The ability to disperse news through the arrival of the printing press is arguably one of the greatest influences on journalism. News was now able to be mass produced. This ability gave print journalists the power to inform or exploit much larger numbers of the public, as they chose.
In the 18th century the press was moving toward publishing with fewer constraints from governments. Newspaper’s circulation in America was extremely high compared to other nations.
While some newspapers were still arguably mainly political, there was an increasing movement toward commercially driven news providers. This would have to be one of the factors affecting the change in the way journalists operated.
The arrival of the ‘penny papers’ marked a step away from the more traditional ones. Traditionally papers had relied upon subscriptions from readers, and some were subsidised by political parties. With the arrival of the penny papers the shift was to raising revenue from a larger circulation, as these papers were hawked daily by boys in the street, and to the use of advertising.
The industry was on its way to becoming a market based industry. Newspapers began to utilise advertising as an economic provider. In the New Zealand Advertiser of 1840, the ads range from haberdashery, to building, to renting houses.
Benjamin Day’s the ‘Sun’, the forerunning penny paper, featured a style more interested in the daily occurrences of life.
English penny papers also began to appear, however these were constrained by the stamp tax that kept the price higher, British authorities had hoped to keep the lower classes from being informed of government goings on, and thus reduced their capacity to be involved. This was to prove eventually unworkable and in 1855 the stamp tax was abolished.
The way the news was presented showed the changing times. News was presented in shorter accounts. The New York Herald used this method, with some stories appearing as little more than one sentence. Reports of the Chicago fire in the Postscript begin with short headlines that only later emerge as a story.
Newspapers began to reflect increasingly varied account of news. Not only political news, but domestic and local stories were covered. Facts appear to have become important in newspapers of the time, rather than reporting second-hand from others. Whether or not facts overrode the reporter’s values at the time, is another question. At the time, values were an important part of society. Some journalists were sure to have let their values take precedence over reporting the facts of some stories, or whether they reported them at all.
There was a shift away from relying on ‘letter writers’, to having paid journalists reporting the news. Reports of the Johnstown floods were told by reporters who had attended the scene, they spoke to witnesses, saw the state of the people afterward, and this was what they printed. In the Public Ledger, the reporter carefully states that he tells only what he did see and does know.
Journalists also began to make use of news agencies in the 19th century. Timeliness of news had become important as technology allowed for news to be reported faster than before. Yet it must be remembered that news agencies were businesses.
Governments did not let go of their control of the press easily. In Europe, imprisonment was still a possibility for journalists who were critical of the ruling class at the time. But the ever-growing mass circulation of papers gave these instructions the one thing they needed to become independent. Financial autonomy.
Minority views were finally to be represented as well. In America, foreign language papers geared to immigrants began to be printed. In 1848 the ‘North Star’ took upon itself the mantle of the protagonist concerning slavery and its abolition. This was a brave thing to attempt at the time, as many who fought against slavery were threatened and attacked.
New Zealand papers also carried stories regarding minority interests. The New Zealander reported on such things as feuds between Maori people, however the style of the article suggested that it was of no real consequence to the populace, as these men were troublemakers. The inference can be read that this was because of their race.
The New Zealand Herald of 10 December, 1840, has spent considerable space on being critical of the government regarding the colony of New Zealand, and the way it was being run. The article is challenging the government to uphold the law. It uses questions to about the factual happenings, instead of stating this and this happened. By doing so, they state the obvious – these things did happen – while asking for confirmation.
There exist many parallels between print journalism as it existed in the 19th century and modern journalism. Commercial revenues continue to be the driving force behind the reportage of items. Fairfax Media owns nine daily papers and two Sunday papers, as well as various local papers and magazine publications. Media publications today rely on advertising as well as sales figures to provide revenue. Therefore they must being driven by market forces, just as the papers from the early 19th century.
News agencies are still an important part of today’s media, providing quick access to overseas stories for many papers that may not have a reporter on the ground. Just as in the 19th century, today’s print journalists can be a forum for the public to be informed and to express their views and opinions.
In New Zealand most print journalists aim to present a fair and accurate account of a story, particularly political events. The most papers usually give space to all parties to air their opinions. Other countries are not always as lucky. For example, Hitler was able to use the media in Nazi Germany to influence the minds of the German people, and to control any criticism of his policies.
In view of the amount of news available today, journalists much like those earlier ones, face rivalries amongst themselves to report accurately the news, as well as supply it in a timely fashion. The realisation of paid journalism has also changed the news. Reporters today cover vast areas of the world to track down stories, and return first hand accounts to their readers. The role of the journalist has grown, and allows today’s readers to access more news, and be able to critically review its accurateness.