Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/December 1899/Development of the American Newspaper
|DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN NEWSPAPER.|
By WALTER L. HAWLEY,
OF THE NEW YORK EVENING SUN.
At the beginning of the present century the newspapers published in the United States numbered 200—one for each 26,450 of population—while at the present time the total of regular publications slightly exceeds 20,000—one for each 350 inhabitants of the country; and in that growth and development of the business is represented more of science and art, more of physical ingenuity and mental activity, than in any other line of human endeavor. One hundred years ago the publication of a newspaper did not rank as a business, and the preparation of its contents was regarded as a pastime or the indulgence of a whim, rather than a profession. At the end of the century, journalism is the history of the world written day by day, the chief medium of enlightenment for the masses, the universal forum of scholar, sage, and scientist. As a business enterprise, the newspaper of to-day commands unlimited capital, and as a profession it ranks second to none.
For three centuries and a half following Gutenberg's invention of type little progress was made in the art of printing, and the production of a newspaper in this country in 1800 was accomplished with crude machinery and involved much slow and difficult hand labor. The printing was done on wooden presses of primitive pattern, the type was large and ill formed, the paper used was in many cases inferior to the lowest grade made at the present time, and the production of a large number of copies of any issue was out of the question. No attempt was made in this country to publish a daily paper until 1784, and in 1800 daily editions were issued only in four or five of the larger cities.
The publications of that period were not newspapers in the sense in which the word is now used, because no particular effort was made to present an account of the happenings of the day. Notices of the arrival and departure of ships, time tables of mail coaches, and brief announcements of matters of political interest filled the limited space devoted to domestic news. Foreign news consisted entirely of matter reprinted from the English journals received by sailing vessels, and therefore weeks or months old when it appeared. The wooden presses used a hundred years ago were operated entirely by hand. After the type had been set it was placed in a frame or "form," with little or no regard to artistic arrangement of headlines or displayed matter. To print the edition, the "form" was placed on the bed of the press and ink spread over the type by the use of hand rollers. The white paper was then dampened with water, sheet by sheet, laid over the stationary "form," and the impression was made by pulling down the upper part of the press with a lever. This work was so slow that a circulation of three or four
|From the New York Gazette and General Advertiser of January 1, 1800.|
hundred copies of a daily newspaper would severely tax the capacity of the press room. The weekly publications were as a rule limited to about the same figures, because the entire mechanical part of production devolved upon one man, who was often owner and editor as well as printer. Some iron presses were imported from England in 1810, and in 1817 George Clymer, of Philadelphia, invented a lever press that was a marked improvement over the crude machines then in general use, reducing the manual labor required and increasing the speed with which printed papers could be turned out. The first power press used in this country was invented by Daniel Treadwell, of Boston, in 1822, and operated by-the American Bible Society, the power being furnished by a team of mules. These presses were not adapted to newspaper work, and the first considerable advance in the mechanical part of the business was made in 1829 and 1830, when a Washington hand press was invented. Seventeen years later a cylinder power press was perfected by Richard M. Hoe, and the mechanical ability to produce periodicals was more than doubled; but during the time when American ingenuity developed the steam engine, the cotton gin, the sewing machine, and the electric telegraph, the progress made in the mechanism of newspaper making was comparatively insignificant. The process of stereotyping was introduced into this country from England in 1813, and a year later the New Testament was printed from plates, but the discovery was not utilized in the publication of newspapers until 1861.
In the first half of the century journalism did not at any time rank as a profession requiring special training, and capacity, and the returns of the counting room were so meager, the cost of material so high, and the appliances in the mechanical department so imperfect, that the publication of newspapers rose only by slow degrees to recognition as a business enterprise in which capital might seek investment with fair prospect of a satisfactory return. Modeled after English publications, the early American newspapers depended, for whatever of reputation or success they achieved, upon the fame and ability of the editor. The reporting of current events without comment was a secondary feature of the daily papers, and in the weekly publications it was not attempted. Before the days of railroads and prompt and reliable mail service, communication between men in public life and, in fact, all persons of education, was chiefly by letter. The custom grew into a fixed habit, and to a large extent influenced the character of the newspapers published prior to 1850. The editor addressed himself directly to his readers through long editorials upon topics in which he was interested, and his publication was in reality a mere instrument for expression of opinions. Public men and politicians were encouraged to write letters for publication upon public questions, and a long communication from a man of national reputation was regarded by the editor as matter of far more value to his journal than any amount of news of the events of the day.
The organization and development of political parties in the early part of the second quarter of the century resulted in a rapid increase in the number of newspapers throughout the country. Party leaders found that they could reach a greater number of citizens by means of published letters and speeches than by the primitive process of campaigning by easy stages from one State or county to another. From writing personal letters to friends in their districts, senators and representatives in Congress found that they could keep their constituents better informed of the progress of legislation and politics by means of signed statements in the press of their respective States. The party organ and the personal journal were the immediate natural results of this condition of public life and politics. Every secular journal supported some political party or organization without qualification, and there was little or no independence of the press. The editor
found his subscribers among the members of his own party, and often looked to the organization or the candidate for financial support. Papers were established and editors hired by parties, factions, and individual leaders to advocate some particular plan of finance or tariff, or some general policy for the nation or State. During this stage of American journalism the influence of a paper depended largely upon the reputation, individuality, and force of character of the editor. He needed not to possess any particular qualification for the work, except a general knowledge of the affairs on which he was to write and a command of vigorous language to compel attention to his utterances. For many years the majority of the periodicals of the country, daily and weekly, were critical reviews of the events of the time, rather than mediums for the spread of general information. News of important happenings at home spread through all the States ahead of the circulation of the papers, and the people looked to the latter for review and comment upon events, rather than for detailed accounts of the occurrences. Foreign affairs, as reported in the English publications received in this country, took precedence in the classification of news in the journals of the first half of the century, and local events, often matters that were subsequently recognized as of great historical value, were briefly and too often imperfectly recorded. It is a matter to be regretted that in the days when American statesmen and orators were making history for the world, when the new republic, having passed beyond the stage of experiment, was advancing with prodigious strides toward glorious achievements in material development, the journals of the country kept but an imperfect and often inaccurate record of events that should have been reported in full.
During the first forty years of the present century there was no system of collecting the news for publication, and the capital invested in the newspaper business was insufficient to permit of any extra outlay to obtain reports of events occurring at a distance in advance of the regular mails. Such reports as were obtained were usually voluntary contributions written by a friend of the editor, and often colored or distorted according to the prejudice of the writer. These letters were, almost without exception, semi-editorial in character, the writers indulging freely in comment and expression of opinion upon the event they attempted to record, so that no political or public matter was reported entirely free from partisan coloring. The drivers of mail coaches, the captains of coastwise or river vessels, strolling peddlers, lawyers, surveyors,and wandering missionaries, who made long journeys into the interior and from town to town, were the news reporters of early
days. When they arrived in a city or town they would tell the latest news from the places they had visited, and the next issue of the local paper would contain a story beginning, "The Rev. Mr. Bland, the traveling missionary, relates," etc., or, "Captain Smith, of the schooner, reports having heard," etc. Information received in this way might relate to Indian uprisings, fires, floods, crimes, accidents, or political events; but in every case the published account would be interspersed with opinions of the narrator and the comments of the editor who prepared the story for publication. For news of events happening in the larger cities, the journals of the first half of the century depended almost entirely on reprinting from exchanges. They had no regular correspondents anywhere, and a paper published in New York would reprint from the papers of Boston and Philadelphia such of the news of those cities as impressed the editor as being of more than local interest. During the War of 1812, the subsequent Indian wars, and the conflict with Mexico, news of battles and movements of armies in the field was obtained by the slow process of waiting for official reports to the Government or private letters from officers and men at the front. The Mexican War stimulated the public demand for news, increased, the circulation of newspapers, and did more than any other event up to that time to arouse the editors of the country to the fact that the people wanted early and complete information of what was going on in the world, rather than individual opinions on general problems. While that struggle was in progress the arrival of the weekly mail in a remote village was an event of importance. The inhabitants would gather in large numbers at the post office, and the meager war news contained in the newspapers would be read aloud. The postmaster or some subscriber to a paper would often post a copy of the latest journal in some conspicuous place in the town, and from that simple beginning there was developed the newspaper bulletin board, where the public may obtain brief information of great events before the full report can be put in type.
After the division of the voters of the country into organized political parties, the tariff, banking and currency, the acquisition of additional territory, and States rights developed into great national questions, precipitating prolonged and heated discussion by the statesmen of that period. This condition stimulated the growth of a certain class of newspapers, and brought into prominence many writers of ability. The statesmen and politicians of that time turned to the press as an available and valuable medium through which to disseminate arguments. They sought to convince rather than to inform the public, and the journalism of that period made no substantial progress except as an instrument for the development and exploitation of writers of force and influence. Whatever power the press exerted in shaping events, whatever it accomplished in swaying the public mind in the days when nullification was scotched and territorial expansion was accepted as a fixed policy of the majority, should be credited to the genius and individuality of the leading writers of that time, rather than to a full presentation of facts. The years of agitation of the question of slavery still further developed individuality in journalism. The newspaper became an instrument for educating the people on certain public questions, and an influence upon public opinion by means of editorial writing. That was the period of so-called great editors, of whom Horace Greeley may be mentioned as a conspicuous example, who made and unmade politicians with their praise or criticism, who shaped the policy of political parties, controlled conventions and nominated candidates, changed the current of their country's history at critical points, and in many ways wielded an influence in public affairs greater than that of the leading statesmen. The editor of that time was greater than his newspaper, and the power of the press was in reality the force of character of the individual exerted through the instrument within his control.
From 1830 to 1860 the progress made in the mechanical department of the business was slow and unimportant in comparison with recent inventions. Cylinder presses came into general use for the printing of daily papers, but the weekly and monthly publications continued to use the primitive hand machines. The speed of press-work was still limited to a few hundred copies per hour, so that an extensive circulation could not be supplied even if there had been a demand for it. The white paper used was still made entirely of rags, and most of the material was imported from Austria and Italy. The cost of production was high, and few newspapers in the United States were published at a fair profit. The uncertainty of the financial returns from the business greatly retarded its development. Inventors found that their ingenuity would receive more substantial rewards in other fields, and editors and publishers were rarely practical men who could discover imperfections in mechanism and suggest improvements in their own. shops. Throughout the first half of the century most of the improved methods of printing were developed in the establishments of book and job printers. There new presses and all new mechanical devices were first installed, and the newspaper followed, instead of leading, in the work of material progress in the art.
To the New York Herald is generally credited the departure from old-time methods that resulted in the creation of newspapers devoted entirely to the publication of news, the reporting of the happenings of the world day by day. The innovation was not well received by the editors, who believed that the public cared more for opinions than a record of events. The new method proved popular, however, and the development of the newspaper from the personal journal and party organ dates from that time. The founder of the Herald and the new School of journalism spent money to obtain the news of the World ahead of the ordinary channels of communication. He established a system of special couriers, employed correspondents, and made the collection of reports of events of general interest a matter of first importance in the business of making a newspaper. Other editors followed the new movement slowly, and often with much doubt and hesitation, but those who stood still and refused to supply their readers with the news were in time compelled to go out of the business.
When the civil war began the new order of journalism had progressed far enough to create a general demand for a full report of the progress of that great conflict. All the larger cities of the country were connected by railroads and telegraph lines, the political agitation for five years prior to the beginning of hostilities had aroused the people to a feeling of intense interest in the struggle, the circulation of the daily papers had increased almost to the limit of their mechanical capacity, and every condition favored a rapid development of the business with a certainty of profitable returns. The leading editors of the country still exerted a far reaching influence in public affairs, and they were consulted by
the highest offices of the Government; but the time had come when the people wanted the news, rather than individual opinions. American genius and ingenuity responded promptly and adequately to the demand, and from the time of the civil war the development of the newspaper has been a marvel of science and art. The telegraph came into general use for the transmission of news, correspondents and artists were sent to the front with all the armies, the men employed in Washington to write their own views of public questions were instructed to send to their papers only a record of the great events then transpiring around them, and in a month, or at most a year, American journalism was well advanced upon a new era of marvelous development. The time when the opinions, the power in phraseology, or the individuality of one man could alone make a daily newspaper a financial, literary, or political success had passed. The press had become an institution, journalism a profession, and the publication of newspapers a practical business requiring and rewarding enterprise and sagacity.
With the sudden demand for more papers came rapid progress in the mechanical department of the business. Double cylinder presses capable of printing twenty thousand papers an hour were soon perfected, folding machines came into general use, stereotyping was employed to save time, labor, and wear of type, white paper was made from wood pulp at greatly reduced cost, and the progress in all departments of the business was by leaps and bounds until every demand was more than supplied and new expectations created. From that time forward invention kept pace with every increase of circulation. As soon as one press was found inadequate or imperfect, the manufacturers were ready to set up a faster and better one. As competition reduced the selling price of the newspaper, invention supplied every demand for the material of production at a reduced rate. The impetus to circulation imparted by the civil war created a new reading public, which rapidly grew to include every person who could read and a demand for all the news of the world once created would not be denied. The collection of news was quickly reduced to a system and perfected, until to-day no event of importance occurring in any part of the world is omitted from the daily record of current history.
The great cost of collecting news at the front and transmitting by telegraph full reports of battles during the civil war caused certain newspapers in New York city to enter into an arrangement to receive reports in duplicate and share expenses. Then the cost was further reduced by selling the news to papers in other cities. That was the beginning of the Associated Press, a plan of newspaper combination that ultimately made the buying and selling of news a great commercial enterprise. Within a few years after the close of the war this system had been developed until practically all the daily newspapers of the country were interested in it or subscribers to the news collected and sold. This feature of the business continued to grow until agencies for the collection and transmission of news were established throughout the world. Similar associations were formed in England and on the continent of Europe, and news exchanged with the American organization. In the United States the business was developed until newspapers of particular sections of the country and even those of single States formed associations on the principle of mutual benefit for the collection of full reports of all important events within the territory where they circulated. At the present time the system has been perfected until the great news agencies of the country receive reports of important events from every quarter of the globe with a degree of promptness and accuracy rendered possible only by thoroughness of organization and the constant exercise of the keenest intelligence. The collection of all the news of the world would not be possible under any other plan, but the American newspapers, having created a demand for the news, were the first to devise a system of obtaining it promptly at a cost that made possible the publication of daily papers at a profit in almost every town in the country. Brief reports of all important events are transmitted by cable or telegraph to a central office in New York, Washington, or Chicago, where they are condensed or elaborated, as occasion may require, and then sent out over special telegraph wires to papers all over the country that are subscribers to the service. The larger papers of the country, however, do not rely upon this service alone. They are represented by special correspondents not only in all the chief cities of the United States, but in London. Paris, Berlin, and other news centers of the Old World.
The development of the newspaper into a medium for recording day by day every event of human interest was so rapid during the civil war and the stirring times immediately thereafter that many faults of form and detail remained. The journalism of that period was a new departure, and the men who created it had no precedent to guide them, but all the time there was a steady and intelligent effort to improve in all directions. The efforts of the leading men in the profession, influenced by conditions and surroundings, resulted in the creation of what were for a time known as schools of journalism—that is, one man set up an ideal, andanother man strived to create a journal of another character. The
Octuple Stereotype Perfecting Press and Folders (printing on both sides of the paper). Capacity 96,000 4-, 6-, or 8-page papers per hour; down to 24,000 24-page papers per hour. A, paper rolls (Webb's), sometimes five miles long; B, printing cylinders. each one carrying sixteen plates (pages); C, blanket or impression cylinders; D, inking motion (fountain and inking rollers); F; folding mechanism or formers (four of these); G, deliveries (four of these); H, controlling lever; I, bar slitting, pasting, collating, and collecting devices (between press and folders).
(We are indebted to the courtesy of R. Hoe & Co. for permission to reproduce this photograph. This picture and the succeeding one represent the most powerful and complete printing presses which have been constructed up to date.)
aim of all was to publish the general news of the day, but political influences were still strong enough to control editorial policy, and ultra-partisan and sectional views were incorporated in the record of events. There were still editors of great power and influence in politics and public affairs, and they tried to shape the current of the new condition by the force of editorial writing. A number of editors, of both the old and new order, for a time followed the policy of subordinating to partisan politics all other features of the newspaper. They sought to make the press the dominant influence in politics, and to do that they presented in their journals only one side of public and party questions. They undertook to think and to reason for their readers, and their partisan and sectional views were reflected in the news columns of their papers. So long as party feeling ran high this style of journalism was popular and successful, but the newspaper, being in the nature of an educator of the masses, soon set the people to thinking for themselves, and created a demand for the news of public and political events without the color of individual opinion. The change from intense partisanship to partial or complete independence of editorial utterance has come slowly, and is still under way. To-day there is no great daily newspaper in the United States so entirely subservient to a political party as to support any man or measure without question or protest. Politicians fear this spirit of independence, and therein lies the secret of the great power of the press in public affairs. The most powerful and successful journals are those that combine absolute fairness and honesty with independence.
So-called schools of journalism, in the rapid development of the profession during the past twenty years, have merged into one general system or plan, which is to get all the news and publish it. Journals may be graded or classified by their treatment of news and their judgment as to the intelligence and moral character of the reading public.
A detailed record of the development of the mechanical part of the newspaper business during the past thirty years would be almost a synopsis of all progress in science and art. The newspaper printing press of to-day, which prints, cuts, folds, and counts ninety-six thousand papers per hour, with one man to operate it, is the mechanical wonder of the age. It is justly regarded as the greatest piece of machinery that the ingenuity of man has yet devised. Type is no longer set by hand in the making of a newspaper, the letters being formed from the metal direct and cast in finished lines by machinery.Studying the perfection and magnitude of the newspaper
Sextuple Stereotype Perfecting Press and Folders (with printing three additional colors on outside pages). It prints per hour 48,000 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, or 12-page papers, 36,000 16 page papers, or 24,000 14-, 16-, 20-, or 24-page papers—all delivered folded pasted and counted. Also magazines with pages half the size of the newspaper pages, one half the pages printed in one color, at the rate of 48,000 of 8, 12, 16, 20, or 24 pages, and 24,000 of 28, 32, 40, or 48 pages delivered folded to page size, cut open at the heads, bound with wire staples, and counted.
(We are indebted to the courtesy of R. Hoe & Co. for permission to reproduce this photograph.)
printing press of to-day it is difficult to realize that little more than half a century of time and invention stand between this piece of mechanism, that seems to work with human intelligence, and the Washington hand press, upon which the production of printed sheets was a matter of slow and arduous labor. The great metropolitan newspapers of to-day are printed by monster machines weighing thirty tons, composed of four thousand separate pieces of steel, iron, brass, wood, and cloth. In the great printing-press factory of R. Hoe & Co. eighteen months' time is required to build one of the modern presses, and the cost of it would have more than paid for all the newspaper printing presses in use in the United States at the beginning of the century. These monster machines are known as quadruple presses, which means that four complete presses have been built into one. When in operation, white paper is fed to them automatically from rolls, and this paper, with a speed greater than the eye can follow, is converted into the finished newspaper, printed on both sides, cut into sheets, pasted together, folded, counted, and deposited in files of fifty or one hundred at one side of the press. White paper is fed to the press from two points, and finished newspapers are delivered at two places on the opposite side. An idea of the speed with which the work is done may be gained by watching the printed papers fall from the folder. They drop so fast that the eye, no matter how well trained, can not count them. These presses have a capacity of ninety-six thousand four-, six-, or eight-page papers per hour, and forty-eight thousand ten-, twelve-, or sixteen-page papers. Their mechanism is so perfect and so carefully adjusted that the breaking of a narrow band of tape in the folder, the loosening of a nut, the slightest bending of a rod, friction in a bearing, or any other derangement, no matter how slight, is instantly apparent to the skilled machinist in charge.
The white paper used in making the newspapers of to-day is manufactured from wood pulp and is put up in long rolls, wound about an iron cylinder that can be adjusted in place at one end of the press. These rolls contain from two to four miles of paper, and weigh from eight hundred to twelve hundred pounds each. As soon as one roll is used up another is lifted into place, the loose ends of the two are pasted together, and, after a stop of less than two minutes, the great press is again belching forth finished newspapers at the rate of sixteen hundred a minute, or two hundred and sixty-six each second.
Almost every invention and device of recent years in connection with the use of electricity is in some way utilized in the production and distribution of the daily newspapers. The evolution of journalism having finally established the fact that the chief function of the daily newspaper is to publish the news of the world, the problem of the business is how to obtain the news surely, accurately, and promptly. The ocean cable has taken the place of the sailing vessel, the trained correspondent has succeeded the occasional contributor, the electric telegraph and telephone have entirely superseded the mail in the transmission of domestic news, and every event of human interest throughout the civilized world is placed before millions of readers within a few hours of its actual occurrence.
The collection of news is not restricted by any question of the cost of obtaining it. Fifty years ago it was considered a remarkable feat for one newspaper to obtain information of an important event in advance of competitors. To-day it is a matter of comment if any newspaper fails to publish all the news desired by its readers. If a war is fought on any part of the earth there are reporters on the firing line, and no expense is spared in collecting and transmitting by the quickest method available full reports of any event of world-wide importance. To-day the hiring of special trains, the stringing of a special line of telegraph wire, the charter of a ship, the fitting out of an exploring expedition, or any other great enterprise in the way of collecting information for the newspapers of the United States, is so much a part of the everyday business of journalism that such things are accepted as a matter of course, or cause no more than a passing comment.
Half a century ago the result of a national convention or election was not known all over the country for weeks afterward. In the case of a national convention to-day, telegraph wires lead from the convention hall into the offices of all the newspapers in the larger cities. An operator sits near the platform of the presiding officer, and with a muffled key he sends over the wire a full report of the proceedings, with a description of every incident of interest. At the other end of the line is an operator at a typecasting machine receiving the report and putting it into lines as fast as received. When a candidate for President has been nominated, extra editions of the daily papers are selling on the streets of cities a thousand miles away almost before the applause for the winning man has died out in the convention hall. The people of every city and town in the United States where a newspaper is published would feel themselves cheated of their rights if they failed to receive news of the result of an election by midnight of the day on which the ballots were cast.
In enterprise and originality the journalism of America leads the world at the end of the nineteenth century. As a profession, it commands, with alluring prospects of fame and fortune, the services of men of genius and learning. Those who enter it from choice succeed or fail quickly. It is a life of activity, a work where energy and intelligence are essential qualifications, and honor and honesty are certain of reward. There is no enduring place in the profession for hypocrisy, indolence, or mediocrity.