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The first periodicals appeared in the United States at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The pioneer was called Public occurrences, and was issued in Boston in September, 1690. It was so radically democratic and outspoken that it was smothered by the magistrates on the day of its birth. The first permanent newspaper was the Boston news-letter, issued in April, 1704. With it newspaper reporting began. In the report of the execution of six pirates, the speeches, prayers, etc., were “printed as near as it could be taken in writing in the great crowd.”

The dates of the first issuing of newspapers in the original thirteen States are as follows: In Massachusetts, 1704; Pennsylvania, 1719; New York, 1725; Maryland, 1728; South Carolina, 1732 (the first newspaper issued south of the Potomac) ; Rhode Island, 1732; Virginia, 1736; Connecticut, 1755; North Carolina, 1755; New Hampshire, 1756; Delaware, 1761. The first daily newspaper was the Pennsylvania packet, or General Advertiser, published by John Dunlap, in 1784, and afterwards called the Daily Advertiser. The number of newspapers in 1775 was only thirty-four, with a total weekly circulation of 5,000 copies. In 1833 the first of the cheap or “penny” papers was issued in New York by Benjamin H. Day. It was called the Sun, and immediately acquired an enormous circulation. It was at first less than a foot square. In 1901 the total number of newspapers and periodicals in the United States was 20,879, comprising 2,158 dailies, 49 tri-weeklies, 472 semi-weeklies, 14,827 weeklies, 2 tri-monthlies, 60 biweeklies, 275 semi-monthlies, 2,791 monthlies, 2 semi-quarterlies, 68 bi-monthlies, and 175 quarterlies.

American vs. Foreign newspapers.

Edwin L. Godkin, for many years editor of the New York Evening post and The nation, contributes the following comparison of the American and foreign newspaper [447] press and resume of the development of modern journalism:

It is now more than fifty years since Tocqueville compared a newspaper to a man standing at an open window and bawling to passers-by in the street. Down to his time the newspaper press in all countries in Europe, and almost down to his time in America, was looked upon as simply, or mainly, an ill-informed and often malignant critic of the government. The fearless and independent press of our great-grandfathers was a press that exposed the shortcomings of men in power in a style in which De Foe and Junius

Press-room of a modern newspaper.

set the fashion. The ideal editor of those days was a man who expected to be locked up on account of the boldness of his invectives against the government, but did not mind it. His news-gathering was so subordinate to his criticism that he was hardly thought of as a news-gatherer. Tocqueville's man bawling out of the window was not bawling out the latest intelligence. He was bawling about the blunders and corruption of the ministry, and showing them the way to manage the public business, but at the same time making the management of the public business difficult by spreading discontent and suspicion among the people. Crabbe, in his poem, The newspaper, produced in 1784, scourges the weekly journals of the day for their assiduity in collecting gossip and scandal, but his severest satire is reserved for their comments and criticism. “Blind themselves,” he says,

“these erring guides hold out
Alluring lights to lead us far about.”

Since that time a great change has come over the relation of the press to the public. The news-gathering function, which the American press was the first to bring into prominence, has become the most important one, and the critical function has relatively declined. But the most momentous alteration in the position of the newspaper press has been wrought by the increase in the number of readers. Since 1848 every country in the civilized world has been devoting itself to the work of popular education, with the result of increasing tenfold the number of persons knowing how to read and write and cipher, but knowing very little more. Contemporaneously with this has been the improvement in the means of travel and of transmitting intelligence, thus literally [448] making news-gathering a new and important calling. What was at the beginning of this century the occupation of gossips in taverns and at street corners, had by the middle of the century risen to the rank of a new industry, requiring large capital and a huge plant. We read a great deal about the wonderful growth of the woollen and cotton manufacture since the application of steam to the powerloom and the spinning-jenny; but it is safe to say that these things, could they have foreseen them, would not have amazed Burke and Johnson nearly as much as the conversion of “news,” as they understood it, into the raw material of such factories as the great newspaper offices of our day. That “coffee-house babble” could ever be made to yield huge dividends and build up great fortunes is something they would have refused to believe.

Of course, this development of newsgathering side by side with the criticism and comment took place with different degrees of rapidity in different countries. The news-gathering grew in the direct ratio of the spread of the reading art and of the extension of the suffrage, and, therefore, grew more rapidly in the United States than anywhere else. Every man conducts his business under the influence of some one dominating theory as to what will prove most profitable. Accordingly, newspaper publishers early made their choice between the “leading article” and the news-letter as means of pushing their fortunes by extending their circulation. Few or none attached the same importance to both. As a general rule, the American publisher devoted himself to news, and the European to criticism or comment. The former found a much larger public which wanted news, and cared comparatively little for criticism or literary form; the latter found his account in catering for a smaller public, and one more exacting in the matter of taste. The spread of the reading art in America was far more rapid from the beginning than in Europe, and brought into the market at a very early period in the history of the newspaper a body of readers who enjoyed seeing in print all the local gossip—collected, however, from a much wider area— which they used to hear at the tavern, the store, and the church door. European countries have been nearly 100 years behind the United States in the production of this class of readers and in the provision of newspapers for their entertainment. In fact, it is only within the last thirty years that they have appeared in very considerable numbers in England. and they can hardly be said to have appeared yet in France, Germany, or Italy.

This difference in conditions has gone far to determine the difference in the place accorded in the two hemispheres to the “editorial article.” In spite of the influence achieved by the London Times through this species of composition, and the great excellence which editorial writing has since attained in other English journals, France—and for this purpose France means Paris—must be considered its favorite habitat, the country in which it has carried the most weight, secured the largest amount of talent, and had the most care bestowed upon it. French journals, even now, can hardly be called newspapers in the American sense at all. In the earlier period, between the Restoration and 1848, they did even less in the way of gathering news than they do now. In fact, the idea of news-gathering as a business, or of the importance from a commercial point of view of having news accurate, has not to this day entered the journalistic mind in France. The French reporter or correspondent not only strays from accuracy—our own do a great deal of this—but he sees no reason to be ashamed of it. In the war of 1870 the letters from the scene of operations printed in the Paris newspapers were to a large extent as pure romance as the Feuilleton, and one of the tasks which the moralists of the period used to perform was calling the attention of the correspondents to the greater seriousness and regard for truth which their English brethren brought to their work. But they made little or no impression, and the reason was, in the main, that the French newspaper reader cares comparatively little for the news, and cares a great deal for the finish, or sprightliness, or drollery, as the case may be, of the editorial article. Men like Armand Carrel, Marc Girardin, Thiers, and Guizot, who either wielded great influence or rose into [449] political power through journalism under the Restoration and the Monarchy of July, owed nothing whatever to what we call journalistic enterprise. They won fame as editorial writers simply.

There could hardly be a more striking illustration of the fondness of the French public for editorial writing than the place which John Lemoine held for over thirty years in French esteem, owing to his articles in the Journal des Debats. It is no injustice to say that their merit lies mainly in their style. His original contributions to the political thought of his time were of but small importance, if, indeed, of any importance. But his elegance, his polish, the balance of his periods, the care and gravity and judicialmindedness with which he states his case and extracts the wisdom of the occasion, furnished a rare aesthetic treat every morning, or three or four mornings in the week, to two generations of Frenchmen. No such eminence has been achieved by a journalist in any other country, and he is in the French mind the type of the journalist in the best sense of that term.

Of course, there are in Paris as great varieties of journalists as among ourselves; but they all try to achieve success by means of editorial writing of some kind, and not by news-gathering. This accounts for the facility with which new papers are started in Paris, and the great success which they sometimes achieve with hardly any investment of capital. The proprietors do not contemplate the collection of news as any part of the enterprise, and consequently have not to provide for the cost of telegraphing and reporting. They rely for their success on a leading article of some sort, or on the feuilleton, or on the theatrical and art criticisms. The stories which Parisian journalists tell each other in their cafes are not of their prowess as reporters, but of the sensation they have made and the increase in circulation they have achieved by some sort of editorial comment or critique; the American passion for and glory in “beats” —meaning superiority over rivals in getting hold of news—they do not understand, or thoroughly despise.

In England the equilibrium between the two functions of the newspaper has been fairly maintained, owing to the peculiar circumstances of the country. Its great foreign trade and its large colonial possessions have, ever since the newspaper took its rise, given early and accurate intelligence a great commercial value, and the proprietors of leading journals have from the first carefully cultivated it. The story of Rothschild laying the foundation of his great fortune by being the first to reach London with the news of Waterloo is an illustration of the importance which reliable foreign intelligence has had, ever since the beginning of the nineteenth century, for the British mercantile men and politicians. What is going on abroad all over the world is of more importance in London than in any other place on earth, and it is fully as important for commercial purposes that the news should be accurate as that it should be early. The Times, therefore, which has furnished British journalism with its model, has, from the first, cultivated accuracy with great care, and with corresponding gain in weight and authority. In truth, this authority was never seriously shaken or impaired until the Pigott affair.

The role of the American press in the growth of journalism has been distinctly the development of news-gathering as a business, leaving to the work of comment only a subordinate place, and, in fact, one might say a comparatively insignificant one. In American newspapers, too, the field in which news may be found has been greatly enlarged; a much larger class of facts is drawn on for letters and despatches. News in the journalistic sense has never been clearly defined. Taken literally, news is everything that a man has not already heard; but no journal undertakes to supply him with news of this sort. The line has to be drawn somewhere between news which may be usefully and legitimately served up to him on his breakfast-table, and news which would either do him no good or to which he has no fair claim. When enterprise and business competition are allowed to trace this line without the control of either law or morality, it is sure to have as many zigzags in it as there are journals, and it is equally sure that the commercial result will largely determine the question of legitimacy in the public eye. In a commercial country, it is inevitable [450] that the acquisition of money should be the generally recognized, as it is the most easily recognized, sign of success. As a consequence of this, the modes of acquiring it which only offend against taste or discretion, and are not legally criminal, are treated with considerable indulgence, or even, in some cases, call forth admiration. Nothing is more unreasonable, in truth, than the impatience of the American public with the excesses of the news-gathering department of American journalism, considering the enormous rewards in money, and even in social consideration, which it pays and has paid to those who work this field with least regard to the conventions.

There has been from time to time considerable discussion as to whether newspapers are literature, as if the term literature could be properly confined to writings possessing the qualities of permanence and of artistic finish. Unhappily, literature is whatever large bodies of people read. Newspapers may be bad literature, but literature they are. The hold they have taken, and are taking, as the reading matter of the bulk of the population in all the more highly civilized countries of the world, is one of the most serious facts of our time. It is not too much to say that they are, and have been for the last half-century, exerting more influence on the popular mind and the popular morals than either the pulpit or the book press has exerted in 500 years. They are now shaping the social and political world of the twentieth century. The new generation which the public schools are pouring out in tens of millions is getting its tastes, opinions, and standards from them, and what sort of world this will produce 100 years hence nobody knows.

One of the most important peculiarities of newspapers is that but very few who read them much ever read anything else. The notion that a confirmed newspaper-reader can turn to books whenever he pleases, or that the newspaper-reading as a general rule forms a taste for any book-reading, except perhaps novels, finds little support in observed facts. The power of continuous attention which book-reading calls for—attention of the eye as well as the mind—is acquired, like the power of protracted bodily exertion of any kind, by continual training, ending in the formation of habit. Anybody who neglects it in youth, or lays it aside for a considerable period at any time of life, finds it all but impossible to take it up again. The busy man who eschews literature, or postpones culture, until he retires from active industry, usually finds book-reading the most potent soporific he can turn to. Now, nothing can be more damaging to the habit of continuous attention than newspaper-reading. One of its attractions to the indolent man or woman, or the man or woman who has had little or no mental training, is that it never requires the mind to be fixed on any topic more than three or four minutes, and that every topic furnishes a complete change of scene. The result for the habitual newspaper-reader is a mental desultoriness, which ends by making a book on any one subject more or less repulsive. So that the kind of reading newspapers lead up to, for those who wish for more substantial mental food, is, at most, books or periodicals made up of short essays, which will not keep the attention strained for more than half an hour at most.

This view of the effect of newspaper reading is not weakened by anything we know of the increase in the number of books and book-readers which we see all over the world. The number of books, serious as well as light, undoubtedly increases rapidly, and so does the number of those who read them; but they do not increase in anything like the same ratio as the number of newspaper-readers. They form a constantly diminishing proportion of the reading population of all the great nations, and their immediate influence on politics and society is undergoing the same relative decline. Even books of farreaching sociological interest, like Darwin's, or Spencer's, or Mill's, have to undergo a prolonged filtration through the newspaper press before they begin to affect popular thought or action. In this interval it is by no means the philosophers and men of science who always command the most respectful hearing. The editor may crow over them daily for years, and carry his readers with him, before their authority is finally recognized as paramount. Some curious illustrations of this [451] have been furnished by our own currency and silver discussions, in which the newspapers had their own way, and the “bookmen” were objects of general contempt for some time before the hard facts of human experience were able to reach the masses.

Side by side with this segregation of the newspaper-reader from the book-reader, there has grown up a deep and increasing scorn on the part of the bookreader and book-maker for the man who reads nothing but the newspapers, and gets his facts and opinions from them. This is true to-day of every civilized country. Go into a circle of scientific or cultivated men in any field, in America, or France, or Germany, or Italy, and you will have the mental food which the newspapers supply to the bulk of the population treated with ridicule and contempt, the authority of a newspaper as a joke, and journalism used as a synonym for shallowness, ignorance, and blundering. What the journalists oppose to all this is, usually accounts of their prodigious circulation and large pecuniary receipts, and their close contact with the practical business of life. But this mutual hostility of the two agencies which most powerfully affect popular thought, and shape the conduct of both nations and men, cannot but be regarded with great concern. Their reconciliation—that is, the conversion of the newspaper into a better channel of communication to the masses of the best thought and most accurate knowledge of the time—is one of the problems, and perhaps the most serious one, that the coming century will have to solve.

It would be very difficult to forecast now the precise manner in which this problem will be attacked, or the exact kind of society or government which the newspaper, as we know it, will, if it be not transformed, end by creating. It would, perhaps, be going too far to ascribe to newspapers the place in shaping national character which Fletcher of Saltoun ascribed to singers in that much-hackneyed saying of his. We cannot say, “Let me make the newspapers of a country and I do not care who makes its laws.” But that newspapers have an increasing influence on legislation, and that legislation affects manners and ideas, there can be no question. Our society is, however, acted on by so many agencies that he would be a bold man who should as yet undertake to calculate closely the effects of any one of them.

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