Tracing the Story of Journalism
in the United States

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Journalism Time Line


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


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


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


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


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


Fourteen weekly newspapers are read in the six most populated colonies


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


Printing presses are made in America by Isaac Doolittle of Connecticut


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


First daily newspaper, the Pennsylvania Evening Post, appears


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


Reporters allowed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate


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


Quarterly, monthly, and weekly magazines begin to appear


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


Niles� Weekly Register, first news magazine, appears


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


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


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


Pigeons and the pony express carry news from distant points


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


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


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


The New York Times is founded


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


Telegraph used to convey news at a distance


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)


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


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


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


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


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


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


Color is used for comics and other parts of Sunday editions


Political cartoons offer commentary on the news in many newspapers


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


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


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


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

Many newspapers begin to include political columns


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


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


People begin to turn to television for the news


�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


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


Computers begin to change the process of producing a newspaper


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


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


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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