Sunday 1 March 2015

The History of the Newspaper: How it Sparked a Revolution

Newspapers are unique barometers of their age.  They indicate more plainly than anything else the climate of the society to which they belong. (Francis Williams, Daily Herald)

This month I am blogging about writing newspaper articles.  I thought I would start with the history of the newspaper.  While the printing press was invented way back in 1495, it was not until the 17th Century that its use became widespread.  The printing press paved the way for the newspaper.

According to Wikipedia, the Strasbourg Revelation, which debuted in Germany in 1609,  is considered to be the original newspaper.

The avvissi or gazzette appeared in Venice in the mid-16th Century.  It consisted of a single sheet of paper folded into four pages and was published once a week.

The Dutch Courante uyt Italien Duytslandt appeared in 1618.  It was the first folio type paper rather than a quarto-size and was published in Amsterdam, home to many newspapers at the time.

In 1665, the London Gazette first started publishing.

France published its first newspaper, La Gazette, in 1631.

The first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, appeared in 1702.  Readers were hungry for sensationalism, magic, public executions and disasters.

The first newspaper appeared in the Thirteen Colonies in 1690, called the Public Occurrernces both Forreign and Domestick.  It was divided into two columns on a single sheet of paper, both sides.

The year 1789 was a crucial year for the French, highlighted by the storming of the Bastille, on July 14, sparking the French Revolution. The Estates-General held numerous meetings of which the public was curious.  One hundred and thirty newspapers were created within that year alone to meet the demand.  Within the next decade, 2000 new French newspapers appeared in circulation, 500 of which debuted in Paris.  In fact, these newspapers were credited with helping stimulate the Revolution.

Anonymous - Prise de la Bastille.jpg

The storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789, courtesy

News agencies, which helped give stories country and later worldwide coverage, first appeared in 1859, spurred on by the invention of the telegraph.  Havas opened in France, offering 1800 lines of telegraph text daily.  Agenzia Stefani opened in Italy, Reuters in Britain and Wolff in Germany, and the Associated Press in the United States.

With the literacy level on the rise, the size of newspapers increased.  Newspapers devoted a large portion of their paper to war reporting, which was hastened by the rise of the telegraph.  The British paper, The Times, led the way with war coverage, reporting on the conflict in Crimea.  A new brisk writing style developped with London newspapers setting the pace.  By the mid 19th Century, London had no less than 52 publications.  See The Historical Dictionary of War Journalism at

William Howard Russell was known for his excellent coverage of the Crimean War courtesy

While literacy helped the cause of the newspaper, the tax stamp, introduced in 1802, did not.  The next few decades saw a decrease in newspaper circulations as the public could not afford the new tax. However, in 1836, the stamp tax went down and London newspaper circulation bloomed from 39,000,000 to 122,000,000.

In 1880, the Pall Mall Gazette debuted The New Journalism, featuring maps, diagrams and catchy headlines to break up its longer articles.

Pall Mall Gazette map of Jack the Ripper murders courtesy 

The turn of the century saw the rise of the tabloid, something that we still see as we line up at the cashier in the grocery store.

World War I marks the end of the golden era of newspapers.  Men went off to war leaving the newspaper offices empty; women were not considered as a suitable replacement for men at the time. Rail transportation was rationed, as well as paper and ink, making it difficult to publish a newspaper. As the cover price increased, the circulation decreased.  Nevertheless, newspapers gave Americans and Canadians an opportunity to see the First World War up close, given that it was a whole ocean away.

World War II saw dictators like Hitler spread their propaganda.  The Nazi anti-semitic message was preached in Das Schwarze Korps, the official SS newspaper.

Das Schwarze Korps, the official SS newspaper, courtesy

The Soviet top propagandist during World War II, Ilya Ehrenburg, wrote for the newspaper Izvestiia. Part of a Soviet hate campaign, he managed to convince thousands of Russians that the Germans were subhuman in his article, "Kill the German".

By the 1990s, the advent of the computer saw the productivity of newspapers skyrocket.  Today more words are being printed every second than were printed every year in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries  And yet with the computer came the Internet, averting the attention of readers from newsprint to the computer screen. Newspapers, however, as the New York Times editor once said, continue to publish "all the news that's fit to print".