History of American Journalism

News reporting goes back thousands of years,
perhaps to the first humans or even the first
animals that could communicate to one another
about such things as approaching predators.
The potential for "mass
media," however, was not
realized until the middle of
the 15 century, when
German inventor Johannes
Gutenberg's development
of movable type gave
people a relatively fast,
inexpensive means of
producing hundreds or
thousands of fliers, books,
and eventually
Gutenberg, William Caxton, and the American
printers who followed them made or purchased small
metal blocks, each with an individual letter,
punctuation mark, or other symbol on it. They then
arranged these blocks in trays to spell words. By
applying ink to the letters
and then pressing large
sheets of paper down on
them, they could print
pages, which they then cut
to create fliers or
assembled into books or
other publications.
Shortly after English settlers set up colonies in
Virginia and Massachusetts, America got its first
press, which was set up in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, in the late 1630s. Although a
number of books issued from this press over the
next half century, the American colonies did not
produce their own real newspaper until the 18th
century. Colonists in Massachusetts were
preoccupied with survival, could read news coming
from the Mother Country (England), and lacked the
type of industry and commerce that would have
created a demand for advertising… funding?
Newspapers have not
always been the
sophisticated, full-color
extravaganzas we know
today. American journalism
had its humble beginnings
in the Colonial period with
the publication of Benjamin
Harris’ Publick Occurrences
Both Forreign and
Domestick, which was shut
down after its one and only
issue on Sept. 26, 1690.
This newspaper was
printed on three
sheets of stationerysize paper and the
fourth page was left
blank so that readers
could add their own
news before passing
it on to someone
By modern standards, colonial newspapers were small
publications featuring out-of-date, often toothless
coverage of a small range of subjects. A typical
publication might consist of four pages of stories about
government and foreign affairs, the weather, and
disasters such as fires or diseases. Illustrations were
rare, and headlines generally were nonexistent. It
could take weeks for the news of an event to appear in
one of these papers, particularly if it took place abroad,
and inaccuracies were common.
Journalists, for the most part, simply stayed out of
trouble by printing innocuous coverage or even
giving government officials the chance to approve
material before publication. Things changed
somewhat when James Franklin, brother of
Benjamin, established the New England Courant
in 1721.
The Courant was the first American
newspaper to supply readers with what they
liked and needed, rather than with
information controlled by self-interested
officials. Its style was bold and its literary
quality high. Franklin even challenged
religious and political authorities, setting a
precedent for journalists to come. The press
was still far from free, however, as Franklin's
own case illustrates: some two years after he
began his fiesty newspaper, authorities
banned him from publishing it.
Perhaps the most famous
name in early American
journalism is that of Peter
Zenger. Publisher of the New
York Weekly Journal, Zenger
was charged with sedition
after his paper had
criticized colonial
authorities, and he was tried
for libel against the colonial
British government in 1735.
In this picture, Zenger is
arrested and his printing
press is burned by Colonial
Zenger was found innocent with the help of noted attorney
Andrew Hamilton, and this verdict was that one verdict that
paved the way for a free and independent press in America.
For the first time it was considered proper for the press to
question and criticize the government. This is a pillar of a
free press in the United States and any country that is free.
Journalists have to be able to question the actions of the
An invention that
helped speed news
along was the
Reporters were
able to send
encoded news back
to their papers as it
was happening.
Abraham Lincoln
became the first
president to direct
armies in the field
directly from the
White House.
During the darkest
days of the terrible
war Lincoln would
pace back and forth
in the telegraph
office awaiting
news of the fate of
the nation that
would emerge from
the new telegraph
Because the
telegraph wires
kept going down on
a regular basis,
sometimes the
story that a
reporter was trying
to send got cut off
before it was
To alleviate this
situation, reporters
developed the
“inverted pyramid”
form of writing,
putting the most
important facts at
the beginning of
the story.
This way, the most
important part of
the story would
most likely reach
the newspaper, and
if anything got cut
off, it would be the
lesser important
details of what
Newspapers began to evolve and grow into a major
industry. Men mostly dominated the field, but in 1868 the
New York Sun hired their first female reporter, Emily
Verdery Bettey. The Sun hired Eleanor Hoyt Brainerd as
a reporter and fashion editor in the 1880s; she was one of
the first professional female editors, and perhaps the first
full-time fashion editor, of any American newspaper.
As newspapers began to compete more and more with
one another to increase circulation and obtain more
advertising revenue, a different type of journalism was
developed by publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William
Randolph Hearst.
In the mid-1890s, Pulitzer (in the New York World)
and Hearst (in the San Francisco Examiner and later
the New York Morning Journal) transformed
newspapers with sensational and scandalous news
coverage, the use of drawings and the inclusion of
more features such as comic strips.
After William Randolph Hearst moved to New
York, he and Joseph Pulitzer competed for
readers by making their papers more and more
In 1895, Hearst purchased the New York Morning
Journal and entered into a head-to-head circulation
war with his former mentor, Joseph Pulitzer, owner
of the New York World.
To increase circulation both started to include articles
about the Cuban Insurrection. Many stories in both
newspaper greatly exaggerated their claims to make
the stories more sensational.
The American public purchased more newspapers
because of the sensational writing, and this strongly
encouraged Hearst and Pulitzer’s newspapers to write
more sensationalized stories.
This form of journalism in short, is biased
opinion masquerading as objective fact.
Moreover, the practice of yellow journalism
involved sensationalism, distorted stories, and
misleading images for the sole purpose of
boosting newspaper sales and exciting public
opinion. The endless drive for circulation,
unfortunately, often put publisher's greed
before ethics. It became known as Yellow
Journalism, named after “The Yellow Kid”
Drawn by R.F.
Outcault, the popular
(if now-unfunny) strip
became a prize in the
struggle between
Pulitzer and Hearst in
the New York
newspaper wars.
Outcault moved the
strip to Hearst's
papers after nine
months, where it
competed with a
version of itself.
Yellow Kid cartoonist
Richard Outcault
Muckrakers are journalists who seek out and expose
the misconduct of prominent people or of highprofile organizations; they emerged on the American
scene in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Crusaders
for social change, muckraking journalists wrote
articles not about news events, but about injustices
or abuses, bringing them to the attention of the
American public. Sometimes criticized for their
tactics, their work succeeded in raising widespread
awareness of social, economic, and political ills,
prompting a number of reforms, including passage
of pure food laws and antitrust legislation.
One of the most popular
reporters of era was a
woman named Elizabeth
Cochrane who wrote under
the name “Nellie Bly.” She
wrote with anger and
compassion. She wrote to
expose the many wrongs
that developed in
nineteenth century cities
after the industrial boom.
Most of her reporting was on
She directed her articles to
upper class women to open
their eyes and hearts to
their impoverished, hungry,
hopeless sisters. She felt
very strongly that women
and their issues were not
represented in newspapers
or any where else.
She wanted people to know
different women’s plights
and understand why some
became “fallen women." She
hoped that by reading her
articles other women would
want to help their sisters.
She wanted people to realize
the unfairness that women
were afforded at the turn of
the century.
She got a job on the
Pittsburgh Dispatch when
she wrote a furious letter
complaining about an
editorial that claimed that
women were good for little
but housework. She covered
social questions such as
divorce, slum life, and
conditions in Mexico for the
In 1887 she moved to
Joseph Pulitzer's New York
World, for which she
exposed the conditions in
which the insane lived by
pretending to be mad and
getting herself committed to
the asylum on Blackwell's
Island. She also investigated
sweat-shops tenements, the
world of petty crime and
Corps de Ballet by the same
The high point in her life,
however was the round-theworld trip, which she made
in 72 days, 6 hours,11
minutes and 14 seconds.
Joseph Pulitzer sent a
special train to meet her
return to San Francisco, and
she was greeted by
fireworks, gun salutes, brass
bands and parade on
In 1895 Nellie Bly married a
millionaire, Robert Seaman, 50
years older than herself, and
retired. She lost most of his
money after he died and in
1919 tried unsuccessfully to
make a comeback. She died in
Journalism does not stop
with newspapers…
Upton Sinclair is
actually responsible
for the journalist term
Muckracker when he
brought about
important changes in
American society.
His novel, "The Jungle," filled it with page after
page of nauseating detail he had researched about
the meat-packing industry, and dropped it on an
astonished nation in 1906.
An instant best-seller, Sinclair's book reeked with
the stink of the Chicago stockyards. He told how
dead rats were shoveled into sausage-grinding
machines; how bribed inspectors looked the other
way when diseased cows were slaughtered for
beef, and how filth and guts were swept off the
floor and packaged as "potted ham."
In short, "The Jungle" did as much as any
animal-rights activist of today to turn
Americans into vegetarians.
But it did more than that. Within months, the
aroused -- and gagging -- public demanded
sweeping reforms in the meat industry.
President Theodore Roosevelt was sickened
after reading an advance copy. He called upon
Congress to pass a law establishing the Food
and Drug Administration and, for the first time,
setting up federal inspection standards for meat.
Roosevelt was so taken with Sinclair that
he coined the term “muckrakers” to
describe him and other reformist
crusaders, even though the president’s
phrase was not meant to be wholly
Sinclair wanted to pave his way in
the literary world, but instead he
opened the door to a new type of
journalism that continues today.
He said, “I aimed at the public's
heart, and by accident I hit it in the
stomach.“ He was the first
American author to win Nobel prize
for literature!
Magazines are also an
important part of journalism,
and Henry Luce is an
important name in the
magazine industry.
Luce, who once held the role of a
newspaper reporter, broke away
from the world of newspaper.
He is the founder of Time
magazine, Fortune, Life and
Sports Illustrated! With the
exception of Life, these magazines
are still in high circulation today!
As the U.S. population in the
latter half of the 20th
century has shifted from
cities to suburbs, and with
the growth in competition
from other media, many
large city newspapers have
had to cease publication,
merge with their
competitors, or be taken over
by a chain of newspaper
publishers such as the
Gannett Company or
Knight-Ridder Inc.
In 1982, using satellite
transmission and color
presses, the Gannett chain
established a new national
newspaper, USA Today,
published and circulated
throughout the United
States, Europe, and Asia.
The Wall Street Journal, the
New York Times, and USA
Today are read all over the
country; small towns and
rural districts usually have
daily or weekly local papers
made up largely of
syndicated matter, with a
page or two of local news and
editorials. These local papers
are frequently influential
political organs.
As the U.S. population in the
latter half of the 20th
century has shifted from
cities to suburbs, and with
the growth in competition
from other media, many
large city newspapers have
had to cease publication,
merge with their
competitors, or be taken over
by a chain of newspaper
publishers such as the
Gannett Company or
Knight-Ridder Inc.
Since the invention of the
telegraph, which enormously
facilitated the rapid
gathering of news, the great
news agencies, such as
Reuters in England, Agence
France-Presse in France, and
Associated Press and United
Press International in the
United States, have sold their
services to newspapers and
to their associate members.
Improvements in
photocomposition and in
printing (especially the web
offset press), have enhanced
the quality of print and made
possible the publication of
huge editions at great speed.
Modern newspapers are
supported primarily by the
sale of advertising space.
Computer technology has
also had an enormous impact
on the production of news
and newspapers.
By the 1990s this technology
had also affected the nature
of newspapers, as the first
independent on-line daily
appeared on the Internet. By
the decade's end some 700
papers had web sites, some
of which carried news
gathered by their own staffs,
and papers regularly
scooped themselves by
publishing electronically
before the print edition