“It Shines for All”: Newspapers in America

Today in 1833, the first issue of the The New York Sun was published. Steven Lubar in InfoCulture: “New technology, in fact, came along after (italics mine) the renaissance of the newspaper. The New York Sun was the first ‘penny paper,’ featuring sensational stories aimed at mass audience… it stretched the limit of its hand presses with its 10,000 copies a day. (When a series of stories announcing the discovery of life on the moon appeared, it sold 20,000 copies in a day; by then it had switched to a steam-powered press). Benjamin Day, its published, bragged about its power: ‘Since the Sun began to shine upon the citizens of New York, there had been a great and decided change in the condition of the laboring classes, and the mechanics. Now every individual, from the rich aristocrat who lolls in his carriage to the humble laborer who wields a broom in the streets, reads the Sun.’… Between 1828 and 1840 the number of daily newspapers doubled from 852 to 1,631 and total circulation increased from 68 million to 195 million. More daily newspapers were printed in the United States than in the rest of the world.”

Day also introduced a new way of selling papers— newsboys hawking their newspapers on the streets. After paying a visit to the United States, Charles Dickens described (in Martin Chuzzlewit, 1844) the newsboys greeting a ship in New York Harbor: “’Here’s this morning’s New York Stabber! Here’s the New York Family Spy! Here’s the New York Private Listener! … Here’s the full particulars of the patriotic loco-foco movement yesterday, in which the whigs were so chawed up, and the last Alabama gauging case … and all the Political, Commercial and Fashionable News. Here they are!’ … ‘It is in such enlightened means,’ said a voice almost in Martin’s ear, ‘that the bubbling passions of my country find a vent.’”

Another visitor from abroad, the Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, could discern (in Portrait of America, 1876) in the mass circulation of newspapers, the American belief about the universal need for information: “In Poland, a newspaper subscription tends to satisfy purely intellectual needs and is regarded as somewhat of a luxury which the majority of the people can heroically forego; in the United States a newspaper is regarded as a basic need of every person, indispensable as bread itself.”

Basic need for information, of all kinds, as Mark Twain observed (in Pudd’nhead Wilson, 1897): “The old saw says, ‘Let a sleeping dog lie.’ Right. Still, when there is much at stake, it is better to get a newspaper to do it.”

Today, the need for “serious” and “sensational” information is satisfied less and less by newspapers alone. The Pew Research Center (March 2010): “The days of loyalty to a particular news organization on a particular piece of technology in a particular form are gone. The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get news on a typical day, including national TV, local TV, the internet, local newspapers, radio, and national newspapers. Some 46% of Americans say they get news from four to six media platforms on a typical day. Just 7% get their news from a single media platform on a typical day.” 

And tomorrow? Nick Bilton of the New York Times: “Paper is dying, but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience.”

About GilPress

I launched the Big Data conversation; writing, research, marketing services; http://whatsthebigdata.com/ & https://infostory.com/
This entry was posted in News, Newspapers, Social Impact, This day in information. Bookmark the permalink.

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