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The Newspaper

The history of newspapers is an often-dramatic chapter of the human experience going back some five centuries. In Renaissance Europe handwritten newsletters circulated privately among merchants, passing along information about everything from wars and economic conditions to social customs and "human interest" features. Although this was the first known form of distributed written information, the country accredited with the creation of the first newspaper is Germany. In the late fifteenth century, a cross between a brochure and a pamphlet was dispersed among the people, the text containing highly sensationalized stories along with description of the current news events. The first printed forerunners of the newspaper appeared in Germany in the late 1400's in the form of news pamphlets or broadsides, often highly sensationalized in content.

In America the first newspaper appeared in Boston in 1690, entitled Publick Occurrences. Published without authority, it was immediately suppressed, its publisher arrested, and all copies were destroyed. Indeed, it remained forgotten until 1845 when the only known surviving example was discovered in the British Library. The first successful newspaper was the Boston News-Letter, begun by postmaster John Campbell in 1704. Although it was heavily subsidized by the colonial government the experiment was a near-failure, with very limited circulation. Two more papers made their appearance in the 1720's, in Philadelphia and New York, and the Fourth Estate slowly became established on the new continent. By the eve of the Revolutionary War, some two dozen papers were issued at all the colonies, although Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania would remain the centers of American printing for many years. Articles in colonial papers, brilliantly conceived by revolutionary propagandists, were a major force that influenced public opinion in America from reconciliation with England to full political independence.

The fact that newspapers had been so scarce in Europe, America, and many other continents is due to many factors. To find a literate man was no easy task after Europe was emerging from the black age. Paper was extremely expensive, and hard to come across, and the task of printing was long and laborious. The latter was still a problem even with the invention of the printing press in 1436.

Another advancement in the history of printing was the origin of Linotype, a method of creating movable type by machine instead of by hand. This was introduced in 1884 and marked a significant leap in production speed. In terms of the use of computers in the field of printing, especially newspapers, the progression is unbelievable. From the first daisy-wheel and dot matrix "impact" printers to common use of the non-impact printers: ink-jet, laser and thermal-transfer, printing presses are on the brink of becoming a thing of the past.

Until the recent development and affluence of the Internet as a news source, newspapers have globally been the primary source of current events. Having become part of a daily routine in most lives, little is known of the immense history this learning tool holds. The big question regarding what the future holds for the old-fashioned newspaper is whether or not it will be overcome by the use of the Internet. Studies show that from 1992 to 1997, the weekly hours of using the Internet has increased from 1.8 hours, to 9.1. Although the evidence is convincing that in the future the use of computers will obliterate that of newspapers, sometimes the tangible aspect is too great to give up for a color monitor.

Further information and links:

History of newspaer