views updated Jun 11 2018



NAICS: 51-1110 Newspaper Publishers, 51-6110 Internet Publishing and Broadcasting

SIC: 2711 Newspapers: Publishing, or Publishing and Printing

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 51-111031000 through 51-111039522


Newspapers were so important to the U.S. founding fathers that the first amendment to the Constitution forbade Congress from making any law "abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." Thomas Jefferson's well-known quotation expressed this belief: "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."

Yet, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, many Americans apparently do not believe that newspapers are essential. Circulation is dropping despite the country's growing population, and Americans, according to polls, have come to view the news media as less professional, less accurate, less caring, and less moral.

Newspapers in the twenty-first century appear to be out of favor with Wall Street as well. Despite the continued profitability of newspaper companies, stock values began a downward slide in 2004 and lost 20 percent in 2005. Market analyst Bear-Stearns followed a group of leading newspaper corporations and reported in February 2007 that for the group, stock prices were down an average of 7.7 percent in 2006 and an average of 1.3 percent in 2007 to date. The companies followed in the Bear-Stearns report were Dow Jones & Co., Gannett Co. Inc., Journal Register Co., GateHouse Media, Inc., The New York Times Co., the E.W. Scripps Co., and the Tribune Co.

Interpretations of the figures vary, with some saying that newspapers have begun an inevitable downward slide, while others argue that publishers are merely diversifying, following their readers online to add to the value and reach of their core product. The Newspaper Association of America (NAA), a nonprofit industry group, argued on its Web site that "The key to the future of newspapers is the effort to build a broad portfolio of products around the core product, the traditional newspaper, and to connect with both general and targeted audiences."

For more than 300 years, Americans have looked to newspapers for their information about a growing list of topics including war and peace, national and local elections, sports scores, stock prices, obituaries, movie schedules, government business, school lunch menus, celebrity scandals, weather forecasts, and featured sales at the local supermarket. In the early twenty-first century, however, it appears that they have begun getting at least some of this information from other avenues.

Newspaper history can be traced back to handwritten newsletters circulated by merchants in Renaissance Europe, followed by small news pamphlets and one-page broadsheets made possible by the invention of the printing press in the 1450s. In 1666 the London Gazette was founded. It served as the only sanctioned newspaper in England for a generation, and copies made their way to the United States.

Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, was the first newspaper to be printed in the colonies, making its only appearance in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690. Published without license from the colonial government, the newspaper was suppressed, almost all copies destroyed, and its publisher arrested.

It was 14 years before the next newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, made its appearance, approved and heavily subsidized by the government. Newspapers in Philadelphia and Boston followed, and by the eve of the American Revolution, there were two dozen papers in the colonies, many spreading anti-British propaganda. There were 43 newspapers by the end of the war in 1783. The ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791 gave papers the freedom to grow and prosper, although the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts briefly threatened political publications.

Newspapers at this time were still expensive to publish and circulated mainly among the rich and literate. With technological advances, including continuous rolls of newsprint and steam-powered presses, costs came down, leading in the 1830s to the growth of the Penny Press, papers sold for a single cent. Spreading literacy and the demand for news during the Civil War further spurred the growth of the newspaper industry, and by the 1880 census, 11,314 papers were recorded.

The invention of the linotype, making it far more efficient to set type, sparked another revolution beginning in the 1880s. Much larger newspapers became practical, and banner headlines, extensive use of illustrations, and funny pages appeared. This era also saw the beginnings of newspaper consolidation, with independent papers being swallowed up by chains. This was also a period of sensationalist or yellow journalism, with the newspaper chains of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, for example, stirring up outrage against Spain to set off the Spanish-American War.

The golden days of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s turned newspapers into economic powerhouses. Adoption of computer technology brought major cost savings, while the disappearance of afternoon papers allowed most newspapers to become monopolies in their communities. Papers remained economically strong in the 1990s and the early 2000s, with the newspaper divisions of major media companies reaping profits of approximately 20 percent in 2005. Circulation, however, continued to decline and news staffs were cut, causing some to wonder if newspapers would continue to play a major role in American life in the coming decades.


Newspaper markets can be thought of in two ways. In 2005 circulation brought in approximately 20 percent of newspaper revenues, while advertising accounted for most of the rest. Newspaper publishers, therefore, market their product primarily to two groups: the readers who buy the papers and the businesses that advertise. Although it may appear as if advertising should be the major concern, circulation is a more important proposition than it would at first appear because advertising depends on circulation. If there are no readers, no one is going to pay to put ads in the publication.


Newspaper circulation is made up primarily of single-copy sales and subscription sales, with large Metro papers tending to have more single-copy sales. These are the primary components of paid circulation, in which the purchase price is at least half of the single-copy price. In other paid circulation, the price is less than half the cover cost. Examples include discounted copies for employees, Newspapers in Education (NIE) programs, and bulk sales. USA Today, for example, distributes large numbers of highly discounted papers in airports and hotels, defending this practice by arguing that these papers reach business travelers, a group valued by advertisers. In 2005 one report said daily U.S. newspaper circulation was 48.3 million, making the United States the fourth largest market in the world. China had 93.5 million; India, 78.8 million; Japan, 70.4 million, and Germany, 22.1 million.

U.S. circulation peaked in the 1980s, and then a pattern of modest declines was seen for the next 20 years. These losses accumulated, however, and between 1980 and 2000, circulation dropped approximately 12 percent.

The circulation loss over this period was largely from the closing of evening newspapers. From World War II until 1980 the number of newspapers in the United States dropped by only four, with 1,749 in 1945 and 1,745 in 1980. Some big-city papers disappeared, but they were replaced by suburban and small community dailies. After that, more newspapers began to close, and by 2002, there were only 1,457, a 17 percent decline in 22 years.

The number of newspaper titles worldwide grew from 9,000 in 2001 to more than 10,000 in 2005, according to the World Association of Newspapers, but that was largely due to increases in the developing world that offset flat or declining circulation in developed countries.

In 2004 more serious circulation declines began in the United States, and they accelerated in 2005 and 2006. In those two years, daily circulation fell 3.5 percent and Sunday circulation fell 4.6 percent.

Part of the problem of declining circulation statistics can be explained as a consequence of a one-time accounting adjustment. A series of circulation scandals in 2004 forced newspapers to change the way they were counting readers and circulation figures. It was learned that in addition to providing large numbers of samples and heavily discounted papers for special programs, some publishers were padding their numbers by assigning lucrative quotas to third-party distributors, a practice that encouraged the distributors to order too many papers and then dump them when they were not sold. Outraged advertisers and Wall Street investors forced newspapers to eliminate the padded numbers, which resulted in a substantial decrease in overall reported circulation.

Other causes of circulation decline were more troubling to print journalists, including the shift to cable television and the Internet; a more mobile, multitasking population; an aging readership base; and do-not-call-legislation that put an end to circulation telemarketing campaigns, which had been the top source of new subscriptions.

A number of customers were also moving away from daily readership, buying the paper on weekends and on days when there was a feature of particular interest such as the weekly television guide or retail sales ads. Newspapers crafted special subscription packages to meet these needs, adding Monday to the weekend package, for example, for sports fans who wanted to read about Sunday games.

The circulation losses were not spread evenly over the industry. Big-city metropolitan newspapers were the biggest losers. A Merrill Lynch analysis of the figures published in the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) 2006 showed that papers with circulations between 100,000 and 500,000 fell 3.6 percent on weekdays and 4.2 percent on Sunday. Papers over 500,000 lost 3.1 percent daily and 4.5 percent Sundays.

In the two years ending September 2004 and September 2005 the Los Angeles Times lost 9.23 percent daily and 9.8 percent Sundays, while the Washington Post lost 7 percent daily and 5.8 percent Sundays, according to the 2006 State of the News Media report, an annual report prepared by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The project is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and is conducted in partnership with a number of leading journalism institutions.

National papers, defined in the report as USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, held their own, while mid-sized suburban and small papers faired best of all.

Publishers responded to the circulation losses in several ways. One was to try to talk about newspaper readership and total audience reach instead of circulation. Readership is a term that takes into account the fact that most papers are read by more than one person. In 2004 Newspaper Association of America (NAA) figures set national circulation at 54 million and readership at 124 million on an average weekday. Sunday rates of readership were reported at 58 million in circulation and 139 million readership. Publishers also argued that advertisers should consider the number of additional readers who see the paper online and on mobile devices.

Newspapers had one advantage in competition with immediate, free media such as television and the Internet: their next-day product was giving a larger variety and more in-depth information than was available elsewhere. The State of the News Media report studied a typical day of news coverage, May 11, 2005, and found that the May 12 newspaper reports covered the widest range of topics of all media, with the deepest sourcing and the most angles. Information on Internet news sites was almost as extensive, although for the most part, it relied heavily on the newspapers' reporting to achieve that depth.

Publishers also continued to argue that newspapers are the best way to reach a broad audience and deliver results for advertisers. In 2006 the NAA launched a trade campaign to convince advertisers of the value of an "engaged audience delivered by a medium with the brand power, content, and credibility to effectively serve print and online advertisers better than any other medium." The association said that newspapers reach 64 percent of all adults on weekdays and 77 percent of adults at least once a week.

Ad Revenue

The second, and most remunerative, market for newspapers is advertising. In this market, the outlook for newspapers is healthier. Bear-Stearns reported that newspapers received $39.5 billion in U.S. ad dollars in 2006, or 16.9 percent of all U.S. media advertising. Yet the papers covered in this report were feeling the pressure from newer, more interactive media, with newspapers experiencing only 1.8 percent ad growth in 2005 and a 1.0 percent decline during 2006, well below the industry's former mid-single-digit annual growth.

Print newspaper advertising can be broken down into several categories. National advertising, a small category for all but the largest papers, has been declining, but publishers have attempted to lure back advertisers with such improvements as expanded use of color.

Retail advertising comes from establishments such as department stores, grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants at the local level. Retail advertising can either be printed within the newspaper or contained in inserts. Retail is the biggest source of ad revenues, accounting for 45 percent in 2005.

The second largest category is classified, which can be cyclical. This form of advertising has faced heavy competition from Web sites such as AutoTrader and eBay.

To maintain market share and revenues, newspapers are aggressively moving online, both with their own Web sites and with investments in such properties as CareerBuilder (jointly owned by Tribune, Gannett, and McClatchy), Shopzilla and uSwitch (Scripps), and (New York Times). In one example, has developed alliances with nearly 60 dailies for help-wanted classifieds. In another, the Sun-Times News Group launched a Web site for auto sales. The free, searchable site was said to have an inventory of more than 110,000 new and used automobiles from 540 dealers and other listings.

The NAA reported that in 2004 more than 1,500 daily newspapers in North America had Web sites that boosted total newspaper readership among 25- to 34-year-olds by 15 percent, and that newspaper Web site readers are more educated, affluent, and ready-to-spend than other Internet users.

In 2006 online newspaper ad revenues increased approximately 30 percent, and most experts predicted continued growth. Many newspaper companies were relying on rapid growth in online revenues to make up for slow growth in print ad sales. At the New York Times, for example, online ad sales grew 30 percent in 2005, while overall advertising grew only 0.9 percent. Publishers had to charge less for online ads, however, and advertisers and ad agencies were skeptical about online circulation figures despite development of a number of sophisticated programs to analyze site visits.

It must be remembered, however, that online ads are still a small percentage (1%-7%) of overall advertising revenues. Newspapers earn approximately $2 billion annually in the United States through online advertising, according to the NAA, and 25 times that amount from print advertising. Online advertising is growing but it will be years before the growth in online revenues can compensate for the slow growth in print ads.


Despite a wave of consolidations in the late 1990s and the first years of the 2000s, there are still hundreds of independent newspapers in the United States, many family-owned. If circulation is considered, however, the major chains dominate the industry. The 2004 State of the News Media report stated that approximately two dozen of the largest groups owned only 39 percent of the country's 1,457 newspapers, but that the papers owned by those groups accounted for 69 percent of U.S. circulation.


This company is the largest newspaper company in the United States, with 90 daily papers and nearly 1,000 non-daily publications. In addition to USA Today and USA Weekend, Gannett's papers include the Arizona Republic, the Detroit Free Press, the Indianapolis Star, and the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. Newsquest Media Group, Gannett's United Kingdom division, publishes nearly 300 titles, including 17 newspapers.

Gannett also owns 22 television stations and 42.5 percent of the online company, CareerBuilder. Gannett is also an Internet leader, with sites sponsored by its television stations and newspapers reporting 23,245,000 unique visitors per month, or 14.8 percent of the Internet audience. Revenues in 2006 were $8 billion.

Tribune Company

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, Tribune Company owns 11 major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday (Long Island, New York), the Baltimore Sun, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and the Orlando Sentinel. It also publishes a Spanish-language daily, Hoy, in both Chicago and Los Angeles. The company owns 23 television stations and the cable superstation WGN, as well as the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, and percentages of a diverse group of Internet and cable companies that includes,, and the Food Network. With these holdings, the company claims to reach 80 percent of U.S. households. Reported revenues for 2006 were $5.55 billion.

The McClatchy Company

Headquartered in Sacramento, California, this company was founded during the California Gold Rush. With the acquisition of Knight Ridder in 2006, McClatchy became the second largest newspaper publisher in the United States, dropping to third after the sale of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The company has 31 daily newspapers and approximately 50 non-dailies, including the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, the Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), the Charlotte Observer, and the News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina). In addition, McClatchy's network of Internet assets includes local Web sites in each of its daily newspaper markets.

The company owns and operates McClatchy Interactive, an interactive operation that provides Web sites with content, publishing tools, and software development tools; Real Cities, the largest national advertising network of local news Web sites; 15.0 percent of CareerBuilder; and 25.6 percent of Classified Ventures. McClatchy reported revenues of $2.28 billion in 2006.

The New York Times Company

This influential publishing company owns 19 daily newspapers, including the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and the Web site In 2007 it announced divestiture of its broadcast division. Reported revenues in 2006 were $3.3 billion, with $273.9 million coming from its digital businesses, including and

Advance Publications, Inc.

This communication company is privately held under the control of the Newhouse family. It owns Condé Nast Publications, Parade Publications, Fairchild Publications, American City Business Journals, the Golf Digest Companies, and newspapers in more than 20 American cities. Advance Publications also has extensive interests in cable television, as well as Internet sites that are related to its print publications.

Its newspapers include the Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times and the Mobile Register in Alabama, the Jersey Journal and Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the Oregonian (Portland), the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Advance Internet is a leading creator of local news and information Web sites, which operate in alliance with over 30 of its newspapers. The company also has cable operations, the Religion News Service, Newhouse News Service, CondéNet, and partial ownership of the Discovery Channel.

Hearst Corporation

Hearst is a diversified media company that owns 12 daily and 30 weekly newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Albany Times Union. It has nearly 200 magazines around the world, including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Other Hearst properties include 29 television stations, which reach a combined 18 percent of U.S. viewers; joint venture interests in leading cable networks, including Lifetime, A&E, The History Channel, and ESPN; business publishing; Internet businesses; television production; newspaper features distribution; and real estate.

Dow Jones

This news and financial information provider owns the Wall Street Journal and Barron's. The company's eight daily and 15 weekly newspapers also include the Times Herald Record in Middletown, New York, the Record in Stockton, California, the Cape Cod Times in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Mail Tribune in Medford, Oregon, and the Pocono Record in Pocono, Pennsylvania. Reported revenues in 2006 totaled $1.86 billion.

Lee Enterprises

This company, located in Davenport, Iowa, has 51 daily newspapers and a joint interest in five others, primarily in midsize markets. The company also has rapidly growing online sites and more than 300 weekly newspapers and specialty publications in 23 states. Lee newspapers have circulation of 1.7 million daily and 1.9 million Sunday.

With the acquisition of Pulitzer Inc. in June 2005, Lee became the fourth largest newspaper company in the country in terms of dailies owned, and it moved from twelfth to seventh in daily circulation. Lee gained 14 daily papers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and more than 100 non-daily publications in the $1.46 billion deal. Other Lee newspaper markets are Madison, Wisconsin; Lincoln, Nebraska; Davenport, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Billings, Montana; Bloomington, Illinois; Tucson, Arizona; and Napa, California.


In the physical sense, the major material used by newspapers is newsprint. In financial reports, the term often includes both paper and ink, as well as a few related costs. However, these materials represent only 10 to 20 percent of news companies' costs. Whether on paper or online, the major product sold by newspapers can be thought of as information. Gathering information requires a great deal of labor, which represents approximately 75 percent of costs.

Abitibi-Consolidated and Bowater provide an estimated 50 percent of U.S. newsprint capacity, and the top five producers account for nearly 70 percent. Canada provides much of the newsprint used in the United States, and publishers, therefore, are negatively affected when the U.S. dollar falls in value compared to the Canadian dollar.

Newsprint costs vary, with a 22 percent decline in prices in 2002 followed by increasing costs the following years. Despite a 6 percent decrease in newsprint consumption by U.S. dailies in 2006, newsprint prices increased an estimated 9.2 percent during the year. These price increases were driven in large part by a reduction in capacity by major newsprint producers. Newsprint production was cut by a reported 5.5 percent in 2005 and was down an additional 6.3 percent in 2006. Pricing peaked at $675 per metric ton in third-quarter 2006, and declined $15-$20 per ton in fourth-quarter 2006.

Newspapers sought to contain these costs by reducing paper weight, cutting the space dedicated to news, referred to in the industry as the newshole, and decreasing page width. The Wall Street Journal, for example, announced that it would cut its broadsheet from 60 inches to 48 inches in 2007. To reduce the newshole, papers began eliminating such space-eating features as stock prices and television and movie listings, directing their readers online for the information.

As for labor costs, Bear-Stearns reported that the industry had responded to declining circulation and slow ad growth by cutting 2,500 jobs in 2005 and an additional 1,500 in 2006. Publishers, however, still faced rising health care and benefits costs.

A large share of the cuts came in newsrooms, cuts that were viewed with discomfort by many in journalism, who worried that decreasing news coverage would only worsen circulation problems. A number of academic studies warned of the danger of these cuts. In one such study, professors at the University of Missouri-Columbia concluded after looking at 10 years of financial data that newspapers that spent more money on their newsrooms were more profitable because they were offering a better product. Other studies, however, failed to find a direct correlation.

The NAA said in 2006 that in the previous five years, paid circulation newspapers had lost nearly 2,800 journalists.

The State of the News Media report estimated that daily newspaper newsroom losses in 2005 were approximately 600, leaving a little more than 52,000 full-time professionals gathering, writing, and editing the news. These job losses came on top of earlier cuts. There were 300 new hires in 2002, but newsrooms were down 500 jobs in 2003 and 100 in 2004, the report noted.

The staffs of large metro newspapers suffered the most. Newsroom job cuts included 75 at the Philadelphia Inquirer, 85 at the Los Angeles Times, 45 at Long Island's Newsday, 45 at the New York Times, 65 at the Dallas Morning News, and 41 at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The report noted that the number of newspaper reporters covering metropolitan Philadelphia had dropped from 500 in 1980 to 220 in 1996, and most local television and radio stations had also eliminated news staff.

Many of the job cuts were achieved by buyouts. In February 2007, for example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that it was offering buyouts to up to 80 newsroom employees, cutting its circulation area, and focusing more on online news.


Newspapers must be distributed quickly while news is still fresh. Once the presses begin to roll, fleets of vehicles begin pouring out of the building, delivering papers to wholesale distributors, single-sale locations, or news carriers for home delivery. Some copies go directly to the Post Office for mail subscribers.

Larger papers often print different editions with local news and ads for different circulation areas. This process is known as microzoning. Microzoning lets newspapers provide segmentation, targeting, and zoning of circulation to improve insert distribution and more effectively compete against direct mail.

While carriers at a few papers might be employees, approximately 90 percent of the publications in the United States consider them independent contractors, not entitled to health benefits nor workman's compensation benefits, and almost all of the remaining papers are moving in this direction. In 2002, for example, the St. Petersburg Times, one of the few papers in the country to give its carriers part-time employee status, converted all of its 1,000 carriers to independent contractors.

Many papers contract delivery to wholesale firms, but this arrangement helped lead to the circulation reporting scandals of 2004. Some newspapers padded circulation figures by setting up payment arrangements that encouraged independent distributors to buy more papers than they needed and then dispose of rather than return them when they do not sell. In response, the Dallas Morning News, for one, took distribution back into the company to tighten controls.

Other conflicts have developed over design and placement of vending machines and newspaper boxes for free papers, with local governments enacting regulations to reduce clutter and improve the appearance of downtown street corners. A New York City bill restricts where boxes can be placed and requires them to be graffiti-free, and in 1998, Chicago angered both daily and free newspapers with an ordinance that replaced individual racks with multiple-title boxes.

As in almost every other aspect of the journalism business, technology is rapidly changing newspaper distribution in fundamental ways. In one example, it allowed USA Today to become a successful national newspaper. This publication, launched in the early 1980s, uses satellite transmissions to send the final edition to locations around the country for printing and distribution in regional markets. In this way, the paper can include the latest news and sports scores in all of its regional editions. With a total average daily circulation of 2.3 million, USA Today is published via satellite at 36 locations in the U.S. and four sites abroad.

The same technology allows Americans to read same-day editions of the Miami Herald when traveling in Latin America and the Caribbean. This paper, once expensively delivered to foreign locations by airplane, is now beamed to partner papers in Latin America where it is printed. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal announced in early 2007 that it would begin printing its weekend edition at the Maui News printing facility, although Monday through Friday editions would still be printed at the Journal's plant in California and flown to Hawaii.

In many cases, technology is now eliminating the paper from newspaper. Direct Internet delivery options such as email newsletters or delivery to mobile phones and other hand-held devices eliminate the need for costly newsprint and let individual customers select what news they want.

In one such arrangement, Wall Street Journal news summaries and stock quotes are available on America Online instant messenger services. If they wish, AOL users who subscribe to the online Wall Street Journal can then link to full stories on that Web site. In another example, users who register with can receive text message alert service for sports scores and player statistics through a USA Today partnership with 4INFO.

The Hearst Corporation has signed an agreement with Microsoft for News Reader technology, with the beta version launched in February 2007 at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The downloadable application helps computer users navigate easily through an on-screen version of the paper.

Through services such as Newspaper Direct, individual subscribers, retail outlets, hotels, cruise ships, airlines, corporate offices, libraries, and schools can get online copies of same-day newspapers from around the world. Services are also available in some localities to print out the desired newspapers and deliver them to homes, hotels, and retail outlets.


The NAA reports that the majority of U.S. adults read newspapers. On an average day, 53 percent of adults read a newspaper, and over five weekdays, 72 percent pick up at least one paper. On an average Sunday, 61 percent read a paper, and over four Sundays, 75 percent peruse at least one edition. This breaks down to 56 percent of men and 50 percent of women reading a paper daily, and 60 percent of men and 62 percent of women reading one on Sunday.

Newspaper readership increases with age, as can be seen in Figure 155. Thirty-nine percent of those 18-24 reading daily (47%, Sunday); 39 percent of those 25-34 (50% on Sunday); 49 percent of those 35-44 (59% on Sunday); 58 percent of those 45-54 (66% on Sunday); 64 percent of those 55-64 (70% on Sunday); and 70 percent of those 65 and older (74% on Sunday).

The NAA argument to advertisers is that more affluent, better educated citizens—the citizens advertisers most want to reach—make up a disproportionate share of the newspaper audience. The median household income of daily newspaper readers is given as $57,824, and the average as $75,066. The NAA says that 61 percent of those making $75,000 a year or more read papers, while only 45 percent of those making less than $40,000 do.

In addition, 67 percent of those with postgraduate education and 59 percent of college graduates read newspapers daily, while only 33 percent with less than a high school education do. A total of 59 percent of people in management positions read daily papers, 52 percent of those in sales, and 46 percent of those in production.

To look at it another way, 66 percent of those with homes worth $300,000 or more read papers daily, while only 52 percent of those whose homes are valued at less than $150,000 do; 63 percent of those who have lived in their homes for 10 years or more are daily readers, compared to 38 percent who have been in their current residences for less than a year.

Citing a study from Scarborough Research, a consumer market company, NAA also argues that newspaper readers are more engaged, spending substantial time with their papers, usually without multitasking, and that they look for ads and believe they offer good information. It says, for example, that in one study, 51 percent of newspaper readers said ads were useful. Only 19 percent of those polled said newspaper ads were too intrusive; for magazines, the figure was 21 percent; for radio, 25 percent; for television, 38 percent; and for the Internet, 41 percent thought ads were too intrusive.


The main competition to newspapers, in terms of both circulation and advertising dollars, is other media, including magazines, broadcast and cable television, radio, and the Internet.

Other traditional media such as magazines and broadcast television have faced many of the same problems as newspapers, watching their audiences decrease and finding an increasingly tough market for ad sales. Time, the largest news magazine, cut 205 employees in 2005 in reaction to losses in circulation and ad sales. Most local television stations have cut newsroom employees, concentrating increasingly on crime and accidents, weather, traffic, and sports. Most local radio stations no longer have any news reporters in the field.

Groups of large-market newspapers that own other media such as television stations often have an advantage in competing for ad sales because they can provide package deals. The national ad category of sales has been particularly difficult for newspapers, with television taking over much of the market, beginning in the 1950s. There was a reversal as television ratings begin to drop, with national ad sales increasing from 1990 to 2004, but after 2004 the category came under severe pressure again, this time from growing media fragmentation and online sites.

Newspapers also are losing classified sales in the face of such Web sites as,, and Newspapers are responding with their own Web sites as well as with partial ownership of such sites as,, and These newspaper-Web site alliances challenged major Internet-only providers. Faced with the strength of rival CareerBuilder, Yahoo! announced in November 2006 a new partnership between its online recruitment site, HotJobs, and eight newspaper groups that own 176 newspapers in 38 states. In 2006 Monster also built new ties with print media, launching co-branded recruitment sites that partnered with a number of midsize dailies.


Research and development is not central to the mission of most newspapers and newspaper groups, but deciding how to take the best advantage of rapidly changing technology is getting serious study in publishers' offices across the country. Newspapers around the world invest approximately $1.5 to $2 billion per year on new presses alone, according to Bob Brown, CEO of Goss International. Newspapers also are investing in new digital editing and page layout technology and computer to plate (CTP) imaging systems, among other technological improvements.

To navigate the rapidly changing technology, the New York Times brought Michael Rogers, former head of the Washington Post Company's new media efforts, on board in 2006 as a "futurist in residence." The paper also asked Michael Zimbalist, the former head of the Online Publishers Association, to establish the paper's first research and development group. He hired seven experts—a mathematician, a linguist, a newspaper designer, and others—from such places as the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to find the best ways for the New York Times to move into the digital future.

One such innovation is the paper's new Times Reader software application, developed with Microsoft's Vista software, to reformat the paper automatically to fit a variety of screens, everything from traditional desktop computers to mobile phones. Editors can now publish a single electronic version of the paper for multiple screen formats. In a similar effort to jumpstart innovation, the Los Angeles Times, formed its own Manhattan Project from a group of its own investigative reporters and editors.

Meanwhile, the Tribune Co. began installing a 3,100-seat CCI NewsDeskSystem that will centralize computer operations at one server in Chicago and another in Los Angeles. One server at a time will be used, with the other held ready as a disaster recovery safety net. The CCI NewsDesk System was to start live production in early 2007, with each newspaper installed as a virtual newsroom on the system. The plan was to gradually extend the CCI system across each of the Tribune's newspaper sites, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Sun-Sentinel, Daily Press, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Allentown Morning Call, Baltimore Sun, and Newsday, with the last site expected to go live in the last quarter of 2008.

Throughout the industry, CTP technology is advancing rapidly. Newspaper workflow systems, as part of this technology, could include software that allowed for unlimited zones and multiple editions. Such innovations as high-quality plates created with violet lasers, available through Agfa, Fuji, Kodak, and ECRM Imaging Systems, are helping the industry move toward chemistry-free processing. In addition to its environmental advantages, chemistry-free processing offers such benefits as a more predictable process; elimination of chemical purchasing, cleanup, and disposal; reduced labor costs; and reduced maintenance.

At the printing end of the process, Goss introduced its Flexible Printing System (FPS), with the first in the United States purchased in 2007 for 2008 installation at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The four-tower configuration chosen by the paper is designed to produce up to 96-page broadsheet products.

A number of organizations and graduate journalism schools conduct research on nontechnical issues such as content and the effect of certain stories on the audience.

The State of the News Media report is compiled annually by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, with cooperation of such organizations as the Poynter Institute. Poynter is a non-profit organization that conducts seminars to educate journalists, future journalists, and teachers of journalists. It publishes Poynter Report, a quarterly publication about journalism. It also posts articles online, and hosts online discussions about current issues in journalism and journalism ethics.

Research at journalism schools covers a wide variety of topics. In November 2006, for example, the University of Missouri-Columbia released a study that looked at Web site characteristics that make people more likely to contribute to online communities. Lowell Bergman, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, reported a four-hour PBS Frontline program in early 2007 that examined the political, cultural, legal, and economic forces facing the news media. In another example, Jane D. Brown, the James L. Knight Professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducts research on how adolescents' health is affected by the mass media and how the media can help.


Increasing availability of low-cost broadband, the emergence of user-generated content, and a proliferation of mobile phones and other handheld devices are changing the role of traditional newspapers, according to Michael Rogers, futurist-in-residence at the New York Times. He does not expect to see print newspapers disappear; instead, he believes they will serve as roadmaps that help readers navigate the rich variety of online features. He also sees newspapers churning out content that will appear on a variety of devices and platforms.

The changing shape of the business is an international trend. In 2005, for example, the Guangdong Mobile Communications Co., China's biggest mobile phone company, announced a new partnership with the Xinhua News Agency and several newspapers in Guangdong Province to offer a mobile phone newspaper service.

At the technical end of the business, continuing advancements in automation and information exchange can be expected to help the newspaper world adapt to the possibilities of the digital revolution.

A new financial model is also likely to develop for online publications. Papers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as many smaller publications, have begun to charge for access. There are also questions as to how long traditional newspapers will allow aggregators such as Google and Yahoo to gather and distribute their content free of charge.

As for content, it is probable that there will be more outlets putting fewer reporters on the street to cover a narrower news budget of stories. As audiences shrink, so do the resources to invest in the news product. Idealism also seems to be disappearing from newspaper management, with bottom-line management taking charge.

National papers such as USA Today seem able to hold their own in terms of circulation and revenues. The papers that are most threatened are the big-city metros, which have the news organizations to cover state, regional, and city business. They are being supplanted by suburban dailies or weeklies as well as by a range of smaller niche publications, which might not serve the same watchdog function over local, state, and national government and other major institutions.


Publishers began talking about the demographics of their readership when circulation numbers dropped, stressing to advertisers that they attracted a desirable group of potential spenders.

Some advertisers are especially interested in the target audience of the publication. It is no secret that Tiffany prefers to advertise in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal rather than in the working-class Daily News. USA Today, a successful national newspaper, publishes demographic figures on its Web site showing that 66 percent of its readers are men, that 63 percent are between the ages of 25 to 54, that 72 percent attended college, that 35 percent are professional/managerial, with 81 percent employed, and that 70 percent make $50,000 a year or more, with 34 percent making more than $100,000 a year.

Newspapers have also tried to reach out to targeted groups with zoned editions, specialized coverage, and niche publications such as youth publications and the ethnic press.

Some efforts are even more specific. When the Boston Red Sox signed Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald launched efforts to reach Japanese readers on the Web.

Newspaper companies have been particularly concerned about the lower readership of newspapers among the young, worried that those not developing a newspaper habit would not pick it up in later years as they began careers and families. In Newspaper in Education programs, which seek to build readership among the young, newspapers are delivered to classrooms, often paid for by third parties.

In an effort to appeal to readers between 18 and 34 years old, the Associated Press launched asap in 2005, a service for younger audiences that offer information both as print articles and as audio, video, blogs, and wireless text. More than 100 newspapers signed up, with each deciding on its own whether to make the service available in the print paper, online, or in some combination.

Youth-oriented free newspapers also appeared in a number of cities.

In 2005 Bendixen & Associates conducted a comprehensive survey of ethnic Americans on their media usage. African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Arab American, and Native American adults in the United States were surveyed, representing a total of 64 million people. The interviews were conducted in 10 languages.

The report concluded that 29 million adults, or 13 percent of the entire adult population of the United States, prefer ethnic media to mainstream television, radio, or newspapers, and that ethnic media reach an additional 22 million adults regularly. Hispanics are the group most likely to choose ethnic media, with 87 percent of all Hispanic adults regularly accessing Spanish-language television, radio, or newspapers. A substantial majority of African Americans listen regularly to radio stations that focus on black interests, while a quarter of African Americans read African American newspapers, which are mostly weeklies.


The Interactive Advertising Bureau,

The National Newspaper Publishers Association, also known as the Black Press of America,

The Newspaper Association of America (NAA),

The Poynter Institute,

The World Association of Newspapers,


"ABC Study: Advertisers Don't Believe Online Ads Are Measured Accurately." Editor and Publisher. 8 February 2007.

Brown, Bob (CEO, Goss International). "Metro Users Group Keynote Speech," Goss International. 19 February 2007. Available from 〈〉.

Chaffin, Joshua. "'Futurist-in-residence' a Sign of the NY Times Amid a Climate of Digital Distribution." The Financial Times. 23 February 2007, 25.

Fitzgerald, Mark. "The New Math." Editor & Publisher. 1 December 2006.

"Largest Newspaper Markets Worldwide." International Herald Tribune. 30 May 2005, 10.

"NAA Introduces 2007 Newspaper Value Campaign." Newspaper Association of America. 30 January 2007. Available from 〈〉.

"Newspaper Audience Data Base." Newspaper Association of America. Available from 〈〉.

Newspapers 101: A Primer for the Newspaper Industry with an Outlook for 2007. Bear-Stearns Equity Research. Bear-Stearns & Company Inc. February 2007.

State of the News Media, 2004–2006. Project for Excellence in Journalism. Available from 〈〉.

Saba, Jennifer. "Analysts Positive on NYT/Monster Deal." Editor & Publisher. 15 February 2007.

――――――. "The Daily Show." Editor & Publisher. 1 July 2006.

"The Source: Newspapers by the Numbers." Newspaper Association of America. Available from 〈〉.

"Tribune Centralizes CCI NewsDesk System, with Chicago, L.A. Data Centers." Editor & Publisher. 13 February 2007. Available from 〈〉.

see also Comic Books, Magazines


views updated May 21 2018


NEWSPAPERS. The story of America's newspapers has been one of change. Newspapers have changed with and have been changed by their target readers, whether members of a particular ethnic, racial, or religious group; a political party; or society's most elite or poorest members. From the first American newspaper printed in 1690 through the beginning of the twenty-first century, when the United States boasted 1,480 daily and 7,689 total newspapers, the industry has sought always to appeal to Americans experiencing immigration, adjustment to a new land, acculturation, and stability. For the American newspaper the equation has been simple, change or die. Many have died.

Americans have started newspapers for many reasons, including to support religious or political beliefs, to express outrage over social issues, and simply to make a buck. For those newspapers to last, however, the one imperative was to attract readers. At its heart the U.S. newspaper industry was a commercial enterprise, and readers led to profits. For even those newspapers supported by special interest groups, like unions, religious or ethnic organizations, or political parties, the need to appeal to readers has been a constant.

Newspapers have evolved throughout the years so much that some scholars liken its progress to the natural sciences, a matter of evolution from one form into another. The earliest newspapers were simple affairs, often composed of only four small pages distributed to only a few elites in colonial New England's small cities. By the twenty-first century American newspapers offered more words than a novel, hundreds of pages, thousands of advertisements, and a circulation spanning the globe. Thousands of people throughout the world read online versions. Others, reminiscent of earlier newspapers, are simple sheets targeting small, often marginalized groups.

The American newspaper story has been filled with flamboyant figures, cultural changes, technological revolutions, and a brashness mirroring that of the United States itself. Newspapers swept west along with the settlers and helped turn small towns into cities. They thundered at injustice and battled the elite. They preached to the converted and to those disdaining their messages. They attacked minorities and were minorities' voices. They gave communities not only a place to read about themselves but also a place that turned the eyes of community members outward upon the world. The story of American newspapers is one of a window on life in America.

Getting a Foothold

The earliest-known newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, lasted only one edition. Benjamin Harris, who published it in Boston, on 25 September

1690, had neglected to get official permission, and perhaps worse, he printed news from the colonies, which disturbed colonial officials. It was banned. Fourteen years later the Boston postmaster John Campbell, who had been sending handwritten newsletters to a select few in New England, bought a wooden press, and the first successful newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, was born. His was more acceptable. He got permission from authorities beforehand and focused on foreign news. Published by authority of the government and reporting foreign news, it copied the British press, which was licensed and forbidden to criticize the government. But just as America was beginning to chafe under restrictive British rules in the eighteenth century, the young American newspaper industry became unruly as well. Papers were generally published part-time by printers, and publishers objected to the licensing requirements and prior restraints on publication imposed by the British rules.

The early years were marked by repeated disputes between publishers and authorities. Benjamin Franklin first became noticed because of such a dispute. His brother James Franklin had started the New England Courant in Boston in 1821, and Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to him as a printer at age twelve. James Franklin, a fiery sort, was imprisoned for criticizing the governor, and at age seventeen Benjamin Franklin took over the paper while his brother was imprisoned. Benjamin Franklin later moved to Philadelphia and started a number of newspapers, including one in German.

Colonial newspapers were generally politically neutral, and some publishers did not want to offend anyone. Their news was that of interest mainly to the upper and middle classes, especially news from Britain and news of shipping. Publishers were frequently related to each other, and some had patrons, wealthy individuals who found it useful to sponsor a newspaper. Boston was the center of the early colonial newspaper world, but Philadelphia became a second center by the middle of the eighteenth century. American newspapers were urban institutions, and they spread with the growth of towns and cities. Thus they followed the urbanization of America. The first newspapers were centered in New England, then they moved into the South, then slowly they moved into the West. Publishers were mostly men, although Elizabeth Timothy took over the South Carolina Gazette in 1738, when her husband, Lewis Timothy, died.

In colonial America religion and religious leaders were influential, and they played significant roles in the early newspapers. Many newspapers were founded for religious purposes, printing sermons, supporting an immigrant group's religion, and performing missionary functions as with those printed to convert Native Americans to Christianity. New England's well-educated clergy promoted the press, although Puritan leaders often engaged in spirited debates with newspaper leaders. In truth these vigorous debates helped the fledgling newspaper industry become profitable in New England, and their absence is considered one significant reason that the newspaper industry grew more slowly in the South.

The colonial era was a time of immigration, and many immigrants spoke foreign tongues. Immigrants often settled in enclaves, distinct groups of one ethnic origin within larger settlements of different backgrounds. Immigrant enclaves found newspapers in their languages welcome aids in creating a sense of community, teaching new comers how to adjust to this new culture, and bringing news of their compatriots both in America and in the Old World. Benjamin Franklin's Die Philadelphische Zeitung of 1732 was typical of the foreign-language press as it was located in a city with a sizable German-speaking population. Literate Germans dominated the foreign-language newspapers for a century and a half, although virtually every other immigrant group published newspapers in its native tongue. Among the first were French and Scandinavian language newspapers.

However, a German writing in English epitomized the growing dissatisfaction of American newspapers with colonial rulers. John Peter Zenger immigrated to America from Germany with his family in 1710 and was apprenticed a year later to the printer William Bradford in New York. After seven years Zenger started his own paper, bankrolled by a group opposed to the newly appointed governor William Cosby. One of Zenger's sponsors, James Alexander, wrote a number of articles recasting British libertarian thought, especially the need for freedom of expression, for the New World. The articles were published anonymously in Zenger's paper, and the editor was arrested in 1734 for "printing and publishing several seditious libels." He spent nine months in jail. At the trial Zenger's attorney argued basically that the articles were true. The prosecution correctly cited the law, which said truth did not matter. But a jury sided with Zenger, and trut has a defense persisted into the twenty-first century.

Newspaper disputes with colonial authorities were only one source of dissent during the middle of the eighteenth-century. American newspapers began reporting perceived British injustices. When in 1765 the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, levying taxes on admittance to the bar, legal documents, business papers, and newspapers, many publishers abandoned political neutrality. Patriot newspapers, such as the Boston Gazette of 1755–1775, opposed Boston taxes and urged boycotts. It covered the Boston Massacre in 1770, when several Bostonians were killed in struggles with British soldiers. Not all newspapers sided with the colonies, but those remaining loyal to England suffered. For example, in 1773 the New York Loyalist James Rivington founded Rivington's New York Gazetter, which supported the British. He was embattled almost from the start and was jailed for a short time in 1775. After his printing house was destroyed by a mob on 10 May 1775, he fled to England, then returned with British troops. His Revolutionary War Loyalist newspaper, the New-York Royal Gazette, became synonymous with Toryism.

Following the Revolution the United States was a good place for newspapers. Advertising increased dramatically, and the excitement of a new nation led to increased readership. The new country's first successful daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, started in 1784. More efficient presses lowered production costs, which led to a rapid increase in newspapers, especially dailies. Distribution was mostly by mail, and low postal rates helped. The increased importance of advertising was evident even in the names of newspapers. Twenty of the nation's twenty-four dailies in 1800 carried the word "advertiser" as part of their names. Even the government seemed to be on the side of newspapers. In 1788 the First Amendment to the Constitution aimed to protect the press. As the nation opened the West, newspapers went along and became local boosters of the frontier towns in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

While the official name of the new nation was the United States, its citizens were anything but united in viewpoints, and the country became embroiled in a dispute over federalism. Political parties formed behind those wanting a strong federal government and those urging state sovereignty. Early debates over postal laws indicated that legislators recognized the effects of communication on modernity, and newspapers soon became leading weapons in the struggle. Both sides started or supported their own newspapers. The era was highlighted by partisan newspapers, like the Federalist Gazette of the United States, to which Alexander Hamilton was a frequent contributor, and the Jeffersonian National Gazette. One result of the struggle between the two factions was the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, aimed at silencing Thomas Jefferson's followers. One of the four laws, the Sedition Act, outlawed newspaper criticism of government officials and effectively nullified the First Amendment. Nearly 10 percent of existing American newspapers were charged under the act. However, it did provide for truth as a defense, thereby putting the Zenger verdict into law. The Sedition Act was allowed to expire in 1801, after national elections put Jefferson's party into power.

The first third of the nineteenth century was a time of expansion for the United States. The National Intelligencer was founded in 1800 as a paper of record, and it was the first to cover Congress directly. Newspapers changed their emphasis from advertising vehicles, although advertising was still a major part of their incomes. Most of their financing came from either political parties or circulation. Papers remained expensive, costing about six cents a paper. Only the mercantile and political elites could afford to buy newspapers. Ever catering to readers, editors focused on politics, business, and the comings and goings of ships in the port. Nevertheless many newspapers were feisty, fighting political or social battles. Not at all atypical of the time were lengthy attacks on immigrants, abolitionists, or black Americans, such as those in the New York Examiner in 1827 that led the Reverend Samuel Cornish and John Russwurm to found the nation's first black newspaper, Freedom's Journal. It lasted only a short time but was quickly followed by about thirty black newspapers in the next decade and even more as the abolition question heated up in the years preceding the Civil War. This lively press set the stage for the most dramatic evolution in American newspapers, the penny press.

The Era of the Reporter

The penny press derived its name from its cost, a penny apiece. It challenged the existing elite and the newspapers that served them by developing a new attitude toward advertising, cutting prices to become accessible to the masses, and by paying reporters to cover the news. Earlier newspapers had depended upon friends of the editor or publisher to provide news. The penny press revolutionized the way news was produced, distributed, and consumed. Due to faster presses and cheaper newsprint, penny papers cost less to produce. Advertising underwent a dramatic shift during this period. Previously those who advertised were those who read the paper, and advertising was seen as a mechanism for spreading information among an elite class. But the penny papers catered to the needs of all, and business advertised to inform readers about available products. These new newspapers were sold by street vendors one paper at a time. Thus the paper was available to all and needed to appeal to all for those sales. This led to a change in the kind of news covered. Readers wanted something other than strong opinions. With the rise in reporting, news became more local.

The first penny paper was Benjamin Day's New York Sun in 1833, quickly followed in 1834 by the Evening Transcript and in 1835 by James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald. The successful format spread quickly from New York to other East Coast newspapers and a bit slower to the West. But all followed Day's formula for success, that is, expanded advertising; low price to customers; street sales; new technology in gathering news, printing, and distribution; and paid reporters. Penny papers ushered in a lively time for the United States and for its newspapers, which experienced dramatic changes in technology, distribution, and format. Technological changes during this period included a steam-powered cylindrical press, much cheaper papermaking processes, the growth of railroads, and in the 1840s the advent of the telegraph, which directly led to the establishment in 1848 of the Associated Press, an association of New York newspapers.

Alongside the penny press arose an advanced specialized press appealing to special interests, such as those advocating the abolition of slavery, labor unions, and women's issues. Amelia Bloomer started the first woman's newspaper, the Lily, in 1849 initially as a temperance then as a suffrage paper. Others quickly followed. This era also experienced a grow thin racial and ethnic newspapers. Virtually all these newspapers were published weekly, and their influence on their specialized audiences was great. Before the Civil War more than twenty black newspapers emerged, some edited by towering figures such as Frederick Douglass, who started the North Star in 1847. This paper lasted sixteen years, a long time for an abolitionist paper, during which the name was changed to Frederick Douglass' Weekly. The abolitionist papers published by both black and white advocates were among the most controversial. The abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy of the Observer in Alton, Illinois, was killed by a mob in 1837. No counterpart for abolitionist newspapers existed in the South. Southern legislators had virtually banned comment on the slavery situation. The story was different in the West as the U.S. frontier expanded. Newspapers frequently were boosters of their new cities and often engaged in ideological battles, especially in "Bloody Kansas, " split by the slavery issue.

All this was a prelude to the Civil War, which not only permanently changed the United States but also permanently changed American newspapers. The media had never covered a war before, and the emotional fervor of the war coupled with the increasing competitiveness of the nation's newspapers prompted a host of changes. The Civil War was the first modern war, and newspapers became modern as well. Major newspapers sent correspondents, a first, and the reliance on the telegraph led to two major developments in the way stories were written. The telegraph was expensive, so the writing style became less florid, using fewer words. The telegraph also was unreliable, which popularized the inverted pyramid style of writing in which the most important news is first in the story, followed in succession by less important facts. Photography, especially that of Mathew Brady, brought further developments, although it was a decade before photos could be engraved. Newspapers used Brady's photos as models for staff artists. Sometimes the heated competition led to bribery and fakery. At other times news correspondents faced heavy censorship. For instance, General William T. Sherman ordered the arrest and trial of a reporter, who faced the death penalty. General A. E. Burnside ordered the Chicago Tribune closed and prohibited the New York World from circulating in the Midwest, but President Abraham Lincoln rescinded the orders.

After the Civil War newspapers faced new challenges and opportunities. The pace of urbanization sped up, creating large cities and another spurt of immigration. Mass production replaced artisan craftsmanship, giving further impetus to advertising. Along with the nation, the news became bigger, more costly to report, and reliant on commercial advertising. Newspapers reflected city life, and publishers identified strongly with local business. Frequently publishers realized that extreme partisanship drove away valuable readers, and their political tones moderated.

Despite their growing numbers, immigrants and African Americans in the North felt left out of the competitive mainstream newspapers, which focusing on attracting the largest number of readers, appealed to native-born Americans. Consequently, these groups created their own newspapers. In 1870 the United States had 315 foreign-language newspapers, a number that grew to 1,159 in 1900, two-thirds of which were German. More than one and a half million German-language newspapers were sold in 1900, followed by 986,866 Polish news papers, 827,754 Yiddish papers, and 691,353 Italian papers. More than one thousand black newspapers were founded between 1865 and 1900, but most quickly failed. Black newspapers took the lead in challenging the scaling back of Reconstruction in the South. The editor and writer Ida B. Wells, a former slave, documented lynching throughout the South.

In 1868 the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution enfranchised all men, including African Americans, but not women. This sparked a second wave of feminism, much of which was centered around newspapers edited and published by women. They were split into two factions, those concentrating on obtaining the vote for women and those seeking broad political and social reform. The latter group included the Revolution, started in 1868 by Susan B. Anthony with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as editor. As shown by its motto, "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less, " the paper was radical. It lasted only two and a half years. On the other hand, Lucy Stone's more moderate Women's Journal, which was started in 1870, lasted until 1917 despite never having more than six thousand subscribers. These papers maintained pressure for woman suffrage until its eventual passage in 1920.

A short-lived agrarian press had more subscribers. But from its start in the 1880s it primarily served the Populist Party, and it died along with the party after the beginning of the twentieth century. A vociferously anti-urban press, it stood up for farmers' issues. The most notable paper was the National Economist with more than 100,000 readers at its peak. However, more than one thousand Populist newspapers spread throughout the nation's midsection.

By 1920 half of the people in the country lived in cities, where newspapers thrived. This was especially true at the end of the nineteenth century, when two of the most controversial figures in American newspapers took control of New York papers. They led a revolution in coverage and display that earned their style of journalism the sneering label of "yellow journalism" after a comic strip character, the "Yellow Kid." Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst arrived on the New York City scene at a time when its mainstream newspapers were segmenting the audience by focusing on news of interest mostly to one type of reader. For example, the New York Times and Chicago Tribune appealed to the business classes. Hearst and Pulitzer's sensationalized newspapers were aimed directly at the working classes, adding to audience segmentation.

From its beginnings under Henry Raymond in 1851 the New York Times had grown in substance to become the newspaper most appealing to those wanting information. Pulitzer's New York World and Hearst's New York >Journal most appealed to those wanting entertainment. Pulitzer, who had started with a German-language newspaper and had merged the St. Louis Dispatch with the Post before moving to New York in 1883, added display flair. His newspaper emphasized sports and women's news, and he attracted good reporters, including Elizabeth Cochrane. Known as "Nellie Bly," Cochrane became famous for her stunts, such as rounding the world in seventy-two days, beating the time needed in the Jules Verne classic Around the World in 80Days. Pulitzer's chief rival, Hearst, had turned around his family's failing Examiner in San Francisco and purchased the struggling Journal. Aiming at sensationalism of the highest order, Hearst raided Pulitzer's staff, including Richard Outcalt, creator of the "Yellow Kid" comic strip, and introduced color printing. The war for subscribers between Hearst and Pulitzer became sensationalized, and many blamed Hearst for the U.S. involvement in a war with Cuba. The rest of the nation's press splintered into two groups, those growing more sensational and those emphasizing solid reporting of the news. However, all were affected, and following this period multicolumn headlines and photographs became the norm for American newspapers.

By the beginning of the twentieth century many editors had college degrees and came from the ranks of reporters, not from the owner class. This led to an increase in professionalism, as did the general philosophy of the newspaper business that news was a separate division, funded by but not directly affected by advertising. Reporters, often paid on a space-rate system, earned salaries comparable to skilled craftspeople, such as plumbers.

World War I was an unsettling time for the industry. Foreign-language newspapers reached their peak in 1917, but wartime restrictions and prejudices hit them hard, especially those papers printed in German. They began a steep decline. The number of all newspapers peaked in 1909, when a total of 2,600 newspapers were published in the United States. Circulation continued to rise as the country became more urban. Newspapers had another war to cover, an all-out war that brought a rise in American nationalism. As has happened frequently when the nation was engaged in war, the federal government sought to control newspapers. The Espionage and Sedition Act provided a legal basis for shutting down newspapers. The former newspaperman George Creel directed the new Committee on Public Information and worked hard to determine what newspapers printed and omitted, relying generally on cooperation but lapsing into coercion when he felt he needed it. Socialist and black newspapers were particularly hard hit by government actions. Notably Victor Berger, editor of the socialist newspaper the Milwaukee Leader, was jailed. Because it refused to support U.S. involvement in the war, the Leader lost its mailing privileges, which crippled its ability to circulate and to gather news. Lack of support for the war effort, especially attacks on racial discrimination in the armed forces, created problems for black newspaper publishers as well. Creel believed those stories hurt the war effort, and in 1919 the Justice Department claimed the papers' racial stance was caused by Russian sympathizers.

Reflecting the great migration of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North, black newspapers achieved their greatest success in the first half of the twentieth-century. The number of black newspapers rose from about two hundred in 1900 to a peak of five hundred by the 1920s, then the number began a slow decline to slightly higher than two hundred at the start of the twenty-first century. While most of these were small-town southern papers, in the 1920s four large black newspapers in the North developed circulations of more than 200,000, Marcus Garvey's Negro World, which lasted only from 1918 to 1933, Robert L. Vann's Pittsburgh Courier, Carl Murphy's Baltimore Afro-American, and Robert Abbott's Chicago Defender. The Defender was probably the best known of them, particularly in the 1920s. Abbott, who founded the paper in 1905, was one of the leaders in urging African Americans to move north. Some historians consider his newspaper, which was circulated throughout the South, one of the most effective institutions in stimulating the migration.

Newspapers in a Modern World

The year 1920 marks the line designating when a majority of Americans lived in urban areas. The United States was changing, and news adapted to the modern urban, technological, consumer society. The years since the era of yellow journalism's sensationalism had seen an end to the massive growth in the number of newspapers, although circulation continued to grow. The industry had stabilized, advertising had become national in scope, reporters were becoming higher educated and more professional, and the ownership of newspapers by chains and groups became more common, a trend that continued into the twenty-first century. Newspapers gained new competitors in broadcast media. Newsreels in theaters provided an alternative in presenting news, with moving pictures of events. The growth of the advertising industry pushed the United States toward a consumer society and greater use of brand names, and a professional public relations industry developed.

Newspaper content continued to evolve, especially in the 1930s. Competition pushed newspapers beyond presenting only the facts. Journalists sought to put facts into context. Newspaper content and style became interrelated, and the industry moved toward interpretation, photos, political columns, weekly review of news, and faster, more efficient technology in gathering, printing, and distributing news. Full-time columnists and editorial writers became more common. It was a time of journalism of synthesis, as newspapers attempted to add to the news via such techniques as daily and weekly interpretive news summaries, like the New York Times "Week in Review" section. Consolidation of mainstream papers continued, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked what he called the "monopoly press." Roosevelt's antagonism toward the press had long-term ramifications as he started regular radio chats to bypass reporters. With the Great Depression afflicting most people, the alternative and socialist press thrived, especially social action newspapers like Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker, an influential alternative voice that actively opposed U.S. involvement in World War II, costing it much of its circulation.

The war emphasized some of the weaknesses and strengths of American newspapers. Their lack of coverage overseas left Americans unprepared for the strength of the Axis forces, and they have taken some justified criticism over the years for the lack of reporting on German restrictions on Jews during this period. But the war also emphasized newspapers' strength in their ability to change as needed. During the war the number of correspondents blossomed, and they reported in a vast variety of styles, ranging from the solid hard news of the wire services; through personal journalism like that of Ernie Pyle, one of an estimated forty-nine correspondents killed in action; to cartoonists like Bill Mauldin, whose "Willie" and "Joe" debated the war; to photographers like Joe Rosenthal, whose photo of the flag raising on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima symbolized American success.

Federal authorities censored and attempted to control newspapers, especially the black press, which had more than doubled its circulation between 1933 and 1940 to 1.3 million people. J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had monitored the black press since World War I and was concerned because it was becoming increasingly militant on racial matters. The growth of the big three black newspapers, the Courier, the Afro-American, and the Defender, changed the black press from small, low-circulation southern newspapers to mass-circulation, highly influential northern ones. During World War II the black press was investigated by seven government agencies, and an eighth, the War Production Board, was accused of cutting newsprint supplies to black newspapers. Wildly popular among African Americans was the Courier's Double V platform, standing for "victory abroad [on the battlefield] and victory at home" over racial restrictions.

Much of the press faced a chill from government regulation and the public in the Cold War period following World War II. The Smith Act (1940), the nation's first peacetime sedition act since 1801, prohibited advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government. It was rarely used before 1949, when public opinion turned violently anticommunist. Twelve journalists were indicted. Many newspapers, now facing severe competition from television for advertising dollars, turned right along with the nation. Although a lonely few remained on the left, newspapers still attracted congressional anticommunist investigations. Though some questioned Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy from the start of his anticommunist crusade, he easily manipulated most American newspapers and wire services. McCarthy followed a pattern of launching vague charges shortly before deadlines so they could not be questioned.

The growing disenchantment with newspapers by the public during the Cold War intensified during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s as a generational divide among Americans was duplicated in newsrooms. Young reporters pushed editors to challenge authority on such controversial topics as civil rights, the counterculture, and antiwar activities. New forms of journalism included personalized and activist reporting, which led to even more public dissatisfaction with newspapers. The "new journalism" and criticism by government figures caused a steep decline in public respect for the media accompanied by circulation declines. In 1968 the pollster George Gallup reported that the media had never been as poorly regarded by the public.

Then came Watergate. The press reported events in the investigation of a break-in by Republican operatives at the Democratic Party national headquarters in Washington's Watergate Hotel that culminated in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974, and public dissatisfaction with the press grew. Nixon's popularity had reached a peak of 68 percent after a Vietnam peace treaty was signed in 1973, and many Americans felt the media was out of touch.

The growing use of computers dramatically changed how newspapers were produced, with significant savings in labor and improvement in quality. Computers added depth to coverage and increased the use of color and graphics, especially after the 1980s. Serious reporting during Watergate was notable, as was the courage of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret report detailing governmental decisions during the Vietnam War.

Continued newspaper consolidation coupled with more media companies going public resulted, in the view of many, in a thirst for high profit margins and caused continued concern in the industry, especially as the number of independent metropolitan dailies declined to fewer than the fingers on one hand by the beginning of the twenty-first century. Circulation actually was rising, but at a rate far less than that of the population. In an attempt to reverse the circulation weakness, the industry turned to consultants. A study in 1979 for the American Society of Newspaper Editors changed the kinds of news covered. It spotlighted as hot areas economic news, business news, financial news, health news, personal safety, technology, and international news. Many newspapers changed to include more of those areas, cutting coverage of more traditional areas, such as government. Other studies added to the changes in news focus, and the influence of market research reached its peak with the founding in 1982 of USA Today, a five-day-a-week national newspaper published by Gannett Corporation behind the guiding light of its chairman Allen Neuharth. Gannett's research indicated that readers wanted short stories that would not "jump" (would not continue on another page). Readers liked sports, charts, and graphs and wanted information presented in ways that could be absorbed quickly. The paper's success led many other newspapers, especially those with continued readership weakness, to copy the USA Today formula. After Neuharth's retirement, USA Today changed some of its emphasis and by the twenty-first century was garnering the journalists' praise that had eluded it earlier.

The new century found the newspaper industry in the same position as at the founding of the nation, facing uncertainty and change. New challenges to its prime product, news, came from the Internet and all-news cable television channels. Most newspapers established online publications, but as with the Internet in general, few had figured out how to make a consistent profit. Change started the newspaper story, and change ends it.


Cahan, Abraham. The Education of Abraham Cahan. Translated by Leon Stein, Abraham P. Conan, and Lynn Davison. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969.

Emery, Michael, Edwin Emery, and Nancy L. Roberts. The Press and America. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Errico, Marcus. "Evolution of the Summary News Lead." Media History Monographs 1, no. 1. Available from

Fishman, Joshua A., et al. Language Loyalty in the United States: The Maintenance and Perpetuation of Non-English Mother Tongues by American Ethnic and Religious Groups. Hague: Mouton, 1966.

Folkerts, Jean, and Dwight L. Teeter Jr. Voices of a Nation. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2002.

Hindman, Douglas Blanks, Robert Littlefield, Ann Preston, and Dennis Neumann. "Structural Pluralism, Ethnic Pluralism, and Community Newspapers." Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 76, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 250–263.

Janowitz, Morris. The Community Press in an Urban Setting. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Kent, Robert B., and E. Maura. "Spanish-Language Newspapers in the United States." Geographic Review 86 (July 1996): 446–456.

Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan, 1922.

Miller, Sally M., ed. The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Park, Robert E. The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922.

Reed, Barbara Straus. The Antebellum Jewish Press: Origins, Problems, Functions. Journalism Monographs, vol. 84. Columbia, S.C.: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1993.

Rhodes, Jane. Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

Simmons, Charles A. The African American Press: A History of News Coverage during National Crises, with Special References to Four Black Newspapers, 1827–1965. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998.

Stamm, Keith R., and Lisa Fortini-Campbell. The Relationship of Community Ties to Newspaper Use. Columbia, S.C.: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, 1983.

Suggs, Henry Lewis, ed. The Black Press in the South, 1865–1979. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

———. The Black Press in the Middle West, 1865–1985. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Wilson, Clint C., II, and Félix Gutiérrez. Minorities and Media. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1985.

Stephen R.Byers

See alsoNew York Times ; Press Associations ; Publishing Industry .


views updated Jun 27 2018


The local newspapers of the early American Republic are extremely unimpressive specimens to modern eyes. They are even less impressive than their equally simple but rather elegantly presented colonial forebears, such as Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette. Physically they were usually only four pages long; if the paper was successful, half or more of those pages were advertisements. There were no maps, no cartoons, usually no illustrations of any kind besides a few stereotyped woodcuts in the advertisements featuring crude drawings of ships, runaway slaves, or stud horses. (Political cartoons did exist, but only as separately published prints.) Sometimes a printer of unusual visual ambition procured a custom woodcut for his masthead, perhaps illustrating the name of the journal. The Pittsburgh Tree of Liberty featured a tree with some little faces at bottom, barely discernible to the naked eye, that were meant to represent the people but looked more a like a pile of severed heads. More typical was a clichéd American eagle, or nothing at all.

not necessarily the news: the limitations of the early american newspaper

There was not much in early American newspapers that a modern reader would recognize as news. Because a typical newspaper's entire staff consisted only of the printer in whose shop it was published along with his journeymen and apprentices—all of whom were too busy with ink and type and paper to do much but print—no active reporting or systematic news gathering was done. Particularly successful printers in the major towns might hire an editor or pay a writer, but it was much more common for a printer to publish whatever he was handed by the local amateur literati (especially lawyers and other politicians), even if someone stuck it under his door, unsigned, in the middle of the night. Indeed, some political material was purposely delivered this way so that the printers could avoid prosecutions for seditious libel by asserting that they did not know the author and had not actually even read the libelous material, which they printed only to fill up space in the paper.

News was printed as it happened to come to the printer, ideally but by no means universally in the form of a letter that he or one of his neighbors received from a friend or traveling local who had seen or heard something. (This was the original, literal meaning of the term "correspondent" as applied to news reporting.) Sometimes the printer simply jotted down and printed bits of hearsay he picked up in the street or tavern. Thus the Northampton Farmer of Easton, Pennsylvania, "covered" a possible change in British foreign policy by clipping a paragraph from a Philadelphia newspaper reporting the opinions of one Mr. Lyman, a passenger on a ship that had just arrived from Boston. The great Lyman expected "a speedy restoration of good understanding" between Great Britain and the United States and was "incredulous as to the report of an approaching peace between Great Britain and France."

Most news and other editorial material in most early American newspapers was simply copied from other newspapers, especially from the "exchange papers" that printers could mail each other for free. The resulting content was the raw material of news as we know it today: not "stories" written by reporters, but speeches, government documents, political essays, and programs of recent community celebrations. Only occasionally, in the case of foreign events (on which the typical early American newspaper was far more informative than local or domestic happenings) would there be any effort to provide a summary or narrative of the news.

Printers' arrangements of their papers compounded the difficulty of reading them. Headlines in the modern sense were nonexistent, and the reports and documents were usually classed not according to their subject or importance, but according to where the material was found. Thus, if you were perusing a copy of the Northampton Farmer, you might look under the heading "Philadelphia" and find news of a naval battle in the Caribbean. Someone in New York had gotten a letter saying that the French and the British navies had fought a battle near the port of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean; but because the Easton printer clipped the item out of a Philadelphia newspaper, there it was listed. In terms of placement, only two elements of newspaper design in the early Republic were generally consistent: general interest material (poetry, songs, stories, agricultural advice) went on the back page, and locally produced material, if any, appeared on the second or third page under a heading listing the town of publication. Otherwise items were placed at random or wherever convenient.

These shortcomings were noticed at the time. "I have … often been surprized that the most valuable communications in our papers should be in illegibly small type, while news from Leghorn, accounts of rare reptiles and thunderstorms are in long pica," wrote Connecticut politician and newspaper writer Abraham Bishop, noting that it was usually difficult for the reader "to form some idea, when he has closed one subject and begun on another." Even Thomas Jefferson, a tremendous supporter of the press who once opined that he would rather have newspapers without government than the reverse, was exasperated by the low quality of the information he found in the newspapers of his time. "I look with real commiseration on my fellow citizens," the president wrote, "who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world." The dissemination of commercial information, through price lists, ship notices, and advertisements, was about the only thing the press did to general satisfaction. The rise of "penny press" newspapers, with large staffs of reporters gathering the racy news of the nineteenth-century city, did not even begin until the 1830s.

Before the 1830s, small-town weeklies outnumbered urban dailies 10 to 1 throughout the period. Almost all were sold chiefly by subscription, at a price of a few dollars per year. Circulations ranged from a few hundred to a few thousand. Newspaper bibliographer Clarence S. Brigham estimated that the average circulation was six hundred to seven hundred. The absolute peak was four thousand or so, claimed by the Boston Columbian Centinel and the Albany Argus, among very few others. Limitations on printing, papermaking, and transportation technology made higher figures nearly impossible to achieve. Someone still had to press every page of every copy.

"immense moral and political engines"

Yet the physical and organizational limitations of early American newspapers are only part of the story, and not the most important part. Collectively, seemingly pathetic little sheets like the Northampton Farmer, Tree of Liberty, and their ilk were considered an unstoppable force, especially in politics. "The newspapers are an overmatch for any government," growled one conservative Federalist after his candidate, John Adams, lost the election of 1800. The paradox was symbolized by the Troy (N.Y.) Northern Budget's masthead illustration: a crudely rendered Benjamin Franklin holding a tiny newspaper labeled with the words, "This is the basis of liberty."

What did the Northern Budget's woodcut artist mean? As the early Republic's main form of wide publicity, newspapers filled a tremendous gap in the constitutional scheme of republican government. The whole system failed if voters could not hold elected officials accountable for their performance at a later election. The need for some lines of communication between the people and the rulers led the framers of state constitutions and the federal Bill of Rights to give special constitutional protections to the press. Later legislation and court decisions gave newspapers additional special privileges, including discounted postage rates. Simply put, the media were granted a special place at the political table because their publicity allows democracy to function. The particular means by which this was accomplished was left open. In the early Republic, with the "objective," news-gathering commercial media far in the future, newspapers performed their democratic functions by acting as working parts of the emerging party system—a convergence that might be called "newspaper politics."

The Reverend Samuel Miller's Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (1803), a respected compendium of the century's achievements, observed that "political journals," as he headed his chapter on newspapers, had revolutionized their place in American society. Once "considered of small moment," Miller wrote, newspapers had become "immense moral and political engines" in which "the principles of government, the interests of nations, the spirit and tendency of public measures are all arraigned, tried, and decided." (Like many later press critics, Miller went on to bitterly attack the incompetence and immorality of the people who ran these all-powerful institutions.) As Miller saw it, newspapers had revolutionized the arts of political persuasion and organization. Formerly, "to sow the seeds of political discord, or to produce a spirit of union and co-operation through an extensive community, required time, patience, and a constant series of exertions." The advent of "the general circulation of Gazettes" had ushered in a new political era, in which "impressions could be made on the public mind … with a celerity, and to an extent of which our ancestors had no conception." The effect of this had been to inculcate the habits and values of democratic citizenship in the populace: "to keep the public mind awake and active … confirm and extend the love of freedom … promote union of spirit and of action among the most distant members of an extended community."

What was the evidence for the powerfully democratizing and politicizing effects of newspapers? That the basic practices, institutions, and values of the world's first democracy came together during this period of the political newspaper. At the time Miller wrote, it was generally accepted that the press had been instrumental in fomenting the break between America and Great Britain, especially by persuading the public that the British ministry and army were out to persecute and enslave America. The Federalist and hundreds of other newspaper essay series had sold the public a new Constitution that few initially wanted. Newspapers had helped create an opposition political party, the Democratic Republicans (ancestors of today's Democrats), which brought down the Federalist supporters of George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton in the world's first peaceful transfer of power. Across the ocean, the press had been a powerful player in the revolution that toppled the French monarchy, by many measures Europe's strongest. All those who wanted to build support for an idea or group concluded that newspapers were absolutely indispensable to their cause. Any serious political party, or faction within a party, or presidential candidate, wanted newspaper representation in as many places as possible, and had to be willing to spend money to get it. Following an old colonial practice that took on an increasingly partisan dimension in the early Republic, one method of financing new newspapers was steering profitable government printing contracts toward friendly printers willing to publish newspapers.

Under this sort of pressure for growth, the newspaper press became one of the most expansive institutions in American society. U.S. population growth was one of the wonders of the world in this time because of heavy immigration and high birth rates, but the growth of the press far outstripped it (see Figure 1).

Political crises and transformations coincided frequently with the establishment of large numbers of new newspapers, with the pace of newspaper creation spiking in such periods as the Revolution, the election of 1800, and the political crisis leading up to

the War of 1812, when the defeated Federalists enjoyed a comeback across the northern states (see Figure 2). Similarly the rates of expansion shown in Figure 1 were greatest in decades of political upheaval, especially the 1780s, 1790s, and 1830s.

Obviously multiple factors were involved in the expansion of the American press. Population movements carried the press west over the Appalachians during this period and spread it across the interior. At the same time, the newspaper press of the early Republic was highly diversified, with many purely commercial newspapers and around one hundred religious journals by the 1830s. There were also a significant number of newspapers that served particular ethnic communities, such as the extensive German-language press, and beginning in the late 1820s, newspapers published by and for African Americans (Freedom's Journal, 1827) and the Cherokee nation (Cherokee Phoenix, 1828). Yet it was clearly politics in its broadest sense—public, associational life—that drove much of the press's expansion in this period. Even the religious and ethnic publications often had clear political orientations, like the Readinger Adler of Reading, Pennsylvania, whose editor was whipped by Federalist soldiers for his fiery Democratic Republicanism.

circulation in the extremities

Echoing the judgment of most other foreign and domestic observers, Samuel Miller concluded that the ubiquity of newspapers was one of the most distinctive features of the American scene. Never before, anywhere, was the number of newspapers "so great in proportion to the population of a country as at present in ours." This was true in 1802, and the trend grew more pronounced afterward. As shown in Figure 3, in 1800 there were almost 4.5 newspapers per 100,000 citizens, and by 1840, more than 8. In other words, the equivalent of a city of 100,000 people, roughly the size of present-day Topeka, Kansas, would have had 4 to 8 newspapers in this period. These would have represented not the "general public" or the local business community, as do twenty-first century monopoly newspapers, but multiple points in the local political and social spectrum. The situation on the ground was actually a bit more polarized. New York City had thirteen newspapers in 1810, when its population was just under 100,000. Reading, Pennsylvania, and Trenton, New Jersey, with populations around 3,000 each, both had two papers, one Republican and one Federalist. So did even smaller places such as Augusta, Georgia, Annapolis, Maryland, and Worcester, Massachusetts.

The wide distribution of newspapers greatly enlarged the number of people, including many who

had never been part of the political class in any previous society, who could be informed about and participate intelligently in the political life of the community. The United States, Miller wrote, "has exhibited a spectacle … without parallel on the earth … not of the learned and the wealthy only, but of the great body of the people; even a large portion … of that class of the community which is destined to daily labour, having free and constant access to public prints, receiving regular information of every occurrence, attending to the course of political affairs, discussing public measures." Massive voter turnouts and foreign travelers' accounts of America testify to the accuracy of Miller's conclusions. Passing through the backwoods of Ohio, the Transylvanian bureaucrat and reformer Alexander Bölöni Farkas marveled as the stagecoach driver hurled out settlers' newspapers right and left as they passed remote cabins along the road. "No matter how poor a settler may be, nor how far in the wilderness he may be from the civilized world," Farkas wrote, "he will read a newspaper."

In hindsight, one may want to take such claims with a grain of salt. Newspapers could reach only literate citizens, who were most likely to be white and male, and only a tiny educated elite would have been able to fully grasp everything they read. Many working families probably could not afford a yearly subscription to a newspaper in any case.

Yet there were many channels through which the press could breach these limits and reach a percentage of the population that was almost certainly higher than the overall levels of newspaper readership in the twenty-first century. Newspapers were kept on hand in many public gathering places, especially taverns, coffeehouses, and hotels, where they were often read aloud or in groups. Neighbors often shared newspapers with each other, or even subscribed jointly. Information and ideas contained in newspapers moved by word of mouth, and passed hand to hand in clippings and letters. In a time when most people still conducted most of their daily affairs through face-to-face exchanges, even a few newspaper subscribers were enough to spread the word to entire neighborhoods. Even if one assumes that most early Americans would have been unable or unwilling to read the lengthy political essays and documents that dominated the political journals of this period, there were multiple paths that political arguments could take, many of them following what communication scholars call the two-step flow of political communication.

Newspapers Per 100,000 Population, 1730–1850

Although the leading "penny press" dailies that appeared after 1830 far outstripped the newspapers of the early Republic in terms of individual circulations, this may reflect as much a concentration of readership as an expansion. Decentralization was one of the hallmarks and great strengths of the early Republic's press system. Whether serving a political party, religious denomination, a social movement, or simply sharing commercial information, early American newspapers operated as networks of small, independent outlets tailored to the locality, beliefs, and interests of their readers. As a collectivity, early American newspapers outstripped their individual limitations and produced a vast amount of original material. Moreover, the networks showed an impressive ability to move information and arguments around the country.

During the election of 1800, Federalists and other observers were amazed at how quickly and effectively themes, arguments, information, and particular articles moved back and forth across the Democratic Republican press network. The Irish radical refugee William Duane's Philadelphia Aurora was the clear ideological leader and chief source of information for the others on politics at the seat of government. It seems to have taken from two weeks to a month for Aurora material to get over the mountains to the network's extremities in Kentucky and western Pennsylvania, but only a few days to a week to get as far away from Philadelphia as Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Raleigh, North Carolina. This was blinding speed by eighteenth-century standards. Duane's newspaper was "the heart, the seat of life" of the Democratic Republican Party, argued the Federalist Connecticut Courant. "From thence the blood has flowed to the extremities by a sure and rapid circulation. … It is astonishing to remark, with how much punctuality and rapidity, the same opinion has been circulated and repeated by these people from high to low."

The Courant's metaphor was a little misleading. To borrow a computer term, the newspaper networks were "peer-to-peer" networks in which all the individual units supplied each other with material rather than taking it from a single, central source. Lateral or upstream exchanges (between hinterland newspapers, or from the hinterlands to the major cities) were just as common as items flowing down from the centers of government and culture. One of the most damaging scandals of the 1800 campaign was the saga of Republican congressman Matthew Lyon's imprisonment (because of the Sedition Act) in a "loathsome dungeon," a story that emanated from the press in Vermont. The Aurora and other big-city journals like the Boston Independent Chronicle and the New York American Citizen were the most heavily copied in the Republican press, but these journals copied just as much from each other and from smaller journals in the countryside.

Although social scientists tend to regard centralized command and control as indicators of a strong political organization, partisan newspaper networks thrived and drew some of their effectiveness from their very decentralization. The party's general message could be filtered or adjusted to suit local predilections. Southern Democratic Republican newspapers tried to justify and refine the states' rights principles of the 1798 Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, for instance, while northern Republican journals largely avoided the topic. Perhaps responding to Federalist rhetoric about being ruled by Virginia slave lords, northern Republican editors openly expressed their antipathy to slavery despite their leader Thomas Jefferson's undeniable Virginia slave-lord status.

The major exception to this decentralization was the rise of so-called presidential "organs" in the new national capital of Washington, D.C. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson's National Intelligencer in 1800, there was always a newspaper in the capital that was regarded as the voice of the administration, essentially performing the functions of the modern White House press secretary and a major national newspaper at the same time. The practice began simply, with Jefferson inviting young Philadelphia printer Samuel Harrison Smith to start a newspaper in Washington, as a counterbalance to the cantankerous Aurora. From there, the presidential organ mushroomed into a prominent but much-resented national institution. While these spokespapers were not public entities or officially connected to the presidency, they originated most official statements and documents the president wished to release. In exchange, the publishers received the lion's share of the major government printing contracts. Thanks to the efforts of longtime National Intelligencer proprietors Joseph Gales Jr. and William Seaton, the presidential organ also usually had the franchise for compiling and publishing the records of proceedings in Congress. The Intelligencer held its position until 1829, when newly elected president Andrew Jackson, who had been criticized in the paper for years, anointed Duff Green's United States Telegraph as his favorite. From there the presidential organ became a political football that changed hands if a new faction or administration came to power. In a White House version of the sort of factional struggle over newspapers that went on everywhere in the political culture of the early Republic, the rivalry between Jackson and his vice president, John C. Calhoun, took out the Calhoun-friendly Telegraph as well. Francis Preston Blair was brought in from Kentucky to start the Washington Globe and quickly became one of the leaders of Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet" of advisors. The presidential organ system lasted until scandals forced the creation of the Government Printing Office in 1860. "Newspaper politics" more generally lasted for the rest of the century, albeit with increasing rivalry from other models of publishing and politics.

See alsoAntislavery; Aurora; Bill of Rights; Constitutionalism: State Constitution Making; Democratic Republicans; Election of 1800; Federalist Papers; Federalist Party; Freedom of the Press; Jackson, Andrew; Jefferson, Thomas; Magazines; Niles' Register; Politics: Political Pamphlets; Politics: Political Parties and the Press; Post Office; Press, The; Print Culture; Printers; Printing Technology; War of 1812 .


Alexander, John K. The Selling of the Constitutional Convention: A History of News Coverage. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1990.

Ames, William E. A History of the 'National Intelligencer'. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

Baldasty, Gerald J. The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Brigham, Clarence S. History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820. 2 vols. Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1947.

——. Journals and Journeymen: A Contribution to the History of Early American Newspapers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950.

Clark, Charles E. The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665–1740. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Copeland, David A. Colonial American Newspapers: Character and Content. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997.

Hamilton, Milton W. The Country Printer: New York State, 1785–1830. 2nd ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Hench, John B. "The Newspaper in a Republic: Boston's 'Centinel' and 'Chronicle,' 1784–1801." Ph.D. diss., Clark University, 1979.

Humphrey, Carol Sue. The Press of the Young Republic, 1783–1833. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

John, Richard R. Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Lathem, Edward Connery. Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690–1820. Barre, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972.

Lee, Alfred McClung. The Daily Newspaper in America: The Evolution of a Social Instrument. New York: Macmillan, 1937.

Leonard, Thomas C. The Power of the Press: The Birth of American Political Reporting. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

——. News for All: America's Coming-of-Age with the Press. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Levy, Leonard W. Emergence of a Free Press. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Miller, Samuel. A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. 2 vols. New York: T. and J. Swords, 1803.

Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism: A History, 1690–1960. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Nerone, John. "The Mythology of the Penny Press." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4 (1987): 376–422.

Pasley, Jeffrey L. "The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.

Perdue, Theda, ed. Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1983.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. Prelude to Independence: The Newspaper War on Britain, 1764–1776. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1980.

Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

Silver, Rollo G. The American Printer, 1787–1825. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967.

Sloan, William David. "The Early Party Press: The Newspaper Role in American Politics, 1788–1812." Journalism History 9 (1982): 18–24.

Smith, Culver H. The Press, Politics, and Patronage: The American Government's Use of Newspapers, 1789–1875. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1977.

Stewart, Donald H. The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1969.

Jeffrey L. Pasley


views updated May 17 2018



Periodical Publications . The eighteenth century, Samuel Miller wrote in 1803, may be emphatically called the age of periodical publications. In 1780 there had been thirty-nine American newspapers; by the end of the century the United States, with a population of about three million, supported a total of 242 newspapers, twenty-four of them dailies, 180 weeklies, and the rest published two or three times a week. By 1820 there were more than four hundred papers published every week and forty-two published daily. With the first daily newspaper being printed in America in 1783, the rise of daily papers over the next twenty years was an astonishing fact.

Coffeehouses . Generally costing six cents or more a copy, newspapers were too expensive for the average person to buy. Instead, a merchant seeking information from another port would go to a coffeehouse, where he could talk with other businessmen and read copies of newspapers bought by the proprietor. Some coffeehouse keepers also printed their own papers, gathering information from the papers brought in by sea captains. In London Edward Lloyd opened his coffeehouse in 1730, eventually developing his own newspaper, as well as an insurance firm, based on the knowledge of trade and international conditions gleaned from his customers. In Philadelphia William Bradford opened the London Coffeehouse in 1754 as an adjunct to his print shop and newspaper, the Pennsylvania Journal. Merchants paid to join the London Coffeehouse, as Bradford would be first to receive out-of-town papers. Even the colonial governor came regularly to Bradfords coffeehouse. In New York the Ferrari family managed the Merchants Coffeehouse until 1772; in 1776 Cornelius Bradford took it over but was driven out during the Revolution. He returned in 1783 and made the Merchants Coffeehouse a center for news, collecting information from ships in port and publishing Mr. Bradfords Marine List in New Yorks papers. Bradford kept a book of all ships in port and invited all visitors to the city to record their names and addresses in the coffeehouse. The Merchants Coffeehouse became an informal gathering place for men of influence and a profitable place for men who hoped to become influential.

Gilberts Coffeehouse . These coffeehouses all functioned as news sources, and in New York and Philadelphia they were influential in establishing the first daily newspapers. In Boston, however, the successful Gilberts Coffeehouse made a daily newspaper unnecessary. Gilberts maintained the kind of news books other coffeehouses did, and provided out-of-town papers for its patrons. But Gilberts also had two men with a boat ready to row out to any incoming vessel for news, and in this way the coffeehouse provided its patrons, who paid ten dollars a year, with the latest information.

Benjamin Towne . The first daily paper in America, the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Daily Advertiser, began as a competitor to the traditional sources of news. Benjamin Towne was one of Philadelphias most colorful characters. In 1775 Towne had launched Philadelphias first successful triweekly paper, the Pennsylvania Evening Post. Though Towne was backed by Joseph Galloway and Thomas Wharton, both Loyalists, he attacked his rival, James Humphreys, publisher of the Pennsylvania Ledger, for his Tory sympathies and successfully ran him out of the city. Towne sold his paper at the unusually low rate of two pennies an issue, or ten shillings a year. When the British occupied the city, Towne stayed; when the British left, Townes paper continued to publish, in fact giving coverage to the British evacuation.

Confession . Towne had no politics other than selling papers, although he was charged with treason by the returning Patriots. In an attempt to clear his name, Towne asked John Witherspoon, president of Princeton College, to draw up an apology for him. Witherspoon concluded the confession, Finally I do hereby recant, draw

back, eat in, and swallow down, every word that I have ever spoken, written or printed to the prejudice of the United States of America, hoping it will not only satisfy the good people in general, but also all those scatterbrained fellows, who call one another out to shoot pistols in the air, while they tremble so much they cannot hit the mark. Towne refused to sign the confession. In November 1783 he would be indicted for treason, and in 1788 would be pronounced guilty by the Pennsylvania Executive Council.

A First . Towne tried to ingratiate himself with the citizens of Philadelphia through his paper. On 17 June 1783 Towne published the first issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Daily Advertiser, the first daily newspaper published in America. For the first year the paper never had more than two pages, but in its second year of publication Towne was printing four-page papers, though he did not publish every day. On 22 August 1783 Towne advertised for a news hawker to sell his papers on the street. One rival printer noted contemptuously that Towne himself could be seen walking the streets selling his papers. While most papers were sold by subscription, Townes was the first sold on the streets. Towne also priced his paper well below the prevailing price: the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Daily Advertiser sold for one half or one third as much as his rivals. Towne introduced the first paper intended for mass circulation. Unfortunately, he could not win favor with the state government in Pennsylvania, could not sell advertising, and by the end of 1784 was out of business.

Dunlap and Claypoole . In 1784 John Dunlap and D.C. Claypoole, both veterans of the Continental Army, launched the second daily paper in America and the first successful one. The Pennylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser contained shipping news, international stories, and advertising. Dunlap and Claypoole did not aim for a mass circulation; their paper looked very much like the other coffeehouse papers of the day. Its readers were men of business, eager for prices on international markets, for news of political events that might influence trade, and for confirmation of their ships reaching distant ports. Lists of ships arriving in Philadelphia were supplemented with news from other vessels the docked ships had encountered on the high seas. In this manner the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser kept Philadelphia merchants informed, indirectly, of their fleets across the globe. In 1791 the two partners split, Dunlap beginning Dunlaps American Daily Advertiser and Claypoole starting the Mail, or Claypooles Daily Advertiser. This competition lasted until 1793 when the yellow fever epidemic forced both men to suspend publication and then to join forces once again on 9 December with Dunlap and Claypooles American Daily Advertiser. While Dunlap and Claypoole focused on business news, they also published stenographic reports on the proceedings in Congress, and on 19 September 1796 they were the first to publish President George Washingtons Farewell Address.

Gazette of the United States . The real spark for competition between newspapers came with the creation of the federal government and the establishment of political parties. The writers of the Constitution recognized the need to provide the American people with news, and as the new government was being formed, New York Federalist leaders in April 1789 hired John Fenno, a failed Boston merchant, to launch the Gazette of the United States. Fennos paper presented the views of the Washington administration. While Claypoole and Dunlap reached a small audience of businessmen, Fennos Gazette of the United States was meant to reach a national audience, bringing all Americans into a political community with the federal government at its center. To encourage the creation of this national community, the Washington administration proposed to allow the newspaper free postage throughout the country. Congress would not agree to this; instead, in 1792 Congress allowed all papers to circulate in the mails at a minimal charge.

National Gazette. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson at first supported the Washington administration (Jefferson was secretary of state, and Madison wrote many of Washingtons speeches.) But by 1791, after Alexander Hamilton had successfully proposed a national bank, both men thought the administration was creating too strong a national government and recognized the need for opposition to the doctrines of monarchy, aristocracy, & the exclusion of the people advocated by Hamilton and Fenno. Three days after Washington signed the bank bill into law, Jefferson wrote to Philip Freneau, a Princeton classmate of Madisons and editor of the New York National Advertiser. Jefferson offered Freneau a job as translator in the State Department, paying him $250 a year for part-time work, which would leave Freneau time to edit a new newspaper, the National Gazette.

Newspaper War of 1792 . Freneau published the National Gazettes first issue in October 1791. In March 1792 Freneau began a series of newspaper essays attacking Hamiltons vision for economic development. Hamiltons financial system has given rise to scenes of speculation calculated to aggrandize the few and the wealthy, by oppressing the great body of the people, to transfer the best resources of the country forever into the hands of the speculators, and to fix a burthen on the people of the United States and their posterity, which time will serve to strengthen and increase. The whole plan, Freneau wrote, had been copied from British statute books and was part of a general scheme for creating a British-style government, with Hamilton as prime minister controlling the Congress through corruption and patronage. Fenno was slow to respond, waiting until June to declare that Hamiltons opponents were persons from other countries who having lately escaped from bondage, know not how to enjoy liberty. Freneau saw an opening here, since Hamilton himself was a person from another country, and many other Americans were not native born. This made the debate on the nations economic future into a bitter personal campaign. Hear! Hear!, Freneaus National Gazette proclaimed, ye foreigners from every country. Fenno swears that you foreigners are a set of rebellious turbulent dogs, a pack of run-away slaves, who are come here to overturn the government! Hamilton responded in an anonymous article, charging that Jefferson was behind Freneaus attack, and that the secretary of state used his official position to support the National Gazette. Hamilton went on to charge Jefferson with various counts of official misconduct while he wrote a series of essays defending his own. Jefferson prided himself on never writing a line which he did not himself sign and stayed out of the debate, though he had plenty of supporters. Madison, Freneau, James Monroe, and others eagerly took up the cause.

Aftermath . Washington was thoroughly dispirited at this falling-out in his official family. He determined to retire but was persuaded not to do so by Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton, who agreed on nothing but Washingtons importance. In 1793 Washington was reelected and Jefferson retired. The National Gazette folded the same year, but the General Advertiser and Aurora (commonly known as the Aurora) carried on the campaign. In Philadelphia the dispute between Hamilton and the opposition continued with increasing vehemence during the 1790s as the Washington administration made a treaty with England and the opposition created Democratic-Republican Societies to discuss political issues. These Democratic-Republican clubs, like the businessmens coffeehouses, functioned as gathering places for leaders and interested citizens to exchange news, though their favored topic was politics, not commerce. Newspaper circulation increased, and though Washington and Hamilton despaired of the countrys fate in this bitterly divisive time, the political press actually helped forge a stronger national identity. The Gazette of the United States, National Gazette, and Aurora circulated throughout the union, and in all parts of the United States men and women identified themselves with the policies of either Hamilton or Jefferson rather than with local personalities and issues.

Sedition Act . When John Adams became president in 1797, the United States and France were practically at war. To help foster a sense of national unity, the Adams administration and the Federalist Congress in 1798 passed a series of laws aimed at enemies of the United States. One of these laws, the Sedition Act, made it a federal offense to write, publish, or utter anything which might excite the American peoples hatred of their government. This meant that any criticism of the Adams administration would be against the law. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering put one of his clerks to work studying all newspapers to find evidence of sedition. By this time the opposition papers recognized the need for concerted action, and so Pickering determined to strike at the source by moving against the most influential papers first. By 1800 seventeen individuals would be charged with sedition, including Benjamin Franklin Bache of the Aurora; James Thomson Callender; Charles Holt, editor of the New London Bee; and Congressman Matthew Lyon. The prosecutions backfired; though the papers did have a break in service, by being officially silenced their editors achieved a kind of martyrdom, and the opposition found other ways to present its case. In 1801 the Sedition Act expired, and the Adams administration died with it. What a lesson to America & the


YearLetters (Millions)Letters per capitaNewspapers (millions)Newspapers per capita
Source: Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 4.
18103.90.7n. a.n. a.

world, James Madison wrote of this demonstration of the power of public opinion when there is no army to be turned against it.

The Washington Scene . In 1800 the federal government moved to Washington, D.C. In Philadelphia and New York there had already been newspapers when the U.S. government arrived; the political papers had become additional voices in the local media. But Washington had no paper until Samuel Harrison Smith, a Jeffersonian and editor of the Universal Gazette, decided to move to the newly formed city. For Smith much depended on the election of 1800; as a committed Republican, he had plenty to gain if Thomas Jefferson became president. On the other hand, if the Federalists maintained control of Congress or the executive branch, Smith could not expect success. When he approached Federalist Speaker of the House Theodore Sedgwick in December 1800 for permission to put a stenographers desk on the House floor where he would be able to hear debates, Sedgwick refused. In Philadelphia reporters had been admitted to the House floor, Sedgwick and the Federalists said, because their meeting place had room. In the new Capitol building there was not room for reporters. When Smith argued the point, he found himself threatened with censure by the Federalists in Congress. Jeffersons election changed this, and Smith was able to secure the printing contract for both the House of Representatives and the executive branch. Can you believe it?, Smith wrote to his sister. I scarcely can. A republican, printing the Presidents speech, etc.Can it be possible? Truly these are strange times. Smiths National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser acted as the official paper of the Jefferson administration, though, unlike the official party papers of the 1790s, it did not engage in the personal attacks and heated rhetorical passions of the day.

New-York Evening Post. With Smith and the Republican press ensconced in Washington, the Federalists also abandoned Philadelphia as their capital. The Federalists had been decisively beaten in the election of 1800. The presidential election had been close, with Jefferson narrowly edging out John Adams. But the congressional races were an overwhelming Republican victory. The Sixth Congress, elected in 1798, had sixty-four Federalists and forty-two Republicans; the Seventh Congress had sixty-nine Republicans and thirty-six Federalists. Many Federalists blamed their defeat on the maneuvering of Alexander Hamilton, who had continued to guide the party after his return to private life. Hamilton had written to influential Federalists attacking John Adamss character; when the letter fell into the hands of Aaron Burr, it was republished throughout the country. Hamilton, aware of his falling political stock and concerned that the principles of Federalism might die out, decided that the Federalists needed a new vigorous voice. In the fall of 1801 he and a group of New Yorks leading businessmen quickly raised thousands of dollars to launch a new paper. The New-York Evening Post, under the editorship of William Coleman but with significant editorial assistance from Hamilton, began publication on 16 November 1801 and continues to be published today.


YearPost officesPopulation per post officeSettled area per post office
 (thousands of square miles) 
Source: Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995), p. 51.
17907543, 0843492.7 
18009034, 876339.3 
18102, 3002, 623180.2 
18204, 5001, 796116.3 
18308, 4501, 28975.5 
184013, 4681, 08761.4 

The newspapers mission was to diffuse among the people the correct information on all interesting subjects, to inculcate just principles in religion, morals, and politics; and to cultivate a taste for sound literature. Its real mission at its founding was to criticize the Jefferson administration, which it did with robust glee. When Jefferson proposed to cut government spending by reducing the navy to a flotilla of small gunboats which he thought better for defending rivers and harbors, the New-York Evening Post criticized and ridiculed him. An 1805 hurricane lifted Gunboat No. 1 from its berth in Savannah, Georgia, and tossed it into a field, where, the paper said, it was defending the agricultural interest. The newspaper reprinted a Boston toast, If our gunboats are of no use upon the water, may they at least be the best upon the earth, and suggested that Gunboat No. 1 was emulating Jefferson, who as governor of Virginia had fled from an advancing British force, taking refuge on a nearby mountain. Though the New-York Evening Post had no use for Jefferson or Madison, it also criticized the New England Federalists who proposed breaking the union in 1814. Unlike New Yorks other papers, which were commercial sheets, the New-York Evening Post would present both political and commercial news, reflecting the political ideas of its founders. In this way it formed the link connecting the commercial papers of the earlier years, the partisan political press of the 1790s, and the newspapers of today.


William E. Ames, A History of the National Intelligencer (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972);

Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993);

Allan Nevins, The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922);

James Morton Smith, Freedoms Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1956).


views updated Jun 27 2018



A newspaper is a printed periodical whose purpose is to deliver news and other information in an up-to-date, factual manner. Newspapers appear most commonly in daily editions, but may also be issued twice a day or weekly. While the content of a newspaper varies, it generally consists of a predetermined combination of news, opinion, and advertising. The editorial section is written by reporters and other journalists at the direction of editors and may also be compiled from wire service reports. The advertising content of a newspaper can be divided into two parts, classified and display. Classified ads are small, text-only items obtained via telephone and set into the format by the classified advertising representative. Display ads are obtained by sales representatives employed by the newspaper who actively solicit local businesses for this larger, more visually oriented ad space.

A newspaper is printed on thin paper made from a combination of recycled matter and wood pulp, and is not intended to last very long. Large printing presses, usually located at a plant separate from the editorial and advertising headquarters, print the editions, and a network of delivery trucks bring them to the newsstands and geographical distribution centers for subscribers.


Public officials in ancient Rome posted news of the day in a public space, but it was not until the invention of the printing press in the late Middle Ages that mass-produced printed matter became possible. One hundred fifty years after the invention of printing from movable type by Johann Gutenberg in 1447, the first regular newspaper, Avisa Relation oder Zeitung, appeared in Germany in the early 17th century. The first English-language newspaper, the Weekly Newes, began publishing in England in 1622. Over the next few generations, small pamphlets and broadsheets were the primary source of printed information in both England and the colonies of North America, although they were generally geared toward business matters. One of the first newspapers in the U.S. was Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, which began appearing in Boston in 1690.

These early prototypes of the newspaper eventually developed into publications that appeared on a more regular basis in localized geographic areas. At the time of the American Revolution, 35 newspapers were published in the 13 colonies. Many of these papers and their successors over the next few generations were concerned with political issues of the day and were rather expensive. This changed during the 1830s, however, when technology and publicity popularized "penny papers." The New York Sun was one of the first of these to gain widespread readership.

The development of quicker, more efficient printing methods led to a rapid growth of newspapers in the U.S. during the 19th century. As the country expanded and new metropolitan centers sprang up, so did newspapers that served the interests of the region. A growing literacy rate among the populace also helped make such printed matter more popular and profitable. In the latter decades of the 20th century, papers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have become esteemed sources of news in the U.S. and have wide distribution outside of the cities where they are produced.

Until the 1980s, many cities had more than one newspaper, and it was not uncommon for a large city to have three or four competing dailies. By the 1990s, many papers had disappeared or merged so that only one or two noncompeting papers coexisted in major cities. Smaller regional newspapers provide a mix of local news with national and international items. Such papers usually have correspondents in New York, Washington, D.C., and the major cities of the world. Tabloid newspapers, presenting more sensational news and features such as detailed crime stories, first appeared in the U.S. in the 1920s. The word tabloid refers to the size of the printed page, which is generally half the size of a standard newspaper.

The Editorial Process

The process of producing a daily edition of a large city newspaper begins with a meeting of the paper's editors, who determine the amount of editorial copy in an issue based on the advertising space that has already been sold. A specific number of pages is agreed upon, and the editorial assignments are made to the various departments. The section of national and international news, generally the first part of the paper, is compiled from correspondents who send in their stories electronically, usually via computer modern, to their editor's computer. There, the editor checks the stories, sometimes rewriting them or increasing or decreasing their length. Additional stories of importance are compiled from wire services such as United Press International, Associated Press, and Reuters. These are organizations that employ reporters in various cities of the globe to compile stories and items quickly for dissemination over telephone wires.

Timeliness is of the essence in the newspaper business. Even 150 years ago, New York City publishers would have messengers waiting to meet ships coming from Europe. The messengers would grab the latest dispatches, newspapers, and even novels and race to the printing office. There, rows of compositors would be poised to work all night setting type so that the next afternoon's newspaper could contain European news only two weeks old or the first chapters of a novel published months ago.

With the coming of the telegraph to the western parts of the U.S. in the mid-19th century, editors commonly kept one or two compositors late into the night ready to set stories that came in from the East by telegraph. The dots and dashes of the telegraph message, often consisting of just key words and phrases, were hastily transcribed by the telegrapher and given directly to the typesetters. Compositors were skilled enough to decipher the telegrapher's scribbles, compose full sentences while setting type (letter by letter) by hand, and complete the entire story by deadline.

The Linotype machine, developed in the 1880s, combined the processes of composing text, casting type, and redistributing the type molds. By working a keyboard, the Linotype operator assembled molds, or matrices, of letters, numbers, or punctuation marks in sequence. The matrices were then mechanically held in place while molten type metal was forced into them, creating a line of type ("lin' o' type"). The individual matrices were automatically replaced in the machine's magazine for reuse.

The Linotype increased the speed of a typesetter fourfold. This allowed editors to cut labor costs while getting all the latest news. The machine cost hundreds of compositors their jobs and added to the intensity and pace of the work.

William S. Pretzer

For a typical, newsbreaking story of local origin, the process begins with a correspondent submitting a report, either in person or via computer modern, to the "rewrite" desk person. The rewrite journalist fine-tunes the wording of the story and makes sure it answers the six important questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. He or she then sends it over to the computer at the city desk. The city desk editor, who is responsible for the paper's local content, looks over the story, makes additional changes if necessary, and sends it over to the news desk. The news editor, who makes the final call about which stories to run in the upcoming edition based on their relevance, may make further changes before submitting the piece to the copydesk. The story arrives there with guidelines for length as well as headline instructions regarding size and type.

From this point, the story is set to be inserted on a certain page that has already been roughly laid out by both the news editor and a makeup editor. A mock-up of the page, essentially a blank form showing where the stories will run and where pictures and advertising will be inserted, is called the "dummy." The makeup editor has already met with the advertising department to determine how such pages will be laid out with ad space. The dummy has rough notes for headlines, story insertions, and graphic elements such as photos and tables of statistics. It also shows the date of the edition as well as a page and section number. After the news editor has determined the placement of the story on the page in questionas well as the other items set to run therethe dummy is sent on to a composing room.

The Manufacturing


  • 1 The composing room receives the story in an electronic format, with the computer text file already translated with typeset codes. In a typeset file, the characters are of the same "type"style, size, and widthas they appear on the pages of the newspaper. The setting of stories into the type that a reader sees went unchanged for several decades until the latter years of the 20th century. Well into the 1800s, type was set by hand, letter by letter. A typesetter dropped small metal letters into a hand-held tray called a "stick." The invention of the Linotype machine in 1884 made possible a quicker, more efficient method of typesetting. Invented by German immigrant Ottmar Mergenthaler of Baltimore, Maryland, this large, cumbersome machine worked by casting hot lead into a line of type with the assistance of an operator who typed in the copy on a keyboard. Individual lines of type were then placed by hand onto a page form. When a page was completed, it was then sent to a stereotyping room where a curved metal plate was made from the page form. The page form was then placed on the printing press.

    Modern technology has replaced the Linotype process through a method called phototypesetting. The first step in this process is the transfer of the dummy to the page layout section of the newspaper. There, an operator transfers the instructions on the dummy into a rough page prototype. A printed version may be looked over and adjusted several times by one of the reporters whose story is featured as well as by the copy editor. If another breaking story comes in, this page layout can be altered in a matter of minutes.

Image transference

  • 2 The final version of the page is then approved by the editor on dutysometimes a night editor in the case of a paper that is slated for a morning editionand sent over to a process department. There, the page is taken in its computer format and transferred via laser beams onto film in an image setter apparatus. The operator then takes the film to a processor in another section of the paper, who develops it and adjusts it for its final look. Photographs are scanned into another computer terminal and inserted into the page layout. The pages that are set to be printed together are then taped down onto a device called a "stripper," and an editor checks them over once more for errors. The strippers are then put into frames on light-sensitive film, and the image of each page is burned onto the film. The film of each page is inserted into a laser reader, a large facsimile machine that scans the page and digitally transfers the images to the printing center of the newspaper.

    At the printing center, typically a large plant separate from the newspaper's editorial offices and centrally located to facilitate citywide distribution, the pages arrive at the laser room and are put through a laser writer, another scanning device that makes a negative image of them. In the negative image of the page, the text is white while the blank spaces are black. The final images of each page are further adjusted. This last-minute adjustment may involve fine-tuning of the colored sections and retouching photographs.


  • 3 From these negatives, the forms from which the paper will be printed are composed in a platemaking room. The film of the page, usually done two pages at a time, is then placed on a lighted box. Next, an aluminum plate containing a light-sensitive coating is placed on top of the image of the pages. The light box is then switched on, and ultraviolet light develops the image of the pages onto the aluminum plate. The aluminum plate is then bent at the edges so that it will fit into a press, and is fitted onto plate cylinders.


  • 4 The aluminum plates of each page next move on to the actual printing press, an enormous machine often two stories high. When the press is running, the noise in the building is deafening and employees must wear earplugs. The most common method of printing newspapers is called web offset. The "web" refers to the large sheets of blank newsprint that are inserted in rolls, sometimes weighing over a ton, into the actual printing press. The reels of newsprint are loaded in at the bottom floor of the press. The rolls are inserted onto a reel stand, which has three components: the first reel brings a roll of paper up to the press, a second is loaded and ready to replace the first roll when it runs out, and a third reel stays empty and ready to be fed with another when the first reel is almost finished. Each roll of blank newsprint has double-sided tape at its edges, so that when one roll runs out in the press, another smoothly takes up where the other left off without interrupting the printing process.

    The plate cylinders then press the image of the page onto a blanket cylinder, leaving a version of the page's image on the cylinder's soft material. When the paper runs through the press, the blanket cylinder presses the image onto it. The chemical reaction of the ink, which contains oil, and the squirting of jets of water into the process result in the actual newspaper page of black or colored images on a white back-ground. Since oil and water do not mix, the areas where ink should adhere to the page are black or colored, and water washes away the parts where ink is not needed. This is why this printing process is referred to as "offset."

    Next, the large sheets of printed newsprint move on to another large piece of machinery called a folder. There, the pages are cut individually and folded in order. This entire printing process can move as fast as 60,000 copies per hour. Quality control technicians and supervisors take random copies and scan them for printing malfunctions in color, order, and readability. Next, a conveyer belt moves the papers into a mail room section of the plant, where they are stacked into quires, or bundles of 24. The quires then move to another section where a machine wraps them in plastic. The bundles are now ready to be loaded onto delivery trucks for distribution.

The Future

The demise of the printed word, especially in the form of a daily newspaper, is periodically predicted to be imminent by industry analysts. The growth of other news sourcessuch as radio and 24-hour television news stationshas helped diminish the impact of newspapers, but the competition between dailies in many cities has forced many of the weaker, less financially-viable newspapers out of business. In many cities, joint-operating agreementsby which two competing papers share business, advertising, and printing departmentshas helped to keep two editorially distinct papers afloat.

Bypassing the printed newspaper altogether, on-line computer technology has enabled consumers to pick and choose news from among their own specific interests on the information superhighway. One site on the Internet, one of the most popular providers of access to on-line information, allows a person to create his or her own newspaper. A menu appears onscreen, and the user selects stories from wire services, as well as entertainment features and cartoons, and inserts them onto a template. This template can be generated on a daily basis with a few keystrokes, producing an edition of a customized newspaper almost instantly.

Where To Learn More


Miller, Margaret. Hot Off the Press! A Day at the Daily News. Crown, 1985.

Waters, Sarah. How Newspapers Are Made. Facts on File, 1989.


Booker, Ellis. "Extra! Extra! Newspapers Paperless." Computerworld, July 20, 1992, p. 30.

Kowet, Don. "Laying Out a Futuristic Newspaper." Insight on the News, May 14, 1990, p. 48.

Carol Brennan


views updated May 17 2018

newspapers. It was well over 100 years from the invention of printing to the appearance of the first newspapers. A number of corantos, based on German and Dutch models, were published in the 1620s, but they were confined to London, carried very little English news, appeared erratically, and had print-runs of only a few hundreds. The Civil War stimulated the demand for news and in the 1640s the royalist Mercurius Aulicus waged ideological warfare from Oxford against the parliamentary Mercurius Britannicus in London. The authorities, republican or royalist, mistrusted news-sheets and in 1663 Sir Roger l'Estrange was given wide licensing powers as surveyor of the press. Two years later, the London Gazette was started to provide official news. This thin government diet proved unpalatable and the broadsheets which continued to appear were devoted more to mayhem and bawdy than to political information. The excitement of the Popish plot in the 1670s persuaded many printers to risk prosecution by producing unlicensed papers, and there were also several manuscript news-letters, expensive to produce, and distributed to a limited number of subscribers.

The growth of a newspaper press in a modern form dates from the failure to renew the Licensing Act in 1695. Several newspapers were quickly off the mark, including the tri-weekly Post Boy, Post Man, and Flying Post, all of which survived until well into the 18th cent. In April 1702 they were joined by the first daily paper, the Daily Courant, and though its circulation was modest, it stayed until 1735. At the same time the provincial press made its appearance with the Norwich Post (1701), followed by the Bristol Post Boy (1702), Exeter Post-Man (1704), and the Worcester Post-Man (1709). Though casualties among newspapers were heavy, the general progress through the 18th cent. was remarkable. By 1760 there were four London dailies and by 1790 fourteen. Provincial papers multiplied even quicker: by 1760 there were 35 in existence, 50 by 1780, and 150 by 1821. Stamp duty, introduced in 1715 to curb papers, brought in £911 in its first year but by 1781 was yielding more than £40,000 p.a. to the revenue. Circulation was much larger, comment less restrained. Mist's Weekly Journal pursued Walpole in the 1730s, the Middlesex Journal attacked North in the 1770s, and Cobbett's Political Register, claiming a staggering 60,000 copies in the 1800s, sustained a long campaign for reform of Parliament. From cautious beginnings, the press had become a major political force. Parliament was obliged in the 1770s to abandon its attempt to suppress publication of its debates, and though prosecution of editors continued and the stamp duty was raised during the Napoleonic wars, public appetite grew. The stamped papers were expensive, but an unstamped press flourished, and papers could be read by the less wealthy in coffee-houses, pubs, and barbers' shops.

Sunday newspapers, at first much opposed, began in 1779 with the launch of the Sunday Monitor, joined in 1791 by the Observer, whose great days were well ahead in the 1920s. By mid-century the Sunday papers were outselling the dailies and had already acquired a reputation for sensational journalism. The News of the World began its career in 1843. Among the dailies, the prodigious success was that of The Times, started in 1785 as the Daily Universal Register, changing its name in 1788, and forging ahead in the 19th cent. with the introduction of steam printing and a news service so good that government ministers begged to know what was taking place. By 1850 it was selling four times the number of the Morning Chronicle, Morning Herald, and Morning Post combined, and claiming (1852) that it stood ‘upon the breach between the present and the future, extending its survey to the horizons of the world’. Three years later, the abolition of the stamp duty enabled the Daily Telegraph to launch itself as a rival to The Times and by 1880 it was claiming 250,000 copies.

The ‘newspaper revolution’ of the late 19th and early 20th cents., which ushered in the ‘popular press’, was progression rather than a sudden change. Ever since newspapers began, the authorities had been anxious about their effect on the masses. The broadsheets of the 1640s had revelled in sex, violence, and the bizarre. George Reynolds in the 1840s mined a rich seam with Reynolds Magazine, offering articles and stories which sounded more lurid than they were—‘Wagner, the were-wolf’, ‘Varney the Vampire’, and ‘Maniac of the Deep’. W. T. Stead's campaign in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885 against the prostitution of young girls (for which he went to well-publicized gaol for two months) anticipated later crusades, not least in its ambiguity. What was changing was the growth of a vast new reading public, benefiting from the introduction of compulsory elementary education in 1880, able to afford a paper, yet unprepared for long and strenuous reading. First to exploit the new market was George Newnes, whose Tit-Bits (1881) rocketed to success, with odd news items, tips and hints, and competitions. T. P. O'Connor followed with the Star, a London evening paper, in January 1888, and was selling 125,000 within the month, mainly to rail commuters. Next came Alfred Harmsworth, literally the first of the newspaper barons, with Answers (1888), Comic Cuts (1890), and Home Chat (1895), before launching the Daily Mail in 1896, selling at a halfpenny, and reaching 989,000 copies by 1900. Earnest citizens could not decide whether it was splendid that the masses were now reading, or shocking that they were reading trash.

In the post-1918 period, the national dailies increased their market share, largely at the expense of the provincial papers. The competition, even with an expanding readership, was fierce. The Mail was followed by the Daily Express (1900), the Daily Mirror (1903) which was selling more than a million copies daily by 1914, and the Daily Herald (1919), organ of the new Labour Party. Reliance on advertising revenue meant that circulation figures were of crucial importance and give-away offers—pens, insurance, books, holidays—became common. Though the Herald peaked in the 1930s, it was handicapped because its readership had poor purchasing power and was unattractive to advertisers: when it closed in 1964 it still had nearly 5 million readers, but of the wrong mix. After the customary wartime boom from 1939 to 1945, the press faced new problems—sharply rising labour costs, and in the 1970s competition for advertisements from television. Ownership of the press passed from proprietors or families to large consortia with the resources to re-equip and compete. After a series of damaging confrontations with the unions in the 1970s (The Times was out of production for eleven months 1978/9), the papers began moving out of Fleet Street, with which they had been associated since the 17th cent., into purpose-built premises well away from the city of London. The quality papers continued to do well and at the bottom end of the market the competition in vulgarity would have won the approval of their 1640s predecessors. Over the past decades, the largest fall in circulation has been among the Sunday papers, reflecting the change to a day of shopping and vigorous leisure. In December 2000 the circulation of the Sun was 3.6 million, followed by the Mail (2.3), the Mirror (2.3), the Express (1.0), the Telegraph (1.0), The Times (0.72), the Star (0.5), the Financial Times (0.41), the Guardian (0.39), and the Independent (0.22). Among the Sundays, the News of the World, with its rather monotonous diet of which TV personality is cheating on whom, still outsells its rivals with 3.8 million copies, followed by the Mail on Sunday (2.3), Sunday Mirror (1.7), People (1.4), Sunday Times (1.3), Sunday Express (0.9), Sunday Telegraph (0.8), Observer (0.4), and Independent on Sunday (0.23).

J. A. Cannon


Black, J. , The English Press in the Eighteenth Century (1987);
Boyce, G., Curran, J., and Wingate, P. (eds.), Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day (1978);
Brown, L. , Victorian News and Newspapers (Oxford, 1985);
Cranfield, G. A. , The Development of the Provincial Newspaper 1700–1800 (Oxford, 1962);
—— The Press and Society (1978).


views updated Jun 08 2018


Newspapers have been published in Ireland since the late seventeenth century. In the mid-eighteenth century, newspapers became a regular part of the political, social, and commercial scene, and by the end of the century the press increasingly reflected the political debates on Catholic claims and the nature of the government of Ireland. At the beginning of the nineteenth century papers were being published in Dublin and in all the large towns of Ireland.

In 1774 taxes were imposed on newsprint, advertisements, and paper, and bonds had to be lodged with the revenue department. Dublin Castle regulated the press, partly through contracts to publish government proclamations and official advertisements, and partly through the distribution of secret service monies that were voted by Parliament to support newspapers acting in the government interest. Editors who published material thought to be seditious were prosecuted repeatedly, often by dubious means and before a prejudiced judiciary.

The press was used by the growing number of political movements to further their causes. Daniel O'Connell used newspapers both in Dublin and in the provinces as his allies in the repeal movement. From its founding in1823, one of the aims of the Catholic Association was "a liberal and enlightened press" (Wyse 1829, appendix, p. xliii), and part of the Catholic "rent" was spent on press publicity. The provinces were always important to O'Connell, who supported the founding of the Limerick Reporter as a repeal newspaper in 1839. From the 1840s onwards, the Repeal Association founded reading rooms that subscribed to newspapers, which were often read aloud to groups of peasants.

The Nation (1842–1897) was founded in Dublin by Charles Gavan Duffy in collaboration with Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon. Its aim was to further the campaign for repeal, and it became crucial to the rise of the Young Ireland movement, which eventually (in 1846) seceded from the movement for repeal. It claimed a readership of 250,000 and was distributed in the repeal reading rooms. The Nation had a program to disseminate the history and culture of Ireland, and it influenced the content of successive provincial papers. Dublin Castle thought that those whom it considered to be uneducated were susceptible to material that might lead them to commit violence and acts of sedition, so the Nation was suppressed during the 1848 rebellion; Duffy was twice prosecuted for sedition and twice discharged. Many other newspapers were also seized and the repeal reading rooms were closed down. The Nation was edited by A. M. and T. D. Sullivan from 1855 to 1874, and was used by them, too, as a major propaganda force for Irish nationalism.

In the 1850s the Tenant League was the first political movement to employ the press to its fullest extent. Charles Gavan Duffy of the Nation and John Gray of the Freeman's Journal (1763–1921) organized the conference that founded the League in 1850, and John Francis Maguire of the Cork Examiner (1841–) and James MacKnight of the Banner of Ulster (1842–1869) furthered its cause through articles and speeches.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, newspapers in the provinces were published mostly by patent-medicine vendors and stationers. With the polarization of political parties at mid-century, newspapers were increasingly founded with political aims in mind. Elections proved profitable for the press, which charged for reporting meetings and printing leaflets. Between 1853 and 1861 stamps on newspapers and taxes on advertisements and paper were abolished, and this, together with the increase in literacy and a rise in consumer spending, brought about the rise of cheap newspapers, especially in the provinces. They were extensively read in the reading rooms established by mechanics' institutes, employers, and town governments throughout Ireland. Initially, new titles tended to be liberal, but a minority of editors and proprietors moved into nationalist politics. The move toward mass political movements was reflected in the press; there was a sharp rise in the number of nationalist papers, particularly in the provinces, where the numbers rose from none in 1861 to thirty-four in 1891. A number of provincial newspapermen went on to become nationalist members of Parliament. By 1879 there were 127 newspapers published outside Dublin, a rise of 85 percent over the previous thirty years.

Outside Ulster, Protestant unionist newspapers, which had flourished early in the nineteenth century all over Ireland, gradually decreased in number, and inside Ulster, the number of newspapers sympathetic to liberalism decreased. New newspapers reflected the sectarian divide: The Belfast Telegraph group was founded in 1870 in the interests of the Orange Order; the Banner of Ulster was the newspaper of the Presbyterian Church. Extreme Protestant views flourished around mid-century in William Johnston's Downshire Protestant (1855–1862).

The Fenians were slow to use newspapers for propaganda, although a number of provincial editors close to Fenianism, such as Denis Holland of the Belfast Vindicator and Martin O'Brennan of the Connaught Patriot in Tuam, Co. Galway, were advocating proto-Fenian ideas in the 1850s. James Stephens founded the Irish People (1863–1865) in Dublin as the voice of Fenianism, but it was suppressed and its journalists arrested. Its nationalist successor was the Irishman (1858–1881). It was owned by the journalist Richard Pigott who, during the Land War, changed his politics and aimed to destroy the Parnellite movement. To silence Pigott's propaganda, the Irish Nationalist Party bought out the Irishman and closed it down. In its stead Charles Stewart Parnell founded United Ireland (1881–1898), edited by William O'Brien, a paper in support of the Land League. With the split in the party following Parnell's involvement in the O'Shea divorce in 1890, United Ireland took an anti-Parnellite line until it was forcibly extended by Parnell and its editor, Matthew Bodkin, expelled. Parnell went on to found the Irish Daily Independent in 1891. Parnell's new paper was challenged by Martin Murphy's anti-Parnellite National Press (1891–1892), which amalgamated with the Freeman's Journal. Murphy later founded the Daily Nation (1897–1900), which merged with the Irish Daily Independent to become a mass-circulation paper, the Irish Independent. The Irish Independent supported Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923 and is now the largest-circulation morning newspaper in Ireland.

The Gaelic-speaking population declined rapidly during and after the Great Famine, owing in large part to emigration and the move to towns. Literacy in Gaelic was uncommon, but increasingly in the nineteenth century newspapers published columns in Gaelic. However, no Irish-language mass-circulation newspaper has yet been successful. In the twentieth century the Gaelic League founded An Claidheamh Soluis (1899–1938) as its official paper, but its circulation was small.

Eamon de Valera founded the daily Irish Press (1931–1995) to provide a platform for the Fianna Fáil Party, and he and his family kept tight editorial control. It was addressed to the lower middle class and to women especially, and had an Irish-language section and particularly good coverage of Gaelic sports. By the 1980s, however, the newspaper was in trouble, and after a legal judgment against it for damages as compensation that could not be paid and a dispute with its journalists, it closed in 1995.

By 2001 in the Republic there were two national morning daily papers, a regional daily, and four Sunday papers. Only Dublin and Cork have evening papers. There are about fifty local papers that are published weekly. Belfast has four morning papers and one evening paper. The Belfast News-Letter, first published in 1737, is the oldest newspaper in print in the British Isles. There are also three daily papers published in Northern Ireland outside Belfast. In addition, since the mid-1960s British papers have had a growing share of the Irish market, and several publish Irish editions.

SEE ALSO Balladry in English; de Valera, Eamon; Fenian Movement and the Irish Republican Brotherhood; Language and Literacy: Irish Language since 1922; Literacy and Popular Culture; O'Connell, Daniel; Parnell, Charles Stewart; Repeal Movement; Stephens, James; Sullivan Brothers (A. M. and T. D.); Murphy, William Martin; Young Ireland and the Irish Confederation


Aspinall, A. Politics and the Press, c. 1780–1850. 1946.

Inglis, Brian. The Freedom of the Press in Ireland, 1784–1841. 1954.

Legg, Marie-Louise. Newspapers and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850–1892. 1999.

Oxford Companion to Irish History. Edited by S. J. Connolly. 2002.

Wyse, Thomas. Historical Sketch of the Late Catholic Association of Ireland. 2 vols. 1829.

Marie-Louise Legg


views updated Jun 11 2018



The State of the Industry. In 1850 about 10 percent of the adult population in the United States subscribed to one of the 254 daily newspapers, which usually cost a penny per issue, though in New York a paper cost three cents by the time of the Civil War. Newspapers could be distributed by mail without charge in the county of publication until 1856, and in cities newsboys hawked papers on street corners. The rural population was poorly served, especially before the Civil War. Before the war most news was local because reports from distant locations were hard to gather. Papers were filled with opinion, and much, if not most, of the space in the paper was devoted to prose other than reportage. The average paper was six columns wide and eight pages or fewer. There were few illustrations, though different sizes and fonts of type introduced some variety to the newspaper page. As many as three pages of an eight-page paper were typically devoted to classified advertising, and local merchants took advantage of newspaper advertising space with increasing frequency. As circulation of newspapers grew, especially in large cities, publishers were faced with limits on the capacity of their presses. The introduction of Richard Hoes revolving press in the late 1840s alleviated the problem. By the time of the Civil War, James Gordon Bennetts New York Herald was able to print 20,000 newspapers per hour using a Hoe press. On the Sunday after the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861 Bennett printed 135,000 papers, the most ever produced in a single run. The fast web-perfecting press, which printed both sides of a paper at the same time from a continuous roll of paper, was patented in 1863 and became a standard piece of equipment after the Civil War.

Telegraphic Reporting. In the decade before the Civil War the telegraph had already begun to transform the daily newspaper. The Associated Press, formed in 1848 by a group of New York newspaper editors to share news sources, had spread to other cities, and journalism became more uniform from city to city as many newspapers printed the same reporters account of an event. The most successful papers responded to reader interest in national news by sending out their own news correspondents. By 1860 there were twenty-three Washington correspondents assigned to the U.S. Senate and fifty-one correspondents in the House of Representatives. As the telegraph became a central part of a reporters work, it affected the content of reports. Opinion was less common in telegraphed reports because the cost was so expensive that only the facts could be transmitted. Objectivity became a practical matter.

Politics of the News. On the pressing issues of the time, however, editors spoke their minds. Papers were typically associated with political positions, and the editors vigorously used their clout to promote their parties causes. Abolitionist papers such as Horace Greeleys weekly New York Tribune (which had a circulation of two hundred thousand copies and was distributed in the West) and Joseph Medills Chicago Tribune were important voices in both supporting Abraham Lincolns election to the presidency and promoting the war effort. The urgency of events during the Civil War increased readers reliance on daily newspapers. At the outset of the war,

Gen. George McClellan called a press conference, at which he made editors promise in writing not to publish information of military value to the enemy in return for his promise to provide them reports on matters of public interest. In February 1862 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued an order requiring journalists to submit their reports to provost marshals for censorship on matters related to military actions.

Confederate Newspapers. When the Civil War began, eight hundred newspapers, of which about eight were dailies, were published in the eleven Confederate states. Most Southern papers had a small circulation and were printed on hand presses. When the war began, a consortium of editors formed the Press Association of the Confederate States of America to report the war, and most Southern battle reports came from the PA, as it was called. The chaos of the war played havoc with the newspapers. By 1863 many Southern newspapers were no more than a single sheet because of paper shortages. Publication was irregular, and extras printed on one side only were common. By the wars end papers were printed on whatever material was available, including wallpaper. By 1865 only twenty Southern newspapers survived.


In 1850 all writing was done with pencil or pen and ink. Offices employed scribes to keep records, and the only practical way to make a copy of a document was to rewrite it longhand. For individuals, this practice was rarely a hardship. For business, state and federal governments, and the courts, copy work was tedious and time-consuming.

As early as 1829 there were working models of awkward typing machines developed by inventors in the printing business, but they were more significant as curiosities than as working tools. The modern typewriter was not introduced until 1867, when Christopher Latham Sholes, a printer, Carlos Glidden, a lawyer, and Samuel Soule, a draftsman and engineer, introduced a refinement of a machine that Sholes had been using in his print shop to print page numbers. Their typewriter, which featured a keyboard with the familiar qwerty arrangement of letters used today, was patented in 1868.

In 1873 the Remington Arms Company, seeking to replace revenues lost from the sale of guns after the war ended, bought the typewriter patent for $12,000, and began producing what were called kitchen-table typewritersthat is, machines small enough to set on a kitchen tablein 1876. Despite being displayed at the Centennial Exposition of 1876, the new machine failed to capture the attention of potential buyers. Only about four thousand typewriters were sold in the first four years, including one unit to Mark Twain in 1874. It was not until the turn of the century that the typewriter had its enormous impact on the American workplace.

Source: Richard N. Curent, The Typewriter and the Men Who Made It (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1954).

Postwar Developments. In the decade after the war the Northern press flourished, and the foundations of national reporting were firmly laid. The number of newspapers in the United States doubled during that time, and the quality of the best newspapers, which is to say, for the most part, those published in large cities, increased accordingly as journalistic standards were established. The breadth of reportage was a particularly notable improvement. An increase in telegraph cable allowed easier access to remote news sources, and the development of railroads allowed the most prosperous papers to send correspondents to distant locations for on-the-spot coverage. By the end of Reconstruction, the circulation of daily newspapers was more than 3.5 million.


Michael Emery and Edwin Emery, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, seventh edition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1992).


views updated May 29 2018


The first news sheet issued with some regularity in Russia was Sankt Peterburgskie vedemosti (St. Petersburg Herald ), a biweekly published by the Imperial Academy of Sciences, beginning in 1727. Until the Great Reforms of 18611874, nearly all newspapers in Russia were official bulletins issued by various government institutions. To the extent that there was a print-based public sphere in pre-Reform Russia, it was dominated by the "thick journals" that published literary criticism and philosophical speculation.

The relaxing of censorship and limits on private publications during the Great Reforms, advances in printing technology, and the spread of literacy in Russian cities led to the development of a mass-market, commercial press by the 1880s. Daily papers targeting various markets covered stock-market news and foreign affairs, as well as the more sensational topics of crime, sex scandals, and natural disasters. As Louise McReynolds has demonstrated, Russian commercial mass newspapers resembled their counterparts in North America and Western Europe in appealing to and fostering nationalist sentiment.

By World War I "copeck" (penny) newspapers in Moscow and St. Petersburg achieved circulations comparable to those of mass circulation organs in the United States and Western Europe. The most popular newspaper in the Russian Empire in 1914 was Russkoe slovo (Russian Word ), with a circulation of 619,500.

After the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917, they created an entirely new kind of mass press. By the summer of 1918 the Soviet government had shut down all non-Bolshevik newspapers on their territory. Bolshevik newspapers during the years of revolution and civil war (19171921) aimed to mobilize the populace in general and Party members in particular for war. Resources were scarce, and typical civil war newspaper editions were only two pages long. The state funded the press throughout the Soviet era.

The Bolsheviks shared with most Russian intellectuals of the revolutionary era a profound contempt for the sensationalistic urban copeck newspapers that aimed to entertain a mass audience. They created a mass press that was supposed to educate, guide, and mobilize readers, not entertain them. Other important functions of Soviet newspapers were the gathering of intelligence on popular moods and the monitoring of corruption in the Party or state apparatus. To fulfill these tasks, the newspapers solicited and received literally millions of readers' letters, some of which were published. The editorial staff also forwarded letters denouncing crime and corruption to the appropriate police or prosecutorial organs. They used letters to compose reports on popular attitudes that were sent to all levels of party officialdom.

The role of direct censorship in Soviet newspaper production has been overemphasized. Agenda-setting by party and state organs was more important. The role of official censors in controlling press content was negligible. Soviet journalists were generally self-censoring, and they followed agendas set by the Communist Party's Central Committee and other official institutions.

Illegal newspapers were central to Bolshevik Party organization in the prerevolutionary years. This heritage of underground political culture contributed to a Soviet fetishization of newspapers as the mass medium par excellance. As a result of this fetishization, Communist propaganda officials and journalists were slow to understand and effectively use the media of radio and television. By the 1970s, Soviet means and methods of mass persuasion and mobilization were far inferior to those developed by advertising agencies and governments in the wealthy liberal democracies.

See also: censorship; izvestiya; journalism; pravda; thick journals


Brooks, Jeffrey. (2000). Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hopkins, Mark. (1970). Mass Media in the Soviet Union. New York: Pegasus Books.

Kenez, Peter. (1985). The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 19171929. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McReynolds, Louise. (1991). The News Under Russia's Old Regime. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Matthew E. Lenoe


views updated May 21 2018

newspaper Periodical publication, usually daily or weekly, conveying news and comment on current events. Handwritten news-sheets were posted in public places in ancient Rome under such titles as Acta Diurna (Daily Events). In Europe, the invention and spread of printing in the 15th century facilitated the growth of newspapers. The earliest examples were printed in German cities, soon followed by Venice, the Low Countries and other states in the 16th century. The first daily newspaper in England was the Daily Courant (1702).