First Newspaper Ever
Despite newspapers being firmly established in England by the time the United States was founded, it was not until 1690 that the first newspaper was attempted in the American colonies. This first newspaper was called Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic and was put together by a man named Benjamin Harris. But Harris made one huge mistake, costing him the life of his paper: he failed to get the government’s permission. His lack of a license allowed the government to shut him down completely and immediately. Publick Occurrences only lasted one edition.
This poor start to American journalism hindered others, as no one followed Harris’ start until 14 years later. However, this time, they followed the rules. As a postmaster, John Campbell got his newspaper, Boston News-Letter, licensed by the government. HIs paper was filled with news from Europe—he was the first to hear it through the mail—shipping news, letters and paid advertisements. Campbell was safe and effective. Campbell never sold more than a few hundred copies, nor did he make much money on his paper, but he held a monopoly on the newspaper business for 15 years before another rival was created.
In 1719 the Boston Gazette joined the ranks of newspapers. followed by the New-England Courant in 1721. During this time, the most common start of a newspaper stemmed from a printer becoming an editor. In this cycle, more and more newspapers were created until eventually each colony had their own. Early on in American printing, most newspapers were very safe and dealt with little government intervention apart from being required a license.
By the start of the Revolutionary War, there were 37 independent newspapers running to keep the colonists informed. These all had seven major themes of content, including:
- “Old News” from Europe, usually England
- Trading/shipping information
- Oddities (lightening strikes, two-headed goats, etc.)
- Public executions
- Grab bag (poetry, jokes, quips, etc.)
- Religious sermons
- Letters to the editor
First Penny Press
Unlike the colonial presses, the founding of the Penny Press was a revolution in the journalism world. For the first time, news was actually being distributed on a daily basis to a large sum of people. Beginning in 1833, a new kind of paper, called the Penny Press made news available to all classes of people; it was sold for a penny. Benjamin Day was the leader in this field as he began the Sun in New York City and sold it for one penny, as opposed to six cents for any other newspaper.
This idea of presenting “all the news of the day” for all the people, made Day’s business model boom. Soon he couldn’t print enough papers to keep up with the demand. Day also made another huge business decision, instead of selling through subscriptions, he took profits day by day, winning over his audience each morning. Not only did this open his market up to every literate adult in America, but it also increased the pressure to please his audience in order to win them back each day.
This spurred a major change in the interpretation of what news is. Straying from the usual, slightly boring news, Day decided to add in the exciting news of crime. Not only did crime attract interest, but it sold papers like crazy. Day was able to see, based on sales, what kind of news the public wanted and what kind they didn’t. This new news was focused on local news, which is what revolutionized the newspaper world.
Differing from colonial presses, Penny Press papers brought a new definition to the word news, including the following key themes in their content:
- Gossip (crazy stories such as the Great Moon Hoax)
- Public news (executions, shipping, government, etc)
- Editorials (religious, partisan, etc)
Printing was the very first form of American journalism, where each of the other fields stem. So these men, like Campbell and Day are some of the most influential people in journalism. Not only did they succeed at their jobs, but they founded the very field that we rely on today. These first printers discovered journalism and helped in flourish and change in what we know it as today.