Journalism - Facts & Directory

In the early times, forms of communication of news was limited to word of mouth or gossip. News was usually told by a person who saw an event and re-told the story to others. The accuracy of the stories depended on how far the news had spread from the original source. The news' accuracy started to fade the further the story spread out to others. One other way to find out news was to write and read letters, but that was helpful for only those who were literate. This changed when Gutenberg invented the printing machine back in 1456. Not long after pamphlets, books especially the Bible were being printed for the public to read. The first newspapers did not appear until the 17th century. Mercurius Gallobelgicus was the first periodical issued in 1592 semiannually and it was written in Latin. The periodical was distributed at local book fairs. The Oxford Gazette became the first regularly published newspaper in 1665.

In the British colonies printing was regulated by the Press Restriction Act which made it mandatory for all printed documents to have the writers names and places of publication to be included. Newspaper publishing finally moved outside of New England in 1719 with Andrew Bradford's American Weekly Mercury. During the time that Benjamin Franklin established himself in Philadelphia in1730, there were a few newsprints circulating through town. There was Andrew Bradford's American Weekly Mercury, Keimer's Universal Instructor in all Arts and Sciences and the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin decided to take over the Instructor and changed it to the Pennsylvania Gazette. Ben Franklin makes the Pennsylvania Gazette the best newspaper in the colonies, most pages, with the largest circulation, highest income from advertising, and the most literary column. By 1750 fourteen weekly newspapers were read in the six most populated colonies.

In 1800, America had more 200 newspapers, including 24 dailies. Unfortunately these publications were mostly mouthpieces for political parties instead of independent, objective entities. The Gazette of the United States, promoted the ideas of Alexander Hamilton and the other Federalists, and the National Gazette spoke for Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans. The centerpiece of a typical newspaper published between 1784 and 1830 was its political reporting, which often consisted of harsh, satirical, and sometimes false comments. "If ever a nation was debauched by a man," Aurora editor Benjamin Franklin Bache wrote of the country's first president, "the American nation has been debauched by Washington".

The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 punished some journalists for being bold in their reporting' s, but even early American reporters enjoyed the freedom that was promised by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The number of publications increased in these early decades of independence. In 1820 America had 512 newspapers. The nature of the press in America remained mostly the same until the 1830s. John Tebbel, author of The Compact History of the American Newspaper, explained: "From its use as a revolutionary propaganda machine to its hardly concealed official position as a private organ of a President, it had encompassed the range of partisan expression at the expense of truth and responsibility." In the 1830s came the most important development of American journalism when New York journalists James Gordon Bennett and Benjamin Day began grabbing the attention of mass audiences. Tebbel noted that immigration and improvements in printing technology, both started this new era, which came to be known as the age of the penny press. Different from contemporary papers, which sold for 6 cents, Day's New York Sun and Bennett's New York Herald at first sold for a penny and were peddled in the streets. In addition to the increased circulations, this period was memorable for the change in the content of newspapers. Bennett was a pioneer in broadening the scope and sharpening the appeal of newspaper reporting.