News reporting goes back thousands of years, perhaps to the first humans or even the first animals that could communicate to one another about such things as approaching predators.
The potential for "mass media," however, was not realized until the middle of the 15 century, when German inventor Johannes Gutenberg's development of movable type gave people a relatively fast, inexpensive means of producing hundreds or thousands of fliers, books, and eventually newspapers.
Gutenberg, William Caxton, and the American printers who followed them made or purchased small metal blocks, each with an individual letter, punctuation mark, or other symbol on it. They then arranged these blocks in trays to spell words. By applying ink to the letters and then pressing large sheets of paper down on them, they could print pages, which they then cut to create fliers or assembled into books or other publications.
Even then, it appears that newspapers--if defined as regular publications devoted to current events and made available to the general public--did not begin to appear in earnest in Europe until the early 17th century.
Although newspapers had been published in Germany, England, Spain, and other European countries in the early 17th century, at roughly the same time that English immigrants were settling Virginia and Massachusetts, the American colonists did not establish a real newspaper of their own for another century.
Shortly after English settlers set up colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts, America got its first press, which was set up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the late 1630s. Although a number of books issued from this press over the next half century, the American colonies did not produce their own real newspaper until the 18th century. Colonists in Massachusetts were preoccupied with survival, could read news coming from the Mother Country (England), and lacked the type of industry and commerce that would have created a demand for advertising… funding?
The establishment of postmasters and post offices supplied a further impetus for newspapers because postmasters had access to information and took interest in spreading it … Who would have thought?
History of American Journalism Newspapers have not always been the sophisticated, full-color extravaganzas we know today. American journalism had its humble beginnings in the Colonial period with the publication of Benjamin Harris’Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, which was shut down after its one and only issue on Sept. 26, 1690.
This newspaper was printed on three sheets of stationery-size paper and the fourth page was left blank so that readers could add their own news before passing it on to someone else.
Unfortunately, the essays which this paper contained did not please the authorities, and Harris had not bought the required license, so the paper was shut down after just one issue.
The first continuously published American newspaper did not come along for 14 more years. The Boston News-Letter premiered on April 24, 1704. The publisher of the first colonial newspaper was postmaster John Campbell, whose Boston News-Letter debuted on April 24, 1704. The paper originally appeared on a single page, printed on both sides and issued weekly.
In the early years of its publication the News-Letter was filled mostly with news from London journals detailing the intrigues of English politics, and a variety of events concerning the European wars. The rest of the newspaper was filled with items listing ship arrivals, deaths, sermons, political appointments, fires, accidents and the like.
One of the most sensational stories published when the News-Letter was the only newspaper in the colonies was the the account of how Blackbeard the pirate was killed in hand-to-hand combat on the deck of a sloop that had engaged his ship in battle.
On view here is the May 14, 1761 issue of the News-Letter. The front page is displayed in its entirety. As was the custom then, the front page was devoted to events overseas. This issue contains news from London, a speech by the King to the House of Commons, and various accounts from Westminster and Whitehall
Also displayed from this issue is an ad from the back page for a Scheme of a Lottery. The lottery was created to sell 6000 tickets at $2 each to raise funds to pave the highway in Charlestown from the Ferry to the Neck. Of the $12,000 to be raised, according to the ad, $10,800 is earmarked for prizes and $1200 for paving the highway.
The circulation of the Boston News Letter was rarely more than 300, and Campbell could not make a significant profit from publishing it. Other publishers struggled, as well. Some 2,000 newspapers that appeared between 1690 and 1820, fewer than half lasted two years or longer.
Perhaps the most noteworthy weakness in these early newspapers, especially those printed in the first decade or two of the century, was a lack of controversial coverage. If, as has been famously declared, a newspaper's job is to "raise hell," then early publications such as Campell's Boston News-Letter barely raised an eyebrow. The main reason was control by government authorities, who feared the power of even a fledgling press. The First Amendment, which promised freedom of the press, was not to come until 1791. In the meantime, journalists had to cope with a tradition of British censorship.
There were success stories and no greater one than that of Benjamin Franklin, whose Pennsylvania Gazette was considered to be "the best newspaper in the American colonies"
After contributing material to his brother James's New England Courant and The American Weekly Mercury, Franklin bought The Pennsylvania Gazette and turned it into an enormous success. After its debut in 1728, it is reported that the Gazette soon had the largest circulation, most pages, highest advertising revenue, most literate columns, and liveliest comment of any paper in the area. From 1729 until 1766, Franklin not only ran the newspaper, but also produced much of its material, including straight news stories, essays, even a political cartoon.
By modern standards, colonial newspapers were small publications featuring out-of-date, often toothless coverage of a small range of subjects. A typical publication might consist of four pages of stories about government and foreign affairs, the weather, and disasters such as fires or diseases. Illustrations were rare, and headlines generally were nonexistent. It could take weeks for the news of an event to appear in one of these papers, particularly if it took place abroad, and inaccuracies were common.
Journalists, for the most part, simply stayed out of trouble by printing innocuous coverage or even giving government officials the chance to approve material before publication. Things changed somewhat when James Franklin, brother of Benjamin, established the New England Courant in 1721.
The Courant was the first American newspaper to supply readers with what they liked and needed, rather than with information controlled by self-interested officials. Its style was bold and its literary quality high. Franklin even challenged religious and political authorities, setting a precedent for journalists to come. The press was still far from free, however, as Franklin's own case illustrates: some two years after he began his fiesty newspaper, authorities banned him from publishing it.
Perhaps the most famous name in early American journalism is that of Peter Zenger. Publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, Zenger was charged with sedition after his paper had criticized colonial authorities, and he was tried for libel against the colonial British government in 1735. In this picture, Zenger is arrested and his printing press is burned by Colonial authorities.
Zenger was found innocent with the help of noted attorney Andrew Hamilton, and this verdict was that one verdict that paved the way for a free and independent press in America. For the first time it was considered proper for the press to question and criticize the government. This is a pillar of a free press in the United States and any country that is free. Journalists have to be able to question the actions of the government in order to make them accountable.
All that is needed for newspapers to become a mass medium is a good idea. Along comes Benjamin Day in 1833. Day opened the New York Sun and created the Penny Press.
Newspapers of the day cost about 10 cents each . . . too expensive for the masses. But there was a large literate audience out there. Day took advantage of the fact that he could print thousands of papers inexpensively and sold the papers for a penny each.
He also changed the content of newspapers to make it more sensational and more popular to the lower class. He hired boys to hawk the newspapers on street corners. It was the Penny Press that also began using advertising as a way to bring readers information, but advertising also helped by paying for the printing and distribution of newspapers.
Cheap newspapers sold to the workers were a hit. His idea was huge success and newspapers crossed that line that made them truly mass media. Others were quick to follow his lead. They became so powerful that they were called Lords of the Press.
The Civil War era brought some “new” technology to the publishing industry. Photography became a popular addition to newspapers. Matthew Brady set up a camera on the battlefields and photographed the soldiers at war. One of his photographs appears above.
An invention that helped speed news along was the telegraph. Reporters were able to send encoded news back to their papers as it was happening.
Abraham Lincoln became the first president to direct armies in the field directly from the White House.
During the darkest days of the terrible war Lincoln would pace back and forth in the telegraph office awaiting news of the fate of the nation that would emerge from the new telegraph invention.
Because the telegraph wires kept going down on a regular basis, sometimes the story that a reporter was trying to send got cut off before it was finished.
To alleviate this situation, reporters developed the “inverted pyramid” form of writing, putting the most important facts at the beginning of the story.
This way, the most important part of the story would most likely reach the newspaper, and if anything got cut off, it would be the lesser important details of what happened.
Newspapers began to evolve and grow into a major industry. Men mostly dominated the field, but in 1868 the New York Sun hired their first female reporter, Emily Verdery Bettey. The Sun hired Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd as a reporter and fashion editor in the 1880s; she was one of the first professional female editors, and perhaps the first full-time fashion editor, of any American newspaper.
As newspapers began to compete more and more with one another to increase circulation and obtain more advertising revenue, a different type of journalism was developed by publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
In the mid-1890s, Pulitzer (in the New York World) and Hearst (in the San Francisco Examiner and later the New York Morning Journal) transformed newspapers with sensational and scandalous news coverage, the use of drawings and the inclusion of more features such as comic strips.
After William Randolph Hearst moved to New York, he and Joseph Pulitzer competed for readers by making their papers more and more sensational.
In 1895, Hearst purchased the New York Morning Journal and entered into a head-to-head circulation war with his former mentor, Joseph Pulitzer, ownerof the New York World.
To increase circulation both started to include articles about the Cuban Insurrection. Many stories in both newspaper greatly exaggerated their claims to make the stories more sensational.
The American public purchased more newspapers because of the sensational writing, and this strongly encouraged Hearst and Pulitzer’s newspapers to write more sensationalized stories.
This form of journalism in short, is biased opinion masquerading as objective fact. Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and misleading images for the sole purpose of boosting newspaper sales and exciting public opinion. The endless drive for circulation, unfortunately, often put publisher's greed before ethics. It became known as Yellow Journalism, named after “The Yellow Kid” cartoon.
Drawn by R.F. Outcault, the popular (if now-unfunny) strip became a prize in the struggle between Pulitzer and Hearst in the New York newspaper wars.
Outcault moved the strip to Hearst's papers after nine months, where it competed with a Pulitzer-sponsored version of itself.
Muckrakers are journalists who seek out and expose the misconduct of prominent people or of high-profile organizations; they emerged on the American scene in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Crusaders for social change, muckraking journalists wrote articles not about news events, but about injustices or abuses, bringing them to the attention of the American public. Sometimes criticized for their tactics, their work succeeded in raising widespread awareness of social, economic, and political ills, prompting a number of reforms, including passage of pure food laws and antitrust legislation.
One of the most popular reporters of era was a woman named Elizabeth Cochrane who wrote under the name “Nellie Bly.” She wrote with anger and compassion. She wrote to expose the many wrongs that developed in nineteenth century cities after the industrial boom. Most of her reporting was on women.
She directed her articles to upper class women to open their eyes and hearts to their impoverished, hungry, hopeless sisters. She felt very strongly that women and their issues were not represented in newspapers or any where else.