksgiving to God for his Mercy..."
However, if survival was its goal, other items in this paper were less well chosen. Publick Occurrences included an attack on some Indians who had fought with the English against the French and an allusion to a salacious rumor about the king of France. This sort of journalism was typical of the paper's publisher, Benjamin Harris, who had published sensational newspapers in England before he was thrown in jail and then forced to flee to America for printing a particularly incendiary account of a supposed Catholic plot against England. Massachusetts authorities quickly expressed their "high Resentment and Disallowance" of Public Occurrences. The first issue of America's first newspaper was also the last. It would be fourteen years before another newspaper was published in the colonies.
The Boston News-Letter, America's second printed newspaper, grew out of a handwritten newsletter that had been distributed by the town's postmaster, John Campbell. It was a much tamer affair than Harris's paper -- filled primarily with reports on English and European politics taken from London papers. The Boston News-Letter, which first appeared in print in 1704, survived for 72 years. Campbell lost the position of postmaster in 1719, but he refused to give up the newspaper. So, his replacement as postmaster, William Brooker, began printing his own newspaper, the Boston Gazette, on December 21, 1719. A day later, the third successful American newspaper, the American Weekly Mercury, appeared in Philadelphia.
These papers were careful, for the most part, not to offend colonial authorities. The first paper to attempt to give voice to political debate was Boston's third successful newspaper, the New England Courant, which was first printed in 1721 by James Franklin. The Courant was the most literary and readable of the early colonial newspapers, and in its first issue it began a political crusade. The issue was smallpox inoculations, which were first being used in Boston that year used to fight an epidemic. Cotton Mather, one of the most powerful men in Boston, supported inoculation. James Franklin did not. So the first American newspaper crusade was a crusade against smallpox inoculation. The next year, the Courant took on the colonial government, which it accused of failing to do enough to protect the area from pirates. This crusade landed James Franklin in jail.
Later a court decried that "James Franklin be strictly forbidden...to print or publish the New-England Courant...." To evade this order, James Franklin made his younger brother Benjamin, who was apprenticed to him, the paper's official publisher. Ben used the situation to escape from his apprenticeship. Benjamin Franklin took over control of the Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia in 1729, made it into one of the finest papers in the colonies and embarked upon an extraordinary career as a writer, journalist, printer, businessman, postmaster, scientist and statesman.
The colonial press. The Maryland Gazette appeared in Annapolis in 1727, the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1736. By 1765, according to the American journalism historian Frank Luther Mott, all but two of the colonies, Delaware and New Jersey, had weekly newspapers. Boston had four; New York three; and Philadelphia had two newspapers printed in English, one printed in German. There were two newspapers in Connecticut, Rhode Island and each of the Carolinas. These early newspapers were usually no more than four pages long. They were filled primarily with short news items, documents and essays mostly taken from other newspapers, particularly British and European papers.
New York City's first newspaper was the New York Gazette, founded by William Bradford in 1725, but it was the city's second newspaper, John Peter Zenger's New York Weekly Journal, which began printing in 1733, that was to have a major effect on the history of journalism. The New York Gazette was a typical colonial newspaper: It stayed out of trouble by supporting the policies of the colony's governor. But New York's governor at the time, William Cosby, was a particularly controversial figure, who had alienated many of the most respected individuals in the colony. They wanted a newspaper that would express their point of view, and Zenger, a young German-born printer, agreed to start one. Zenger's Weekly Journal immediately began taking on the colony's administration. Governor Cosby had Zenger arrested on November 17, 1734, charged with seditious libel. (While he was in jail, the paper was printed by Zenger's wife, Anna.)
There was no doubt that Zenger had printed articles critical of the governor, and at the printer's trial in August 1775, the judge instructed the jury that, under the common law definition of seditious libel, criticism of the government was no less libelous if true. However, Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, made an impassioned call to defend the "cause of liberty...the liberty both of exposing and opposing arbitrary power...by speaking and writing truth," and the jury ignored the judge's instructions and found Zenger innocent. This case represented a major step in the struggle for the freedom to print honest criticism of government, and it would have the practical effect of discouraging British authorities from prosecuting American journalists, even when their criticisms of the government grew intense in the years leading up to the American Revolution. After the Zenger trial, the British were afraid they would not be able to get an American jury to convict an American journalist.
Newspapers and the American Revolution. The major limitation on press freedom in England in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century was the stamp tax, which had the effect of raising the price of newspapers to the point where the poorer classes could not afford to buy them. The Stamp Act passed by the British Parliament passed in 1765 would have placed a similar tax on American newspapers. Americans were not represented in this Parliament, and American newspapers rebelled against the new tax. They printed letters and essays protesting the Act -- the "fatal Black-Act," one editor called it; they printed reports on the meetings and mobs that protested the tax. New York's lieutenant governor, Cadwallader Colden, complained that these newspapers employed "every falsehood that malice could invent to serve their purpose of exciting the People to disobedience of the Laws & to Sedition."
The Stamp Act was to take effect on November 1, 1765. As that dreaded day approached, newspapers like the Pennsylvania Journal dressed themselves as tombstones and announced that they were "EXPIRING: In Hopes of a Resurrrection to Life again." Then cautiously, as the date passed without a British crackdown, the newspapers began appearing again, without the stamp; the Maryland Gazette calling itself, "An Apparition of the late Maryland Gazette, which is not Dead but Sleepeth." The Stamp Act could not be enforced and was soon repealed.
Similar protests reverberated through the colonial newspapers when the British Parliament approved the Townshend Acts in 1767, which imposed taxes on American imports of glass, lead, paint, tea and, significantly, paper. "Nonimportation agreements," policed in large part through the press, led the colonies to another victory. In 1770 all the duties except that on tea were removed.
During these successive waves of protest against the British in America, newspapers appeared with woodcuts of divided snakes, to represent the weakness of the colonies if they remained divided, with woodcuts of coffins (designed by Paul Revere) to represent the victims of the Boston Massacre; they published list of those "Enemies to their Country" who continued to import boycotted British goods; they serialized radical essays by John Dickinson and, in 1776, Thomas Paine. They called British officials and their supporters "serpents," "guileful betrayers," diabolical Tools of Tyrants" or "Men totally abondoned to Wickedness." The Boston Tea Party -- a protest against Parliament's decision to allow the East India Company to market its tea directly in American, with a price advantage over local merchants -- was organized in the house of a newspaper editor, Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette in 1773. Among the other leading newspapers in this struggle against British policies were Isaiah Thomas's Massachusetts Spy and John Holt's New York Journal. One of these newspapers, the Providence Gazette, was published during some of these crucial years by two women: Sarah and Mary Katherine Goddard.
Not all the colonial newspapers were on the side of the anti-British Sons of Liberty. James Rivington's New York Gazetteer, one of the best edited, most attractive papers in the colonies, gave voice to the Tory, or pro-British, as well as the "Patriot" side in the ongoing conflict, in what he called his "Ever Open and Uninfluenced Press." Despite their professed allegiance to the principle of a free press, the Sons of Liberty were infuriated by Rivington's paper, and he responded by taking more openly Tory positions. A group of members of the Sons of Liberty wrecked Rivington's printing plant, and, after the Revolutionary War began, he was arrested and forced to sign a statement of loyalty to the Continental Congress.
Still, for the most part American newspapers in the years leading up to the American Revolution represented something the world had never before seen: a press committed to challenging, even overthrowing, governmental authorities. This remains an unusual and difficult position for newspapers to take. Unlike pamphlets or broadsides, newspapers must appear regularly. Their publishers cannot hide from authorities, and, as proprietors of an ongoing business, they usually have a stake in the stability of the community and therefore in preserving the power of authorities. This tends to make newspapers conservative forces, more likely to try to unify the members of a community than to try to incite them to anti-authoritarian violence. One explanation for the uncharacteristic role the papers played before the American Revolution is that they were in fact unifying and supporting a community -- a new community that was forming within the British Empire, of Americans. These newspapers were in a sense loyal to the authorities -- the new authorities who had appeared on the continent: the Sons of Liberty. Most historians agree that the American Revolution would not have happened when it did without the efforts of these colonial newspapers.
The Partisan Press. In the unsettled years after the Revolution, American newspapers remained filled with arguments and anger -- now directed not against the British but against their political opponents. Each of the two parties that formed, the Federalists and the Republicans, had their newspapers and these papers had little sympathy for representatives of the other side. For example, this is how The Aurora, a Republican paper published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin Bache, greeted George Washington's retirement as president in 1796: "The man who is the source of all the misfortune of our country is this day reduced to a level with his fellow-citizens, and is no longer possessed of power to multiply evils upon the United States."
Although it had originally been left out of the Constitution in 1887, freedom of the press was guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Nevertheless, Federalist Party leaders, increasingly uncomfortable with the criticism they were taking from Republican editors and made nervous by the threat of war with France, soon attempted to silence their critics.
In 1798, Congress passed and President John Adams signed the Sedition Act -- probably the most significant threat to press freedom in the history of the United States. The Sedition Act made "any false, scandalous and malicious writing...against the the Government of the United States," the Congress or the president, "with intent to...bring them...into contempt or disrepute" punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Among others, the leading Republican editor in New York, New England and Philadelphia (Bache) were all indicting for violating the Sedition Act or the common-law prohibition against seditious libel, which had been the charge against Zenger. There were at least fifteen convictions.
Thomas Jefferson was elected president in 1800, partly because of resentment over the Sedition Act, and the Act was allowed to lapse. "I have lent myself willingly as the subject of a great experiment," Jefferson wrote in 1807, "...to demonstrate the falsehood of the pretext that freedom of the press is incompatible with orderly government." That was a compelling "pretext" when Jefferson assumed the presidency. Certainly, the United States has upon occasion flagged in its commitment to Jefferson's "great experiment," particularly, but not exclusively, during wartime. Nevertheless, the experiment with a free press has continued, with the press in the United States eventually demonstrating not only a compatibility with the maintenance of "orderly government," but a talent for it.
There were about 200 newspapers in the United States when Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801. A printing press was pulled across the mountains to print the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies, the Pittsburgh Gazette in 1786. The first daily newspaper in America was the Pennsylvania Evening Post, published by Benjamin Towne, in 1783. It lasted only 17 months, but by 1801 there were about 20 daily newspapers in the country, including six in Philadelphia, five in New York and three in Baltimore. With daily publication, American newspapers were in a better position to cater to the need of merchants for up-to-date information on prices, markets and ship movements. By 1820, more than half of the newspapers in the largest cities had the words "advertiser," "commercial" or "mercantile" in their names. These "mercantile papers" were often published on large, or "blanket," sheets, and they were expensive -- about six cents a copy, more than most of the artisans or mechanics in the cities could afford.
The Penny Press. On the morning of September 3, 1833, a paper printed on four letter-size pages and filled with human-interest stories and short police reports appeared on the streets of New York. Its publisher was a young printer named Benjamin Day, and he sold his paper, the Sun, for one penny. The American newspaper with the highest circulation at that time was New York's Courier and Enquirer, a mercantile paper which sold 4,500 copies a day in a city of 218,000. In 1830, perhaps the most respected newspaper in the world at the time, the Times of London, which was founded in 1785 by John Walter, was selling 10,000 copies of day in a city with a population of two million. However, within two years, Day was selling 15,000 copies a day of his inexpensive, little Sun.
The first cylinder press, invented by a German, Frederick Koenig and improved by Napier in England, was first used in the United States in 1825. An improved version of this press, using two cylinders, was developed by Richard Hoe in New York in 1832. Steam engines had first been used to drive presses at the Times in London in 1814. By 1835 Day was using a steam press to print his rapidly growing New York Sun. These new presses made it possible to push circulations much higher. The old Gutenberg-type printing press could print perhaps 125 newspapers an hour; by 1851 the Sun's presses were printing 18,000 copies an hour.
James Gordon Bennett, one of the most creative forces in the history of journalism, began his own penny paper, the Herald in 1835. Within in two years it was selling 20,000 copies a day, despite a price increase to two cents. A number of penny newspapers had failed in Boston, a couple even before Day started his Sun. That city's first successful penny paper was the Daily Times in 1836. Philadelphia had the Daily Transcript, begun in 1835, and the Public Ledger, in 1836; Baltimore's Sun was first published in 1837 -- all selling for a penny.
The "cheap" newspaper arrived in France in 1836 with Emile de Girandin's La Presse. Newspapers were also selling for a penny or two in England in the first half of the nineteenth century; however, there was one major difference between these papers and their American counterparts: The English penny papers -- the "pauper press," they were called -- had to evade the stamp tax, which by 1815 was up to fourpence on each copy sold, so they were illegal. More than 560 different unstamped newspapers were printed in England between 1830 and 1836. One, Henry Hetherington's Twopenny Dispatch, was reported to have a circulation of 27,000 in 1836.
The English penny papers, because they lived outside the law, tended to be extremely radical in their politics. "Politics is the noble art of dividing society into two classes - Slaves and Robbers, wrote another of Hetherington's papers, the Poor Man's Guardian in 1834. The British stamp tax was abolished in 1855.
Most of the American penny papers were less interested in politics; nevertheless, they did have the effect of bringing many working class people and immigrants in the cities into the political process by providing them with a source of news they could afford. The Sun's motto was the egalitarian statement: "It Shines for All"; and the rise of the penny press has been connected with the spread of Jacksonian democracy in the United States.
The major effect these penny papers had on the politics of the newspaper, however, may have been the change their mass circulations brought to the economic status of publishers. Bennett, who had started his Herald for $500, became a rich man. The Sun was sold for $250,000 in 1849. Newspapers were becoming big businesses, and the owners of big businesses tend to have more conservative politics.
Reporting. In the early years of the newspaper, editors obtained most of their news simply by waiting -- waiting for the post to bring out-of-town newspapers or letters, waiting for someone to stop by with an interesting tidbit they might have heard from a traveler at a tavern. "No mail yesterday," wrote the editor of the Orleans Gazette in 1805. "We hardly know what we shall fill our paper with that will have the appearance of news." The waits were particularly long in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century America, where it often took a couple of months for news from Europe to find its way across the Atlantic and a couple of weeks for it to penetrate through the swamps and forests of the undeveloped continent on which they had settled. The Battle of New Orleans, for example, was fought on January 8, 1815, two weeks after a peace treaty ending the War of 1812 had been signed in Belgium. With these waits came a constant sense of uncertainty: Rumors tended to fill the vacuum; early reports often proved wrong.
In an effort to improve the supply of news and its credibility, editors arranged for correspondents to forward reports to them, often in return for subscriptions. "Our Country Correspondents are desired to acquaint us, as soon as they can conveniently, with every remarkable Accident, Occurrence, &c fit for public Notice," Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. By 1792, the commercial newspaper Lloyd's List in London bragged that it had 32 correspondents in 28 different ports.
In America, editors, like Benjamin Russell of the Massachusetts Centinel and Republican Journal in 1790, took another step to improve the flow of news: They began going down to the docks to obtain news early from recently arrived ships. Soon they were rowing out to meet the ships in the harbor, then racing out in fast boats. One of the first ventures in cooperative news gathering came when most of the major New York newspapers joined together to pay to send a boat out into the harbor in search of European newspapers and news.
News gathering efforts were more advanced in London. The first major breakthrough came when, in the late eighteenth century, newspapers gained the right to send observers to sit in the gallery in Parliament. No note-taking was permitted in those years. Initially, William "Memory" Woodfall, editor of the Morning Chronicle, was the most successful in writing accounts of the debates, but soon James Perry, one of England's most enterprising journalists, outdid Woodfall by sending teams of reporters to cover the debates in relays. Reporters in the gallery were finally permitted to take notes in 1783, making a knowledge of shorthand the crucial qualification for the job. In another pathbreaking reporting effort, James Perry sent himself to Paris to observe the French revolution firsthand. In 1807, The Times of London dispatched Henry Crabb Robinson to cover some of the battles of the Napoleonic wars.
In the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century, reporters, with James Gordon Bennett leading the way, had to fight to win the right to report on trials without being held in contempt of court. News from police court became a staple of the early penny papers. Then, in 1836, Bennett was able to temporarily triple the circulation of his Herald by actually leaving his shop, walking over to the house where a young prostitute had been murdered and investigating the murder himself. As the circulations of these penny papers grew, editors were able to hire additional reporters. The Herald sent one reporter to cover the Mexican War in the 1840s; it sent 63 reporters to cover the Civil War in the 1860s.
However, the most dramatic improvement in the speed, breadth and reliability of news coverage came with Samuel Morse's invention of the telegraph. Newspapers became the major customers of the telegraph companies, and the cost of telegraph transmissions led to the formation of wire services like the Associated Press, which was founded as a cooperative venture by New York newspapers in 1848. That year, Bennett's Herald boasted that it printed "ten columns of highly important news received by electric telegraph" in a single issue. The telegraph for the first time enabled newspapers to fill their pages with news that happened yesterday in cities hundreds, then thousands of miles away. With the successful completion of a transatlantic cable in 1866, American newspapers could suddenly print news from Europe with similar promptness.
Newspaper reporting may have come of age in coverage of the American Civil War. Reporters overcame terrible conditions, sometimes heavy-handed government attempts to censor their reports and, when they crossed enemy lines, the threat of imprisonment as spys, to produce thorough and detailed accounts of issues and battles. Among the best Civil War reporters were Albert D. Richardson of the New York Tribune, Henry Villard of the New York Herald and two southern correspondents, Felix Gregory de Fontaine of the Charlotte Courier and Peter W. Alexander of the Savannah Republican.
This was a period of tremendous growth in newspapers in the United States. There were 3,000 newspapers in 1860, 4,500 in 1870 and 7,000 in 1880.
Objectivity. Newspapers in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century generally reflected the point of view of one person -- their publisher. Horace Greeley, one of the most thoughtful and talented American journalists, began the New York Tribune as a penny paper in 1841 and used it, unabashedly, to express his abolitionist, Whig and then Republican politics. Bennett's Herald reflected his support of the Democratic Party. Henry J. Raymond, who founded the New York Daily Times, the direct ancestor of the modern New York Times, in 1851, became a major force in the Republican Party. Weekly editions of these New York papers, particularly the Tribune, were widely read around the country, giving the opinions of their publishers added weight.
The abolitionist crusader William Lloyd Garrison started The Liberator in 1831 with the expressed purpose, of course, of changing people's minds. John B. Russwurm and Reverend Samuel Cornish brought out the first newspaper published by blacks in the United States, Freedom's Journal, in 1827 with a similar purpose. "We wish to plead our own cause," they wrote. "Too long have other spoken for us." The great black writer Frederick Douglas started The North Star in 1847 "to Attack Slavery in all its forms and aspects."
However, as mass circulation transformed newspapers into valuable businesses with large staffs, they started to be seen less as vehicles for one person's opinions and more as providers of information. The rise of the wire services, which distributed stories to many different papers, of many different political persuasions, also tended to reduce the emphasis on personal opinion in news stories, as did the new respect with which facts were treated in the late nineteenth century, thanks to the rise of science and the development of realism in literature.
This new veneration for facts was also connected to the spread, after the Civil War, of the "inverted pyramid" writing style, in which facts were detached from the narrative structures in which they formally were imbedded and arrayed in order of importance: with the most important facts -- who, what, when, where and sometimes why -- placed at the top of the story, in the story's "lead." Journalism was beginning to be thought of as a profession with its own professional standards. The first School of Journalism was founded at the University of Missouri in 1904. The American Society of Newspaper Editors drafted the "Canons of Journalism" in 1923, which included this dictum: "News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind."
Of course, it is not possible for any human utterance to be completely bias free. True objectivity is an unrealizable goal; there are too many possible sides to issues, too many different ways of viewing events, for them all to be treated fairly in a news story. The new emphasis on facts above opinion did not stop muckrakers, like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Jacob Riis from using newspapers, magazines and books to crusade against the injustices they saw in American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; nor did it prevent publishers like William Allen White, who purchased the Emporia Gazette in 1895, from using their newspapers to make a personal mark on American politics. Nevertheless, in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, newspapers gradually began trying to keep their opinions restricted to their editorial and opinion pages and out of their news stories.
Sensationalism. Some news stories have focused on crime, violence, emotion and sex -- on sensationalism -- for as long as news has been exchanged. Such stories can be found in the Roman Acta, in early newsbooks and news ballads and in the first American newspaper, Publick Occurrences. However, there have been periods in the history of American journalism, particularly periods when new audiences were being pursued and the competition for circulation was particularly intense, when sensationalism seemed to play an unusually large role in news coverage and cries of outrage over a decline in seriousness and good taste could be heard.
The era of the penny press, beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, was one such period. Crime news and human interest stories seemed to occupy larger portions of newspaper columns in those years. James Gordon Bennett, with his eagerness to investigate the details of bloody murders and pass on rumors of sex scandals, even became the object of a "moral war," led by other newspapers, in 1840. Nevertheless, Bennett's Herald became the best selling newspaper in the United States.
The second period when sensationalism seemed to increase in American newspapers began with the "new journalism" of Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer, who created the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1878 and then took over the New York World in 1883, was an unusually aggressive, demanding and intelligent editor, who fought important crusades on behalf of workers, immigrants and the poor. He was a major innovator, particularly in his Sunday paper to which he added expanded women's and sports pages and the first color comics in a newspaper. But Pulitzer also knew how to use reports tinged with violence and sex to sell newspapers, as in these headlines from his World: "CORNETTI'S LAST NIGHT" and "LITTLE LOTTA'S LOVERS."
William Randolph Hearst, an admirer of Pulitzer, took control of his father's San Francisco Examiner in 1887, then purchased the New York Journal in 1895. In their battle for circulation leadership in New York, Hearst and Pulitzer cut the price of their newspapers to a penny, tried to hire away each other's editors and reporters and filled their papers with even more bloody, bizarre and salacious stories. Pulitzer and particularly Hearst also crusaded, with huge front-page headlines and emotional, sometimes misleading stories, for war with Spain over Cuba. "How do you like the Journal's war?" Hearst's paper asked after war broke out in 1898. Circulations for both newspapers sometimes topped a million copies a day.
Out of the battle between Hearst and Pulitzer for the rights to a cartoon character known as the "Yellow Kid" came a new term for sensationalism: "yellow journalism." This was also a time of "stunt" journalism: Pulitzer sent a reporter named Elizabeth Cochrane, who wrote under the name Nellie Bly, around the world in 1889, to see if she could make the trip in less than 80 days. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who took over the Herald after his father's death in 1872, had sent Henry Morton Stanley to find Dr. David Livingstone in Africa in 1869.
However, more serious journalism also flourished during this period -- in the war reporting of Stephen Crane and Richard Harding Davis (some of which appeared in the Journal or the World), for example, and in the journalism practiced by the publisher Adolph Ochs, who purchased the New York Times and set it on its present respectable course in 1896. Another major advance during this period was the introduction of regular use of photographs in newspapers, which began in 1897.
A style of journalism similar to that of Pulitzer and Hearst was practiced with similar success in London by Alfred Harmsworth who started the Daily Mail in 1896. Harmsworth created the first modern, small-sized or "tabloid" (The term was borrowed from the drug industry) newspaper, the Daily Mirror, in 1903. When Joseph Medill Patterson and Robert R. McCormick, who had inherited control of the Chicago Tribune, saw Harmsworth's Mirror, which was selling a million copies a day, they decided to bring tabloid journalism to the United States in the form of the Illustrated Daily News, which appeared in New York in 1919 -- beginning the third period of sensationalism in American journalism.
Tabloids, like the Daily News and its competitors -- Bernarr Macfadden's Daily Graphic and Hearst's Daily Mirror -- were easy to read on the city's new subway trains, and they were filled with sensational crime and scandal stories. Other tabloid newspapers started during this period included the Los Angeles News, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Detroit Daily and the more serious Chicago Times. By 1940, the New York Daily News had a circulation of almost two million.
Notable writers. Many of the world's best writers have been attracted to newspaper work, as a way of making a living early in the careers, as a way of reaching larger audiences or as a way of righting wrongs. Horace Greeley hired the transcendentalist thinker Margaret Fuller to write reviews and investigate injustices for the New York Tribune in 1844. Charles Dickens worked as a reporter for The Morning Chronicle and wrote sketches, similar in tone to his great novels, for The Evening Chronicle in London in the 1830s; Dickens founded and edited The Daily News in London in 1846. Mark Twain wrote, not entirely contentedly, for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1862, the Sacramento Union in 1866, and a number of other newspapers.
Lincoln Steffens, who would go on to expose corruption in America's cities for McClure's magazine, reported for the New York Evening Post from 1892 to 1897 and was city editor of the Commercial Advertiser in New York from 1897 to 1902. The black activist W. E. B. Du Bois was a correspondent for the Springfield Republican and the New York Age, before he began editing his own journal, the Crisis, in 1910. Ernest Hemingway was a reporter for the Kansas City Star before the First World War and a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star after the war.
The short story writer Bret Harte, and the novelists Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser, also worked for newspapers, and journalism has, of course, produced many distinguished writers of its own, including H. L. Menchen, Damon Runyan, Ben Hecht, Walter Lippmann, Dorothy Thompson, Ernie Pyle, John Hersey, A. J. Liebling, Lillian Ross and Tom Wolfe.
Chains and consolidation. "In my judgment it will not be many years -- five or ten perhaps," predicted the publisher Frank A. Munsey in 1893, "-- before the publishing business of this country will be done by a few concerns -- three of four at most." It took much longer than that, and the number of major surviving publishing firms is higher, but Munsey's prediction eventually did, in a sense, come true. The number of newspapers in the United States began to decline dramatically in the first half of the twentieth century -- a process in which Munsey played a major role. There were once 20 daily newspapers in New York city, by 1940 there were eight, and in that year 25 cities in the United States with a population of more than 100,000 found themselves with only one daily newspapers. Moreover, increasing numbers of the newspapers that survived were owned not by local citizens but by large national newspaper chains.
Reducing the number of newspapers published in a city had obvious advantages for those that survived, so in the early decades of the century increasing numbers of publishers began to merge with or buy out the competition. In Chicago in 1914, the Inter Oceanmerged with the Record-Herald and called itself the Herald. Then, in 1918, that paper merged with the Examiner, leaving Chicago with only two morning papers. In New York in 1916, Munsey consolidated the Press with the venerable Sun, which had been edited by Charles A. Dana from 1868 to 1897.
In 1920, Munsey bought and threw into his mix the Bennetts' old Herald and the associated Evening Telegram. In 1924, Munsey sold the Herald to the owners of Greeley's old Tribune, creating the Herald Tribune. Then Munsey, known as "the great executioner of newspapers," bought the Globe and the Mail, killing both papers in the resulting consolidation. Perhaps the most mourned newspaper to expire in New York during this period was the World, which Pulitzer's heirs sold to Scripps-Howard 1931. The morning World disappeared; the Evening World was merged with a paper Scripps-Howard had picked up from Munsey's collection, the Evening Telegram, creating the World-Telegram.
The first large newspaper chain in the United States was assembled by E. W. Scripps. By 1914, the Scripps-McRae League, which began with the Cleveland Press and the Cincinnati Post, was publishing 23 newspapers. Numerous new papers were founded, bought, merged, sold or abandoned. By 1929, Scripps-Howard, the new name of the chain, owned 25 newspapers. William Randolph Hearst, after his start in San Francisco and his move into New York, began assembling a similar chain. Hearst owned six newspapers by 1904, but rapidly began adding more -- at the rate of a newspaper a year from 1917 to 1921. In 1922, he added seven additional newspapers to his chain. By the end of that year, in addition to twenty daily and eleven Sunday newspapers, Hearst owned two wire services, six magazines and a newsreel company -- an early array of media and therefore political power, which many at the time considered unhealthy. Such media conglomerates would grow even larger, however, as the century progressed.
Alternative journalism and press criticism. Even when there were large numbers of daily newspapers circulating in major cities, many groups felt these papers were not representing their points of view and interests. One solution, especially for immigrant groups who were still more comfortable in another language, was to publish newspapers of their own. Probably the first foreign-language newspaper in America was a German newspaper Ben Franklin helped start in Germantown, near Philadelphia. A French newspaper, the Courrier Francais, was published daily in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1798. Early Spanish language newspapers appeared in New Orleans in 1808 and Texas in 1813. The first native-American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed in Georgia in 1828. The Jewish Daily Forward, printed in Yiddish, first appeared in New York in 1897 but was printing local editions in eleven other cities by 1923. With the waves of immigration to American cities in the first decades of the twentieth century, came an increased market for foreign-language papers. According to statistics presented by media historians Edwin and Michael Emery, the United States had 160 foreign-language dailies in 1914, and a total of 1323 foreign-language newspapers in 1917.
African-Americans have also sought alternatives to mainstream newspapers, beginning with Freedom's Journal and The North Star. Ida B. Wells fought for the rights of blacks and women in the paper Free Speech in Memphis and then in the New York Age and the Conservator in Chicago. Chicago Defender, a major black newspaper, began publishing in 1905, the Amsterdam News in New York in 1909 and the Pittsburgh Courier in 1910. Among the early women's-rights newspapers were The Lily, which was published by Amelia Bloomer from 1849 to 1859, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Revolution, from 1868 to 1871, for which Susan B. Anthony served as business manager. Socialist newspapers also boomed for a time in the United States -- with a total circulation of two million in 1913. However, many of these papers, including the New York Call, were severely hurt when their mailing privileges were taken away under the Espionage Act during the First World War.
In an attempt to escape the pressures of advertising, PM, a New York daily begun by Ralph Ingersoll in 1940, refused to carry any; after some changes of policy and a name change the paper suspended publication in 1949. I. F. Stone, who had written for some general-circulation dailies, decided that a way to evade their limitations was to start a newspaper he would write, edit and publish on his own. I. F. Stone's Weekly, which he began in 1953, was able to provide a small audience with exposes, based primarily on Stone's research in government documents, and an anti-Cold War perspective mostly unavailable in larger newspapers.
The anti-Vietnam War protests and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s also produced a number of colorful and experimental alternative newspapers, including the Berkeley Barb, the San Francisco Oracle, the Seed in Chicago, the East Village Other in New York and the Los Angeles Free Press. The oldest and most successful of this batch of progressive, culturally adventurous newspapers, New York's Village Voice, in 1955.
As the number of newspapers declined and the survivors increasingly fell into the hands of large corporations, the limitations of news coverage in the mainstream press also inspired a growth in press criticism, beginning, in the late 1940s, with the New Yorker magazine writer and former newspaper journalist A. J. Liebling. "Freedom of the press is for those who own one," was perhaps Liebling's most famous statement about the press in his time. He argued in 1961 that the United States, which then had competing daily newspapers in only 61 cities, was advancing toward "a monovocal, monopolistic, monocular press." "With the decline in the 'number and variety' of voices," Liebling wrote, "there is a decline in the number and variety of reporting eyes, which is at least as malign." The Columbia Journalism Review, a forum for such criticism, was first published in 1961.
Competition from television. American newspapers have had many great successes in this century. They have reported, often with distinction, on wars and politics, and they have covered, occasionally somewhat tardily, the century's dramatic social and technological changes. Investigations like those mounted by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post, on White House involvement in the cover up of the Watergate break in, have played a crucial role in exposing and presumably deterring violations of the public trust.
The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have now established themselves as major national news organs, whose political coverage and analyses play an important role in the political process; the Philadelphia Inquirer Miami Herald and Boston Globe have produced significant, nationally recognized, coverage and investigations; and the New York Times, which for most of the century has been the most respected and influential newspaper in the United States, and the Wall Street Journal, the business daily, are both now printed and distributed nationally. The New York Times had a circulation of 1.2 million daily and 1.8 million Sunday in 1993; the Wall Street Journal had a daily circulation of about 1.9 million in 1993.
Nevertheless, the newspaper business has been suffering, particularly in recent decades. The trouble started with competition from radio, which began offering another source of news and entertainment in the 1920s. Despite efforts to deny radio stations use of information form the Associated Press, radio made significant gains as a news medium, particularly with its reports on the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Britain during World War II. But the true end to the period of perhaps two centuries in which the newspaper was the dominant news source in America and much of the world came with the arrival of television after World War II.
With the average American home now keeping a television set on for more than seven hours a day, the amount of time available for reading a newspaper has declined dramatically. In 1940, there was one newspaper circulated in the United States for every two adults, by 1990 one newspaper circulated for every three adults. According to surveys, the share of the adult population that "read a newspaper yesterday" has declined from 85 percent in 1946 to 73 percent in 1965 to 55 percent in 1985. According to one survey, only 8.9 percent of Americans said they kept up with news of the Persian Gulf War primarily though newspapers. Evening newspapers, which were once brought home to provide evening entertainment in American homes, have felt the competition from television particularly strongly; they have disappeared in many large cities.
Newspapers have been struggling, sometimes awkwardly, to fight back. USA Today, a national newspaper introduced by Gannett in 1982, has imitated the short breezy stories featured on television newscasts. It was also one of the first newspapers to make heavy use of color in pictures, maps and graphics. Most major newspapers in the United now use color. USA Today was being printed in 32 locations in the United States and two outside the country in 1993 and had a circulation of more than two million -- more than that of any metropolitan daily newspaper.
Newspapers, realizing that their readers will have already heard reports on breaking news stories on television, have also begun emphasizing feature stories and analysis pieces. Fewer stories now employ the inverted pyramid format. In addition, many newspapers have been exploring new technologies and experimenting with the possibility of distributing their stories into the homes of their readers through computers hooked up to telephone or cable television lines. However, hundreds of newspapers have also responded to their troubles, which were made worse by a slump in advertising revenues in the late 1980s and early 1990s, by selling out to large corporations, by merging or pooling resources in joint-operating agreements with former competitors, or by closing down.
The United States had 267 fewer newspapers in 1990 than it had in 1940. By 1992, only 37 cities in the United States had separately owned, competing daily newspapers. In the nineteenth century the United States was said to have more newspapers circulating to more people than any country on earth. A UNESCO survey in the 1980s found the United States nineteenth in the world in per capita newspaper circulation.
Many of the those newspapers that have survived are, as Frank Munsey predicted, now part of large national chains, such as Gannett, which owned 83 daily newspapers in 1993 including the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Detroit News; Knight-Ridder, which owned 29 including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald and the San Jose Mercury-News; Newhouse, which owned 27 including the Portland Oregonian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Scripps-Howard, which owned 20 including the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Other large newspaper chains include Hearst, still publisher of the San Francisco Examiner; Times-Mirror, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday and the New York Times Company, which now also owns the Boston Globe.
Most newspaper companies also own other media outlets: The Washington Post Company, for example, owns Newsweek magazine, and the Chicago Tribune Company owns a number of broadcast stations. Their newspapers, then, are under the control not of independent publishers but of corporate executives, with other business concerns. Some press critics wonder whether eccentrics like Benjamin Harris, Benjamin Franklin, James Gordon Bennett, Horace Greeley or Joseph Pulitzer could find a place today in such media conglomerates.
Most newspapers also now rely for most of their international and national news coverage on large news services like the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times News Service and the Washington Post-Los Angeles Times New Service. United Press International, once the main competitor to the Associated Press, fell upon hard times in the 1980s and early 1990s and underwent many cutbacks in its news gathering staff.
Radio and television stations, cable networks, magazines and new computer information services certainly contribute to the range of information now available to citizens. Most major newspapers have also added opinion pages, which air views that differ from those of the newspaper and its publisher. Still, many press critics fear that the decline in the number of competing newspapers available in American cities, the increasing corporate ownership of those newspapers that have survived and the standardization of their news coverage have, as Liebling feared, limited the different voices and the different perspectives on the world available to the American people.
"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it," James Madison said, "is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy." For most of its history, the United States depended primarily on newspapers to provide that information.