Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

What is Journalism?

Every morning, people across our country begin with the same ritual. They make their breakfast, brew their coffee, and sit down to read a newspaper. Beginning with the first page, they read the top stories of the day. From there, they read through the local stories and even visit some of the more light-hearted sections. Today, we have more than 1,400 newspapers in this country. Some of the more popular ones, like ‘USA Today’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal’, have millions of readers. We are a country that depends on journalism on a daily basis.

How did the newspaper become a part of our breakfast routine? How did journalism begin? In this lesson, we will discuss the history of journalism in America.

The Beginning of Journalism

Although newspapers did exist in the 18th century before the United States Constitution promised freedom of speech, or of the press, they were not like the newspapers we have today. Journalism in America really began with the Revolutionary War. During the War, the newspapers were not just for information, but a place for politics. The reporters wanted to be a part of the action and often shaped the stories with their own political opinions and parties.

Today we expect our newspapers to retell the facts of an event, but this was not true in early America. Even after the Revolutionary War, the journalists continued to retell stories and events through their own political opinions. As the United States debated the role of government in the new country, journalism became a part of the political divide by creating newspapers in favor of a large government or a small government.

By the late 18th century, the relationship between newspapers and politicians was complicated. The newspapers were very aggressive and often attacked political figures and government. At the same time, politicians really depended on newspapers for their elections. Because of this, it was fairly common for newspapers to receive financial backing from the very politicians they were writing about. While the politicians still believed in freedom of the press, it was becoming harder to deny that the press itself did not have an agenda when writing their stories.

19th Century Journalism

What changed this in the 19th century? Well, really growth. As America continued to grow and new technology was developed, it became less expensive to create a newspaper. New publishers wanted to try new things, and since they no longer depended on financial donations, they were able to be much more independent.

This transition in journalism began in 1835 with James Gordon Bennett’s ‘The Herald’. This newspaper, which sold for only a penny, liked stories that made big headlines. If there was a violent crime or murder, the story was normally found in ‘The Herald’. The more horrific the crime, the more ‘The Herald’ would report it. ‘The Herald’ helped pave the way for many parts of journalism that we see today. Bennett assigned reporters to certain parts of town, had them tell the stories while on the scene, and began to interview witnesses.

Throughout the 19th century, more newspapers were launched and new journalism explored. Many of these newspapers began to combine the characteristics of those before them. Newspapers, like ‘New York Tribune’ and ‘San Francisco Examiner’ used Bennett’s method of reporting headline stories, but also encouraged social and political reform. As the 19th century came to a close, the newspapers, now less controlled by politicians, still focused more on the editor’s political and social beliefs. The newspapers really mirrored the personality of the owners.

20th Century Journalism

Forward to the 20th century, the movement to the newspapers we have today really began because of advertisement. In the 19th century, production was less expensive. Because of this, the owners did not rely on revenue other than sales. As a result, the owners were able to shape the papers around their beliefs. They could sensationalize certain stories, draw an audience with similar interests, and even make themselves a part of the story.

However, as the cost of production increased, owners could no longer fund the newspapers alone. They began to look for advertisers to invest in their papers. And, as we all know, the advertisers were able to have control over the stories being reported. Sometimes this was small control, like making sure an article did not contradict a product being sold. Other times, it was larger control. The advertisers would have the newspaper follow a certain political opinion or report a particular study because it benefited their product.

Another big change in the 20th century was the joining of many papers. The low cost of the 19th century allowed many small newspapers to launch. However, as the cost increased, the smaller newspapers simply could not keep up. Larger newspapers began to buy the small ones, and our system of national and local newspapers formed. Once newspapers were reporting for entire states or regions, they could no longer focus on personal opinions or even sensational crime stories. The story had to be relevant for a much larger audience. While the newspapers at the end of the 20th century may have been a bit more boring to some, the reporting was much more neutral.

Journalism Today

How many times have you heard the expression print is dead? Newspapers today are in constant competition with the internet. Throughout the 20th century, the newspaper continuously changed with new technology. It was able to print more, use color, and include photography. All of these were positive changes; however, the internet is creating a new challenge for newspapers.

The advertisers, who were so important during the 20th century, no longer want to advertise in the newspapers. They can receive much more traffic by advertising on a web page. As ad sales decline, newspapers are struggling. In addition, people no longer buy newspapers. They use the Internet for their news. Many newspapers now are including an online edition, and some solely online newspapers have become very successful. As the 21st century continues, we will surely see more online growth!

Lesson Summary

Journalism has been a part of our country since the beginning. In the 18th century, newspapers were a place for politics. In the 19th century, James Gordon Bennett changed the political focus and began to report on crimes, and he also used techniques like assigning reporters to be on the scene, interviewing witnesses, and giving live accounts. Although the newspapers of the 19th century were less political, they were still controlled by the owners’ and editors’ political and social beliefs.

This began to change in the 20th century. As newspapers became more expensive to produce, owners began to seek out advertisers, who began to control the content of the stories. In addition, because the cost was too much for some, many small newspapers were bought by larger ones, creating a national press. Because stories had to be relevant to a larger audience, newspapers were much more neutral in their opinions.

Today’s newspapers have the challenge of the Internet. Many people today do not look at the newspaper as important as it once was. Although many newspapers now offer an online edition, there are still many changes happening to journalism today.

Lesson at a Glance

Journalism has evolved since its beginnings in the 18th century. Starting as a medium for politics and then advertising certain products and ideas, newspapers served as the source for informing the masses about events and ideas. Today, newspapers face the challenge of the Internet, where many people receive their news.

During the 19th century, newspapers and journalism started to take shape as we know them today.
Newspaper, journalism

Learning Outcome

After reviewing this lesson, you should be able to recount how journalism evolved from the 18th century through today.

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