In studying the history of journalism, five key principles outweigh all others in defining quality journalism: accuracy, timeliness, impact, objectivity and conciseness. Though combining all five of these is a modern image of the media, we can look at how each of these came about within the journalism world. Who was the first to create news based on each concept? Why was it successful? What historical causes spurred this change? Most of these principles stem from the age of the penny presses, which launched the journalism world in America from none to some really quickly.
As one of the most accurate modern publications, The New York Times was also the first Penny Press to focus on accuracy above all else. Then, The New York Times was called New-York Daily Times, and produced by its first editor Henry J. Raymond. At the time, many of the penny press papers were daily and so consumed with competition that accuracy was a rare focus. But in order to jump into a market like that, Raymond made a business decision to change his focus to accuracy.
At that point, Raymond branded his paper as the authority of news. Not only was his news accurate, but he published, “all news fit to print.” With a focus on accuracy, Raymond’s New-York Daily Times became known as the “Great Gray Lady.” As a publication known for accuracy, The New York Times, is one of the only penny press papers that is still remaining today, no coincidence that accuracy goes a long way.
As one of the most important aspects of media today, timeliness was not brought about by one single person, rather by the conditions of the age and technology. During the 1830-1840s Samuel F. B. Morse developed the electromagnetic telegraph machine which revolutionized communication across the globe. The journalism world, in the midst of the penny press age, takes full advantage of this invention. But as this age is focused on timeliness and competition, accuracy was out the window. The first journalist to use the telegraph, reported incorrect information about a vote taken in Congress, a prime example of the need for timeliness over accuracy.
The telegraph also contributed to the new idea of concise news. Previously, news articles tried to pull in their reader in creative, long-winded articles. But during the Civil War the telegraph was used to communicate between bases, something not popular to the opposing side. So, telegraph lines were often cut as a defense technique. Hence the latest idea of reporting news in an inverted pyramid with the most important facts first, followed by details that are less important.
This also contributed to conciseness as stories were often telegraphed word-by-word, but as each letter costs money, stories became shorter and shorter. This developed the style of journalism into short concise news stories that relayed information quickly to the reader.
As one of the first dailies, The New York Sun, was also the first newspaper to incorporate impact towards their audience, rather than straight news. As editor, Benjamin Day changed the field of journalism from drab to fab.
From his very first edition of The Sun, Day included a new type of news: public interest stories. These included, “all the news of the day,” which varied from crime stories to suicides to what was happening in the local court. And for once, news became interesting and impactful towards a large sum of the audience who longed for human interest stories. This is also one of the reasons penny presses and dailies became a success.
One of the most popular words in the journalism field today is objectivity. This concept was not common among the pre-penny press era, where every paper was partisan in content. However, James Gordon Bennett changed all of that when he began publishing The New York Herald in 1835. Just like Raymond based his editorial decisions on business reasons, so did Bennett, who was looking for a new way to report the news. Every newspaper at the time was partisan, so Bennett chose to be non-partisan. And it worked.
Bennett believed his paper was accountable only to the readers, rather than to politicians and government. Not only was he striving for objectivity, but he attempted to be fair to all voices, appealing to all social classes. Bennett’s form of reporting was not popular among his peers, resulting in at least three public beatings. But despite a harsh audience, Bennett remained objective and is credited as one of the founders of this basic journalistic principle.