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While some have placed the origins of mass media in the Enlightenment era, I hold that it is a product of the Industrial Revolution and started in the 1830s with the arrival of advertising-supported "penny press" newspapers and increased literacy. The first illustrated newspapers arrived in the 1840s. [May 2006]

Related: 1830s (start of cheap papers) - illustrated newspaper - journalism - mass media - news - reading

The masses 'vomit their bile, and call it a newspaper' --Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra

Illustrated London News

This new journalistic form began in England in 1842 with the Illustrated London News. The illustrated newspaper was the television of its age, creating an impact by giving a new dimension to the news. This lively form of journalism presented the news of the world at large, using artist-engravers as illustrator-writers, an early version of correspondents. --http://www.printsoldandrare.com/homermore.html [Dec 2004]


A newspaper is a lightweight and disposable publication, usually printed on low-cost paper called newsprint, containing a journal of current news in a variety of topics. These topics can include political events, crime, sports, opinion, weather. Newspapers also often include cartoons and other entertainment. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper [Jan 2005]

Penny Press newspapers

Penny Press newspapers were cheap, tabloid-style papers produced in the middle of the 19th century.

The First Penny Press Paper
In 1833, Benjamin Day, publisher of the New York Sun, discovered that if he published sensationalist stories, he could greatly expand the paper's circulation by appealing to the common working-class reader. Advertisers would then be willing to pay enough for ad space that Day could drop the price per daily paper from five cents to just one. Benjamin Day's "penny press" is often identified as the first time that reading material was truly affordable to common people.

Technological Factors
It took more than just Benjamin Day's business sense and populism to produce the penny press. In the preceding half century, the printing press underwent several important technological innovations, in keeping with the industrial revolution of the time. By the time Day established the Sun, the printing press frame was converted from wood to steel, the press was steam powered, and the printing surface was a cylindrical cast of the letter punches. More innovations would follow shortly after, including the switch from printing on discrete pieces of paper to printing on continuous rolls.

Political Factors
Political and demographic changes were also significant. Much of the success of the newspaper in the early United States owes itself to the attitude of the founding fathers toward the press. Many of them saw the free press as one of the most essential elements in maintaining the liberty and equality of citizens. Thomas Jefferson said he considered the free press even more important than the government itself: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." It was because of this attitude that freedom of the press gains mention in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and though early politicians, including Jefferson, occasionally made attempts to reign in the press, newspapers flourished in the new nation.

Demographic Factors
Soon after Benjamin Day's New York Sun began selling papers for a penny, James Gordon Bennett started the New York Herald in 1835, and Horace Greeley started the New York Tribune in 1841. Three daily penny press papers in one city were possible because of the large population of New York City and surrounding cities, due to the recent urbanization in industrialized New England. By the 1830s the general population had become both sufficiently localized and sufficiently literate that a penny press newspaper could have a weekly circulation of 50,000. For comparison, the influential Spectator of a little over a century earlier had a maximum circulation per issue of about 4,000. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penny_Press [May 2005]

Engraving [...]

Before the advent of photography, engraving used to reproduce other forms of art, for example paintings. Engravings continued to be common in newspapers and many books into the early 20th century, as they were long cheaper to mass reproduce than photo images. Engraving has also always been used as a method of original artistic expression. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engraving [Jan 2005]

Cheap newspapers

The "cheap" newspaper arrived in France in 1836 with Emile de Girardin's La Presse. Newspapers were also selling for a penny or two in England in the first half of the nineteenth century; however, there was one major difference between these papers and their American counterparts: The English penny papers -- the "pauper press," they were called -- had to evade the stamp tax, which by 1815 was up to fourpence on each copy sold, so they were illegal. More than 560 different unstamped newspapers were printed in England between 1830 and 1836. One, Henry Hetherington's Twopenny Dispatch, was reported to have a circulation of 27,000 in 1836.

The English penny papers, because they lived outside the law, tended to be extremely radical in their politics. "Politics is the noble art of dividing society into two classes - Slaves and Robbers, wrote another of Hetherington's papers, the Poor Man's Guardian in 1834. The British stamp tax was abolished in 1855.

Most of the American penny papers were less interested in politics; nevertheless, they did have the effect of bringing many working class people and immigrants in the cities into the political process by providing them with a source of news they could afford. The Sun's motto was the egalitarian statement: "It Shines for All"; and the rise of the penny press has been connected with the spread of Jacksonian democracy in the United States.

The major effect these penny papers had on the politics of the newspaper, however, may have been the change their mass circulations brought to the economic status of publishers. Bennett, who had started his Herald for $500, became a rich man. The Sun was sold for $250,000 in 1849. Newspapers were becoming big businesses, and the owners of big businesses tend to have more conservative politics. --http://www.nyu.edu/classes/stephens/Collier's%20page.htm [May 2005]

La Presse (1836) - Émile de Girardin

Émile de Girardin (1802-1881), was a French journalist, publicist, and politician. He was born in Paris in 1802, the son of General Alexandre de Girardin and of Madame Dupuy, wife of a Parisian advocate.

His first publication was a novel, Emile, dealing with his birth and early life, and appeared under the name of Girardin in 1827. He became inspector of fine arts under the Martignac ministry just before the revolution of 1830, and was an energetic and passionate journalist. Besides his work on the daily press he issued miscellaneous publications which attained an enormous circulation. His Journal des connaissances utiles had 120,000 subscribers, and the initial edition of his Almanack de France (1834) ran to a million copies.

In 1836 he inaugurated cheap journalism in a popular Conservative organ, La Presse, the subscription to which was only forty francs a year. This undertaking involved him in a duel with Armand Carrel, the fatal result of which made him refuse satisfaction to later opponents. In 1839 he was excluded from the Chamber of Deputies, to which he had been elected four times, on the plea of his foreign birth, but was admitted in 1842. He resigned early in February 1847, and on February 24, 1848 sent a note to Louis Philippe demanding his resignation and the regency of the duchess of Orléans. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_de_Girardin [May 2005]

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