Print Newspapers in American History, Essay Example

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Newspapers have always been a tremendously important institution in the American culture as well as globally.  The newspaper industry has had a fascinating and diverse role in our society, bringing news of all types to a large portion of the public in certain geographical locations.  Since colonial times, they have played a part in business your advertisements; practical information to its readers, including television schedules, weather forecasts, and financial information such as stock prices.  In addition, print journalism provides a form of entertainment through its stories, features, comic strips, and word games such as crossword puzzles.  Most importantly, and the functioning democracy newspapers have provided a critical function: presenting information about government, laws, and politics.

Newspapers were considered to be so crucial to our Republic that the first Congress provided protection to them through the First Amendment to the Constitution in 1791.  By guaranteeing free speech, Thomas Jefferson wrote that rather than having a government without newspapers, he preferred having newspapers without the governments, if he had to choose.  This sentiment was not uniformly held, since in 17th century America, there was skepticism about what a free press might possibly unleash.  Nevertheless, in 1690 the first British-American “news sheet” was published, and by the end of the next century, dozens of “newspapers” were published because Americans were anxious to learn the news from their old country, England.  Ultimately, an opinionated and highly partisan group of newspapers emerged, the tone of which persists today.  Benjamin Franklin was considered to be the most notable journalist of his time, but it was a Boston newsman who was the postmaster in that city who founded the second newspaper in the United States, the Boston News-Letter which survived 72 years amidst an extremely competitive industry that was complemented by the growth of business and communication.  During that period, postmasters often became the publishers of newspapers because they had easy access to information that came through their offices: letters, government documents, and news from overseas.

The newspapers in the 18th century filled space with items lifted from other newspapers, referred to as exchanges.  Although the publishers of those early newspapers were motivated by a desire to educate the public as well as increase communication, their primary motivation was profit.  During the revolutionary, there was a feeling that newspapers should provide both sides of any issue; however, newspapers have always contained opinions as well, then and now.  The appearance of newspapers has had similar cosmetic aspects from their beginnings: the columns and advertising have not changed greatly since the 18th century.  However, earlier newspapers had few headlines and few or no illustrations such as comic strips.  Since the 18th century newspapers have been all about events, as well as commenting on those events.  That was when political cartoons and editorials originated.

In the middle of the 19th century, “penny press” newspapers emerged, earning their names because they cost one-cent to publish because of the shift from handcrafted printing to steam-powered printing.  These tabloids cause less than the 6¢ charged for other newspapers which made them accessible to lower and middle class people rather than only to the elite, which had been the case prior to their establishments.  This altered the course of all newspapers from that point on.

Around 1900, the development of “yellow journalism” became popular, a form of journalism that offers virtually little or no legitimate verifiable news, instead uses sensational headlines to sell more papers.  Characteristics of yellow journalism include large, frightening headlines in huge fonts, abundant use of pictures or drawings, using false interviews, misleading headlines, fake science, and faux experts to present “information.” Their emphasis was on a Sunday full-color supplement, typically with comics as well as stories that highlighted an “underdog” vs. the system.  Following this era was “jazz journalism”, occurring from 1919 to 1924, and which mostly covered subjects such as Hollywood, violence, sexual contact, and financial matters and emphasizing photography instead of copy.  Finally, the practice called “muckraking” was the term for the actions of reform-minded journalists who engaged in investigative journalism.  These reporters emerged after 1900 the United States, and were typically used to refer to writers who provided investigations and acted as watchdogs, exposing corruption and advocating reform.  These muckrakers were early influences on journalists of today, writing in an effort to implement change or reforms as well as shining a spotlight on criminal activities often disguised as legitimate enterprises.

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