The news has at one point or another played a part in every one of our lives. Whether it is a weather report giving flash-flood warnings, information on presidential campaigns, or an obituary citing the death of a television personality, we crave it. Until the recent development and affluence of the Internet as a news source, newspapers have globally been the primary source of current events. Having become part of a daily routine in most lives, little is known of the immense history this learning tool holds.
The story begins some five centuries ago in Europe. Here, merchants would distribute newsletters written by hand containing information regarding the weather, economic conditions, wars and human-interest stories. Although this was the first known form of distributed written information, the country accredited with the creation of the first newspaper is Germany. In the late fifteenth century, a cross between a brochure and a pamphlet was dispersed among the people, the text containing highly sensationalized stories along with description of the current news events.
America, however, was a step behind. Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, was the first newspaper published in America. Printed by Richard Pierce, and edited by Benjamin Harris, the first copy issued on September 25, 1690 would also be the last. It filled only 3 sheets of paper measuring six by ten inches, the equivalent of filling half of the front page of a newspaper today (14" x 23"). The paper had intended to be issued once a month.
The sudden discontinuation of Publick Occurrences would mean the last news offered to Americans for the next few years. Instead, newspapers published in London were read even though the "first true newspaper in English was the London Gazette, published four years later in 1666.
Fourteen years later, back in America, John Campbell, a bookseller appointed Postmaster of Boston, became the editor of the Boston News-Letter. The first issue was dated Monday, April 17 to Monday April 24, 1704 and contained only one advertisement. This was produced weekly and continued to be so even when William Brooker was appointed Postmaster to replace Campbell. Campbell refused to authorize the use of the title "News-Letter" to anyone else so Brooker called his newspaper the "Boston Gazette". Seven months later, Philip Musgrave was awarded the position of Postmaster in Boston and replaced Brooker. At this time, James Franklin, the printer of the Gazette, was also replaced. He wanted to start his own newspaper even though friends and family dissuaded him from doing so by telling him that Boston already had a sufficient number of newspapers (2) and a third could not survive. Despite this, Franklin went ahead and published his own newspaper, the New England Courant. The first issue was printed on August 19, 1721 making it the fourth newspaper published in America.
When James Franklin published an editorial criticizing the government, he was sent to prison. James' 13 year old brother and apprentice, Ben, took over the work of laying type, printing, and delivery of the issues. Six months later, James Franklin was forbidden to publish any more newspapers so the masthead now carried the name "Ben Franklin" as editor and publisher. Ben, now legally free of being an apprentice, and having a dislike for his brother James, ran away to New York and later to Philadelphia. The New England Courant kept publishing issues claiming Ben Franklin was editor and publisher until 1726 without anyone being the wiser.
The fact that newspapers had been so scarce in Europe, America, and many other continents is due to many factors. To find a literate man was no easy task after Europe was emerging from the black age. Paper was extremely expensive, and hard to come across, and the task of printing was long and laborious. The latter was still a problem even with the invention of the printing press in 1436.
A 39-year-old Johann Gutenberg came up with a printing method, where, by arranging stamps displaying the letters of the alphabet, one could construct a page of literature to be copied numerous times. This became known as the Gutenberg Press, one of the greater inventions the fifteenth century held. Although a giant improvement from hand copying, this method still required the rearrangement of the letters each time a new page was to be printed.
In the early 1800's the development of continuous rolls of paper enhanced the original Gutenberg Press as did a steam-powered press and a way to use iron instead of wood for building presses. This added efficiency of printing made the prices of printed goods more reasonable hence the term "penny press". This phrase originated when newspaperman Benjamin Day dropped the price of his New York Sun to a penny a copy in 1833. Historians have accredited the "penny press" as the first true mass medium.
Another advancement in the history of printing was the origin of Linotype, a method of creating movable type by machine instead of by hand. This was introduced in 1884 and marked a significant leap in production speed. In terms of the use of computers in the field of printing, especially newspapers, the progression is unbelievable. From the first daisy-wheel and dot matrix "impact" printers to common use of the non-impact printers: ink-jet, laser and thermal-transfer, printing presses are on the brink of becoming a thing of the past.
The big question regarding what the future holds for the old-fashioned newspaper is whether or not it will be overcome by the use of the Internet. Studies show that from 1992 to 1997, the weekly hours of using the Internet has increased from 1.8 hours, to 9.1. Although the evidence is convincing that in the future the use of computers will obliterate that of newspapers, sometimes the tangible aspect is too great to give up for a color monitor. You may be convinced that there's no better way to relax than with some black coffee and the front page. Or perhaps up-to-the-minute updates on top stories are more your interest. All we can say is: To each his own, but always keep an open mind.
Links: The Chicago Tribune: http://chicagotribune.com/ The Christian Science Monitor: http://csmonitor.com/ The San Francisco Gate: http://www.sfgate.com/ The Daily Press: http://dailypress.com/ The Washington Times: http://www.washtimes.com/ Trib.com: http://www.trib.com/ Star News: http://www.starnews.com/ The Washington Post: http://washingtonpost.com/ The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/ Maui News: http://www.mauinews.com/ The Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/home/ Electric Times Union: http://www.timesunion.com/ The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/ glossary of terms