History of Newspapers By Mitchell
Stephens For Collier's Encyclopedia (1994)(continued)
The Penny Press. On the morning of September 3, 1833, a paper printed on four letter-size pages and filled with human-interest stories and short police reports appeared on the streets of New York. Its publisher was a young printer named Benjamin Day, and he sold his paper, the Sun, for one penny. The American newspaper with the highest circulation at that time was New York's Courier and Enquirer, a mercantile paper which sold 4,500 copies a day in a city of 218,000. In 1830, perhaps the most respected newspaper in the world at the time, the Times of London, which was founded in 1785 by John Walter, was selling 10,000 copies of day in a city with a population of two million. However, within two years, Day was selling 15,000 copies a day of his inexpensive, little Sun.
The first cylinder press, invented by a German, Frederick Koenig and improved by Napier in England, was first used in the United States in 1825. An improved version of this press, using two cylinders, was developed by Richard Hoe in New York in 1832. Steam engines had first been used to drive presses at the Times in London in 1814. By 1835 Day was using a steam press to print his rapidly growing New York Sun. These new presses made it possible to push circulations much higher. The old Gutenberg-type printing press could print perhaps 125 newspapers an hour; by 1851 the Sun's presses were printing 18,000 copies an hour.
James Gordon Bennett, one of the most creative forces in the history of journalism, began his own penny paper, the Herald in 1835. Within in two years it was selling 20,000 copies a day, despite a price increase to two cents. A number of penny newspapers had failed in Boston, a couple even before Day started his Sun. That city's first successful penny paper was the Daily Times in 1836. Philadelphia had the Daily Transcript, begun in 1835, and the Public Ledger, in 1836; Baltimore's Sun was first published in 1837 -- all selling for a penny.
The "cheap" newspaper arrived in France in 1836 with Emile de Girandin's La Presse. Newspapers were also selling for a penny or two in England in the first half of the nineteenth century; however, there was one major difference between these papers and their American counterparts: The English penny papers -- the "pauper press," they were called -- had to evade the stamp tax, which by 1815 was up to fourpence on each copy sold, so they were illegal. More than 560 different unstamped newspapers were printed in England between 1830 and 1836. One, Henry Hetherington's Twopenny Dispatch, was reported to have a circulation of 27,000 in 1836.
The English penny papers, because they lived outside the law, tended to be extremely radical in their politics. "Politics is the noble art of dividing society into two classes - Slaves and Robbers, wrote another of Hetherington's papers, the Poor Man's Guardian in 1834. The British stamp tax was abolished in 1855.
Most of the American penny papers were less interested in politics; nevertheless, they did have the effect of bringing many working class people and immigrants in the cities into the political process by providing them with a source of news they could afford. The Sun's motto was the egalitarian statement: "It Shines for All"; and the rise of the penny press has been connected with the spread of Jacksonian democracy in the United States.
The major effect
these penny papers had on the politics of the newspaper, however, may have been
the change their mass circulations brought to the economic status of
publishers. Bennett, who had started his Herald for $500, became a rich man.
The Sun was sold for $250,000 in 1849. Newspapers were becoming big businesses,
and the owners of big businesses tend to have more conservative politics.
Objectivity. Newspapers in the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century generally reflected the point of view of one person -- their publisher. Horace Greeley, one of the most thoughtful and talented American journalists, began the New York Tribune as a penny paper in 1841 and used it, unabashedly, to express his abolitionist, Whig and then Republican politics. Bennett's Herald reflected his support of the Democratic Party. Henry J. Raymond, who founded the New York Daily Times, the direct ancestor of the modern New York Times, in 1851, became a major force in the Republican Party. Weekly editions of these New York papers, particularly the Tribune, were widely read around the country, giving the opinions of their publishers added weight.
The abolitionist crusader William Lloyd Garrison started The Liberator in 1831 with the expressed purpose, of course, of changing people's minds. John B. Russwurm and Reverend Samuel Cornish brought out the first newspaper published by blacks in the United States, Freedom's Journal, in 1827 with a similar purpose. "We wish to plead our own cause," they wrote. "Too long have other spoken for us." The great black writer Frederick Douglas started The North Star in 1847 "to Attack Slavery in all its forms and aspects."
However, as mass circulation transformed newspapers into valuable businesses with large staffs, they started to be seen less as vehicles for one person's opinions and more as providers of information. The rise of the wire services, which distributed stories to many different papers, of many different political persuasions, also tended to reduce the emphasis on personal opinion in news stories, as did the new respect with which facts were treated in the late nineteenth century, thanks to the rise of science and the development of realism in literature.
This new veneration for facts was also connected to the spread, after the Civil War, of the "inverted pyramid" writing style, in which facts were detached from the narrative structures in which they formally were imbedded and arrayed in order of importance: with the most important facts -- who, what, when, where and sometimes why -- placed at the top of the story, in the story's "lead." Journalism was beginning to be thought of as a profession with its own professional standards. The first School of Journalism was founded at the University of Missouri in 1904. The American Society of Newspaper Editors drafted the "Canons of Journalism" in 1923, which included this dictum: "News reports should be free from opinion or bias of any kind."
Of course, it is not possible for any human utterance to be completely bias free. True objectivity is an unrealizable goal; there are too many possible sides to issues, too many different ways of viewing events, for them all to be treated fairly in a news story. The new emphasis on facts above opinion did not stop muckrakers, like Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell and Jacob Riis from using newspapers, magazines and books to crusade against the injustices they saw in American society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; nor did it prevent publishers like William Allen White, who purchased the Emporia Gazette in 1895, from using their newspapers to make a personal mark on American politics. Nevertheless, in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, newspapers gradually began trying to keep their opinions restricted to their editorial and opinion pages and out of their news stories.
Sensationalism. Some news stories have focused on crime, violence, emotion and sex -- on sensationalism -- for as long as news has been exchanged. Such stories can be found in the Roman Acta, in early newsbooks and news ballads and in the first American newspaper, Publick Occurrences. However, there have been periods in the history of American journalism, particularly periods when new audiences were being pursued and the competition for circulation was particularly intense, when sensationalism seemed to play an unusually large role in news coverage and cries of outrage over a decline in seriousness and good taste could be heard.
The era of the penny press, beginning in the 1830s and 1840s, was one such period. Crime news and human interest stories seemed to occupy larger portions of newspaper columns in those years. James Gordon Bennett, with his eagerness to investigate the details of bloody murders and pass on rumors of sex scandals, even became the object of a "moral war," led by other newspapers, in 1840. Nevertheless, Bennett's Herald became the best selling newspaper in the United States.
The second period when sensationalism seemed to increase in American newspapers began with the "new journalism" of Joseph Pulitzer. Pulitzer, who created the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1878 and then took over the New York World in 1883, was an unusually aggressive, demanding and intelligent editor, who fought important crusades on behalf of workers, immigrants and the poor. He was a major innovator, particularly in his Sunday paper to which he added expanded women's and sports pages and the first color comics in a newspaper. But Pulitzer also knew how to use reports tinged with violence and sex to sell newspapers, as in these headlines from his World: "CORNETTI'S LAST NIGHT" and "LITTLE LOTTA'S LOVERS."
William Randolph Hearst, an admirer of Pulitzer, took control of his father's San Francisco Examiner in 1887, then purchased the New York Journal in 1895. In their battle for circulation leadership in New York, Hearst and Pulitzer cut the price of their newspapers to a penny, tried to hire away each other's editors and reporters and filled their papers with even more bloody, bizarre and salacious stories. Pulitzer and particularly Hearst also crusaded, with huge front-page headlines and emotional, sometimes misleading stories, for war with Spain over Cuba. "How do you like the Journal's war?" Hearst's paper asked after war broke out in 1898. Circulations for both newspapers sometimes topped a million copies a day.
Out of the battle between Hearst and Pulitzer for the rights to a cartoon character known as the "Yellow Kid" came a new term for sensationalism: "yellow journalism." This was also a time of "stunt" journalism: Pulitzer sent a reporter named Elizabeth Cochrane, who wrote under the name Nellie Bly, around the world in 1889, to see if she could make the trip in less than 80 days. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who took over the Herald after his father's death in 1872, had sent Henry Morton Stanley to find Dr. David Livingstone in Africa in 1869.
However, more serious journalism also flourished during this period -- in the war reporting of Stephen Crane and Richard Harding Davis (some of which appeared in the Journal or the World), for example, and in the journalism practiced by the publisher Adolph Ochs, who purchased the New York Times and set it on its present respectable course in 1896. Another major advance during this period was the introduction of regular use of photographs in newspapers, which began in 1897.
A style of journalism similar to that of Pulitzer and Hearst was practiced with similar success in London by Alfred Harmsworth who started the Daily Mail in 1896. Harmsworth created the first modern, small-sized or "tabloid" (The term was borrowed from the drug industry) newspaper, the Daily Mirror, in 1903. When Joseph Medill Patterson and Robert R. McCormick, who had inherited control of the Chicago Tribune, saw Harmsworth's Mirror, which was selling a million copies a day, they decided to bring tabloid journalism to the United States in the form of the Illustrated Daily News, which appeared in New York in 1919 -- beginning the third period of sensationalism in American journalism.
Tabloids, like the
Daily News and its competitors -- Bernarr Macfadden's Daily Graphic and
Hearst's Daily Mirror -- were easy to read on the city's new subway trains, and
they were filled with sensational crime and scandal stories. Other tabloid
newspapers started during this period included the Los Angeles News, the
Philadelphia Daily News, the Detroit Daily and the more serious Chicago Times.
By 1940, the New York Daily News had a circulation of almost two million.
Alternative journalism and press criticism. Even when there were large numbers of daily newspapers circulating in major cities, many groups felt these papers were not representing their points of view and interests. One solution, especially for immigrant groups who were still more comfortable in another language, was to publish newspapers of their own. Probably the first foreign-language newspaper in America was a German newspaper Ben Franklin helped start in Germantown, near Philadelphia. A French newspaper, the Courrier Francais, was published daily in Philadelphia from 1794 to 1798. Early Spanish language newspapers appeared in New Orleans in 1808 and Texas in 1813. The first native-American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed in Georgia in 1828. The Jewish Daily Forward, printed in Yiddish, first appeared in New York in 1897 but was printing local editions in eleven other cities by 1923. With the waves of immigration to American cities in the first decades of the twentieth century, came an increased market for foreign-language papers. According to statistics presented by media historians Edwin and Michael Emery, the United States had 160 foreign-language dailies in 1914, and a total of 1323 foreign-language newspapers in 1917.
African-Americans have also sought alternatives to mainstream newspapers, beginning with Freedom's Journal and The North Star. Ida B. Wells fought for the rights of blacks and women in the paper Free Speech in Memphis and then in the New York Age and the Conservator in Chicago. Chicago Defender, a major black newspaper, began publishing in 1905, the Amsterdam News in New York in 1909 and the Pittsburgh Courier in 1910. Among the early women's-rights newspapers were The Lily, which was published by Amelia Bloomer from 1849 to 1859, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Revolution, from 1868 to 1871, for which Susan B. Anthony served as business manager. Socialist newspapers also boomed for a time in the United States -- with a total circulation of two million in 1913. However, many of these papers, including the New York Call, were severely hurt when their mailing privileges were taken away under the Espionage Act during the First World War.
In an attempt to escape the pressures of advertising, PM, a New York daily begun by Ralph Ingersoll in 1940, refused to carry any; after some changes of policy and a name change the paper suspended publication in 1949. I. F. Stone, who had written for some general-circulation dailies, decided that a way to evade their limitations was to start a newspaper he would write, edit and publish on his own. I. F. Stone's Weekly, which he began in 1953, was able to provide a small audience with exposes, based primarily on Stone's research in government documents, and an anti-Cold War perspective mostly unavailable in larger newspapers.
The anti-Vietnam War protests and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s also produced a number of colorful and experimental alternative newspapers, including the Berkeley Barb, the San Francisco Oracle, the Seed in Chicago, the East Village Other in New York and the Los Angeles Free Press. The oldest and most successful of this batch of progressive, culturally adventurous newspapers, New York's Village Voice, in 1955.
As the number of
newspapers declined and the survivors increasingly fell into the hands of large
corporations, the limitations of news coverage in the mainstream press also
inspired a growth in press criticism, beginning, in the late 1940s, with the
New Yorker magazine writer and former newspaper journalist A. J. Liebling.
"Freedom of the press is for those who own one," was perhaps
Liebling's most famous statement about the press in his time. He argued in 1961
that the United States, which then had competing daily newspapers in only 61
cities, was advancing toward "a monovocal, monopolistic, monocular
press." "With the decline in the 'number and variety' of
voices," Liebling wrote, "there is a decline in the number and
variety of reporting eyes, which is at least as malign." The Columbia
Journalism Review, a forum for such criticism, was first published in 1961.