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Journalism Time Line

1608

First English reporter in  the colonies, Captain John Smith, leader of the Jamestown settlement, publishes his newsletter Newes from Virginia

1690

First American newspaper, Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick, is published in Boston

1721

The New England Courant, published by Ben Franklin’s older brother James, is first to offer readers literature in addition to news

1727

First local correspondents report news from nearby communities, in the New England Weekly Journal

1729

Ben Franklin makes the Pennsylvania Gazette the best newspaper in the colonies, with the largest circulation, most pages, highest income from advertising, and the most literary columns

1750

Fourteen weekly newspapers are read in the six most populated colonies

1768-1769

Patriot Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty spread news items about the British to newspapers through the “Journal of Occurrences”

1769

Printing presses are made in America by Isaac Doolittle of Connecticut

1776

The Boston paper the Massachusetts Spy supports the movement for independence and publishes an eyewitness account of the first battle of the American Revolution

Colonial newspapers reprint Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, encouraging colonists to revolt against the British

Less than a month after its approval, more than 20 newspapers carry the full text of the Declaration of Independence, spreading word of the cause of freedom across the new United States

1783

First daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Evening Post, appears

1791

First Amendment to the Constitution, protecting freedom of the press and other freedoms, is approved

1795

Reporters allowed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate

1800

Twenty-one newspapers are published in the new West, beyond the Appalachian Mountains

1800-1830

Quarterly, monthly, and weekly magazines begin to appear

1808

First Spanish-language paper, El Misisipí, published in New Orleans

1811

Niles’ Weekly Register, first news magazine, appears

1814

Congress says that at least two newspapers in each state and territory must print laws passed for the nation

1827

Reporters from three newspapers become the first Washington correspondents, beginning continuous coverage of the Congress to this day

1828

First Native American paper, the Cherokee Phoenix, appears, printed partly in English and partly in Cherokee

1830s

Pigeons and the pony express carry news from distant points

1833

The New York Sun becomes the first “people’s” or “penny” paper, selling on the street for just one cent

1835

The New York Herald introduces new newspaper sections devoted to money, sports, society news, letters, and reviews and publishes “extras” or special editions to cover significant news

1841

Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune offers readers views on many issues

1851

The New York Times is founded

1840s

Railroads and steamships carry news items quickly and are used to distribute newspapers

mid-1840s

Telegraph used to convey news at a distance

1849

Groups of newspapers band together to support a news-gathering service that will supply foreign news by ship and telegraph; the group later becomes the Associated Press (AP)

1856

First African-American daily, the New Orleans Daily Creole, is published

1861-1865

Hundreds of photographers, including the well-known war photographer Mathew Brady, are issued passes to cover the Civil War

Reporters in the field develop the summary lead to make sure that the main point of their story gets through by telegraph

Papers begin to bulletin highlights of the war action as headlines

1870-1900

Population of the United States doubles; city population triples; number of daily newspapers quadruples

Editorial staff at big-city daily newspapers grows and becomes more specialized, with an emphasis on reporting

More women work at newspapers, as correspondents, editors, and writers

Telephones and typewriters change the way work is done in the newsroom

Cables linking the United States to England and parts of Asia make news gathering faster

Newspaper publishing becomes a major business in the United States

1870s-1880s

New magazines treat readers to high-quality literature, humor, and discussion and debate of political issues

1880-1900

Bigger and faster presses are developed to print more copies of papers in less time in order to meet tighter deadlines and serve the growing number of readers

Photographs begin to appear in newspapers

Number of African-American papers increases

1890s

Sensationalism, known as yellow journalism, is used to win papers more readers

1893

Color is used for comics and other parts of Sunday editions

1900-1925

Political cartoons offer commentary on the news in many newspapers

1907-1909

United Press Association and the International News Service compete with the Associated Press in gathering news from around the world

1917

Ethnic papers reach a peak with 1,323 foreign-language publications

1910-1914

Number of newspapers in the United States reaches a high, with 2,600 dailies and about 14,000 weeklies published

1920s

Radio and movies begin to compete with newspapers and magazines for people’s time and attention

Many newspapers begin to include political columns

1930s

Personalized or “gossip” columns appear for the first time in papers

Picture magazines such as Life become extremely popular and provide greater opportunities for photojournalists

1930s-1940s

Newsreels shown at movie houses before or after the feature film offer a new view of the news

1950s

People begin to turn to television for the news

1960s

“Underground” and alternative papers and magazines rebel against and criticize established papers and the country’s political and social structure

Variety of newspapers serving the Latino community are founded

1960-1990

Investigative reporters uncover information about the activities of the government and other groups and offer interpretations of events and issues, such as organized crime, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and Iran-contra

1970s-1980s

Computers begin to change the process of producing a newspaper

1980s

Number of daily papers decreases because of increase in the price of newsprint and in supply costs, rising pay, loss of advertising to television, and general decline in advertising

Four press associations or news agencies—the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse—provide more than 90 percent of all international news

1990

Newspaper groups own most of the daily papers in the United States, with Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Newhouse, New York Times, Dow Jones, and Thomson the five largest groups, in terms of number of dailies owned

1990s

Reporters are able to file stories from around the world immediately using lap-top computers and modems or via satellite

[Source: M. Emery, E. Emery, with N. L. Roberts, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 8th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1996)]

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FAQs about Journalism in the United States

What were colonial newspapers like?


Most colonial papers had four pages, measuring about 10 by 15 inches. They did not have headlines and contained no illustrations, except for the printer’s trademark (known as a colophon) and a few woodcuts that went along with advertisements. The paper used for colonial newspapers was made in England from rags.

How were colonial newspapers printed?

Until 1769 colonial papers were printed on printing presses imported from England. Each page was printed as follows. First, the type was set by hand and locked in a form. The bed of the press was rolled out, and the type was placed on it. Ink was applied to the type. The paper was moistened in a trough and placed over the type. Then the bed was rolled back under the press, and the platen or pressure plate was pressed against the type from above. When the platen was released, the bed was rolled out again, and the paper was removed and hung on a wire to dry. When it was dry, it was run through the press again, this time with the type for the reverse side of the page.

How quickly could people get news during the Revolutionary War?

Communications were not very advanced during this period. Much news traveled by word of mouth; that is, from one person to the next. News of the battles at Lexington and Concord that began the war, for example, did not reach the southern colony of Georgia until six weeks after the event.

Where did Americans get paper for printing newspapers during the Revolutionary War?

There were paper mills in the new United States, but they could not meet the demand for paper. Paper was made from linen and other cloth. George Washington, the American commander in chief, made a special plea to women to save cloth to be made into paper.

What is freedom of the press?

The First Amendment of the Constitution protects the freedom to share and spread ideas not only in newspapers, books, magazines but also on the radio and television. It protects information from being censored or restricted by the government before it is published or broadcast. There are some limits, though. Written or published statements that damage a person’s reputation or endanger the nation’s safety are not protected by freedom of the press.

How did printing change in the 1800s?

Improvements were made to the printing press so that parts moved automatically and both sides of the paper could be printed at the same time. Steam began to be used to power presses and made printing much faster.

How much did newspapers cost before there were penny papers?

Before penny papers, a few big city papers sold for about six cents a copy, but most papers were sold by subscription. Subscribers would pay $6-$10 for a year in advance. Only the wealthy could afford to get the paper. The average worker made less than $6-$10 a week, and most people could not afford to pay a lump sum in advance.

How were photographs finally printed in newspapers?

A process known as photoengraving was developed in the 1860s and 1870s. The dark and light parts of a photograph were separated, and points for each were laid out on a plate. Points for dark areas were placed closed together, and points for light areas were spaced out. The ink used in printing transferred each point to paper. The engraved reproduction of the photograph was called a halftone.

What is sensationalism?

Sensationalism is a way of attracting interest in something by appealing to the emotions or senses instead of to reason or the mind. News of violence and detailed accounts of people’s personal lives or private affairs are two examples of sensationalism in journalism.

What are underground papers?

The “underground” papers, published mostly in the 1960s, were unofficial papers produced by small, sometimes new groups with special interests. Most were critical of recognized papers and the accepted ideas and ways of the times.

[Source: M. Emery, E. Emery, with N. L. Roberts, The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 8th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1996)]

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