History of Journalism
When you wake up in a bustling city like Toronto or a small rural town like Sarnia, what do you do? You probably pick up the latest copy of the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail or Toronto Sun from your doorsteps or closest newsstand. What do you listen to on the radio on the way to work? You listen to the news. What do you watch at 11:00 o’clock at night? You watch the news. News is everywhere. Some people even call it JOURNALISM!
From the days of EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT, to today’s around the clock news coverage on CNN, news has always been a part of our life. News agencies such as Reuters and Associated Press are some of the leading news agencies in the world. Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner are an example of rich and powerful newsmen. Journalism had to start somewhere, but where?
Historians believe that the first prototype or piece of news originated during the Roman Empire. It was called Acta Diurna. This news sheet was published daily in 59 BC and hung in prominent places. It recorded social and political events (The Encyclopedia Americana, 184). There is also evidence that the Chinese had a news sheet called Tching-Pao or news of the palace. This was during the T’ang dynasty. This report was handed out to government officials in various forms, and often under different names. It was discontinued in 1911 by the Ch’ing dynasty. The first printed newspaper was produced from wooden blocks in Beijing. This occurred around sometime between the 7th and 8th century AD (Gwinn, 627).
News during the 15th to 18th century was usually just a single sheet or a pamphlet describing one event. There were no advertisements or any comics, just news. News sheets and newspapers were difficult to produce and distribute. This changed with Johann Gutenberg’s 1450 invention of the printing press (The Encyclopedia Americana, 184). This invention revolutionized journalism. It also laid grounds for the current printing press we have today.
Back in what is now known as Europe, news sheets and newspapers were becoming increasingly popular. In 1457 the first printed news sheet appeared in Nuremberg, Germany. Letters announcing Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World were distributed in Spain 1493. The first magazine published was Mercurius Gallobegicus in 1593. It was printed and distributed in Cologne, Germany. The defeat of the Spanish Armanda was announced in 1588 with 800 leaflets (The Encyclopedia Americana, 184). In 1629, newspapers began to appear in cities like Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Amsterdam and Antwerp. Paris saw their first newspaper printed in 1631 (5) .
In England, journalism was starting to take root. Queen Elizabeth I began using the news as a means of imparting important information to her nobles. By 1622 the first continuous paper was the Weekly News. This paper ran from 1622 to 1641. It usually printed foreign news. It wasn’t until 1628 that clerks who listened to debates in the English Parliament were reporting domestic news. This started one of the greatest debates in the world. In 1630 King Charles I came to reign upon the English throne. During his time as king, he imposed restrictions on the press. With censorship in place, the press was no longer able to report freely. This opened the debate of Freedom of Speech. These restrictions continued throughout the civil war of the 1640’s. During the 1650’s a man named Oliver Cromwell came to power. He furthered these press restrictions. It was not until 1660 that press restrictions ceased under the power of King Charles II. The press was now allowed to speak freely, but it was not allowed to criticize the government. In 1702 the first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant was published in London. In 1712 a British stamp tax was imposed on all newspapers, and their publishers. This stamp tax made things a lot harder for publishers and their newspapers. It wasn’t until 1855 that this stamp tax was abolished. But Britain wasn’t the only place where journalism was flourishing (5).
Journalism in North America started at the end of the 17th century. It was 1690 when Benjamin Harris first published and edited his three-page newspaper Publick Occurrences; a Boston based newspaper (there was both a domestic and foreign issue). Benjamin Harris was suppressed and arrested after the first issue. Although only one issue was published it lay the building block for future colony newspapers. In 1704, John Campbell founded the Boston News-Letter; the first continuously printed American newspaper. The newspaper contained finance, foreign news, births, deaths and social events. The Massachusetts Bay Colony governor banned and censored the paper. In 1721 a man by the name of James Franklin founded the New England Courant in Boston. His staff includes his brother Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin later left the New England Courant, and went to start his own paper the Pennsylvanian Gazette. This newspaper soon failed, and he went on to start another newspaper that was called General Magazine, which also failed. Benjamin Franklin eventually went on to become a diplomat and a statesman. In New York newspapers were beginning to appear. The Gazette was founded in 1725, and several others soon followed. One of these papers will be notably remembered. A German-American, named John Peter Zenger founded the New York Weekly Journal. Zenger’s paper was criticizing the British colonial governor of New York. Zenger was soon arrested and jailed. He was charged with seditious libel. Zenger was tried in a court of law, and found not guilty. This was a major achievement in the fight for Freedom of Speech. By 1750 there were over 12 newspapers in colonies all over America. Newspapers were beginning to have a serious impact on America. Not only were newspapers flourishing, but also the population had burgeoned to over 1 million people. By 1775 growth in America had reached to 2.5 million, and the number of papers had jumped to 48. Circulation had jumped to 400 subscribers per newspaper, which was quiet impressive back then. Also newspapers in America were beginning to have a libertarian tone. Newspapers began to print more essays’ then actual news. To fight back, the British Stamp Tax was imposed in 1765. The stamp tax united many newspapers and their editors in support of independence. In 1766 the stamp tax was repealed. Samuel Adams, an American patriot who also edited the Boston Gazette, organized the Committee of Correspondences. This committee had agents that kept track of events in the colonies. In 1776 newspapers carried on their front pages the Declaration of Independence. Throughout the war, newspapers brought military accounts, and increased number of readers. Business was generated by the war. This meant that advertising was being used in newspapers for the first time in America. Surviving newspapers from the war of independence were greatly strengthened. But this new found freedom meant that a lot of papers were now divided. The press was further divided when the U.S constitution was adopted. There were conservative Federalists, Agrarian Republics and Democratic-Republics. In 1791 the Bill of Rights was written and the First Amendment was called freedom of speech. This amendment has been under fire many times. In 1798 a new act called the Alien and Sedition Act made it impossible for newspapers to write any false, scandalous and malicious attacks on the government. This Act was considered a violation of the First Amendment. Reactions against the law helped elect Thomas Jefferson in 1800 (5).
Newspapers were expanding, and as they expanded so did their readers. The News was big business. Newspaper circulation started to reach into the thousands. Newspapers were soon very cheap to make (thanks to low pulp prices), and very cheap to buy. Next came the formation of the penny press. For 1 penny you could buy a paper, which in those day was a very good price. The first penny paper was the Pennsylvania Evening Post, and then the Daily Advertiser. These two newspapers debuted in 1783. By 1800 there were over 20 daily newspaper. As the Industrial Revolution spread more companies were producing daily papers instead of weekly papers (5) . Also until 1833 most newspapers were reserved for the few privileged rich people who could afford newspapers. That changed when Benjamin Henry Day published the New York Sun. This was one of the most influential newspapers throughout the 19th century. In Day’s paper were stories on crime, politics and other forms of violence. Day’s paper was an instant success. Soon after the New York Sun came the New York Herald and the New York Tribune (New Book of Knowledge, 198). With the development of the fast rotary presses circulation reached tens of thousands.
During the civil war journalism in America reached its second peak. The first telegraph line was strung between Washington D.C to Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844. When war began in 1861 most of the east was connected by telegraph lines to the south. There were over 150 reporters covered the war. A big establishment was created in 1848. Six New York City newspapers joined together to share the cost of bring news to New York by telegraph. They were called the Associated Press; the countries first news agency. The Associated Press expanded rapidly and stared to serve many newspapers. Because of the many different political views these newspapers had the Associated Press was forced to be totally non-partisan.
The 20th century began with amazing editors. Some of these people included Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the San Francisco Examiner and New York Morning Journal. Commercial Advertising and the need for brand name goods started in 1883, when Cyrus H. K. Curtis founded the Ladies Home Journal. In 1897 Curtis bought the Saturday Evening Post for $1000, which rapidly increased its circulation (4).
In 1920 radio journalism hit the airwaves with KDKA of Pittsburgh broadcasting news on the hour every hour. In 1944 when the allies invaded Normandy, everybody heard the news on the radio. When France surrendered to the Nazis in the beginning of the Second World War, General Charles De Gaulle appealed to the people of France to resist the Nazis from a radio broadcast (The Encyclopedia Americana, 185).
In the 1950’s, television debuted, and television journalism started. In 1960 the Nixon-Kennedy debates were televised and on the radio. On the radio it sounded like Nixon was winning the debate, but on television you could see that Nixon was sweating (5).
Now we have million of radio news stations, and television stations. Newspapers now are very profitable businesses with the latest technology.
All in all journalism has come a long way since Acta Diurna to today’s CNN. Who knows what form journalism may come in next?