Three Eras Of Newspapers

The first era of newspapers which never truly disappeared was the Partisan Press. The term basically implies the press is biased to one party in the information in their paper. The partisan press was very informative and direct, but all was starch and nothing very distinguished. The content surrounded commerce and politics – that was it. While most of the paper discussed prices, advertising, and shipping news, the editorials are what truly stood out. The editorial section was strongly partisan and at times, highly tempered. The editors would use this section to attack other newspapers, political groups, and political characters. Containing this small amount of content variety, rather, lack of variety, the partisan press’s audience was made up of the mercantile and political elites. Partly because the information was directed only at them and partly because the papers were very expensive, costing readers six cents an issue (when the average weeks’ pay was only 85 cents). The other odd thing about the distribution of the partisan papers was that you could not pick up a copy at your local barbershop. The partisan press papers were sold mainly by subscription only. As a result, this created a huge gap between the political and elite with the commoners. However, this wouldn’t last.

The second era of the newspapers was the introduction of the Penny Press, the gap closer between the political and elite with the masses. Due to new fast presses, tens of thousands of papers could be printed off every day at low cost. The excess of newspapers meant the distribution of them had to be refigured. The party press papers began to have an economic circulation rather than a political one, meaning that print provided information that would appeal to people, humans, morals, as opposed to merchants and business men. As a result the average Joe, the community member, basically everyone wanted to purchase a paper. Luckily they could because penny press papers were cheap. Since the penny press papers no longer made the majority of their money through subscriptions, they had to incorporate ads. Advertising became an exchange rather than something which was viewed as subjective and unfair. Prior to the penny press, ads were frowned upon. But since papers had to work a new way to make money, they were able to make money by charging higher prices for advertising since the papers had a strong circulation. Now that the masses were well informed, they sought out entertainment. And they found it.

The third era of newspapers was the most entertaining to say the least. The third era was the era of Yellow Journalism which is a type of journalism that presents very little and rarely genuine researched news or accurate reports.  The premise behind it was to sell more newspapers at any expense (of their credibility). Newspapers using yellow journalism (notoriously William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer) relied on using eye-catching headlines and sensationalizing banal news. Those who would go out and obtain these bits of information (if you can call it that, I prefer “story ideas,” not actual information) were called muckrakers. A muckraker is a person who investigates and exposes issues of corruption and venality. As a result, the newspapers content contained crime and scandal stories, gossip, and fraud. While the newspapers would also report on international affairs, they presented the “news” in the same false-glorifying way as news at home. The content was created to provide entertainment, for it to be “aesthetically informative.” In regards to advertising, the more newspapers that are sold, the higher one can charge for advertising. Pulitzer sold advertising at fixed prices this way. He also abandoned the act of penalizing advertisers who used illustrations or broke column rules. This was a major change in the advertising world. Up until now most businesses and newspapers were hostile to advertisers. Since money from newspaper distribution was made primarily from advertisements, Pulitzer also began charging only two cents per issue and giving readers more pages than other two-cent issues that were sold. The goal was to sell newspapers to anyone and everyone through catching their eye, offering it to them at a cheap price, and entertaining them. The era of yellow journalism may not be the last era, but given the introduction of all the new technologies, it was the last most prevalent one in regards to newspapers.

Garth Beyer

Garth Beyer is a Madison-based writer and Public Relations Strategist focused on telling stories, running through trend-making PR strategies and trying new things in life.

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