A Brief History of Print Journalism. From Gutenberg to Twitter, mankind has been chronicling itself for posterity. Print journalism spans six centuries and several continents. Beginning with the invention of the printing press in Germany in the fifteenth century, print journalists have been observing and recording their impressions and opinions. Print-based publications enjoyed a long period of success until technological advancements changed the nature of collecting and displaying news.
The Invention of the Printing Press
In the mid-1450s Johannes Gutenberg figured out how to transfer images from a metal plate to paper by the use of pressure and ink. Before his invention, scribes and monks copied the Bible and other works by hand.
In the mid-1500s, the new invention reached the Americas. In The Media In America (New American Library, 1974), John Tebbel explained that the first printer in the New World did business in Mexico City. The first newspaper in North America was Publick Occurences Both Foreign and Domestick (1690), founded by Benjamin Harris, and was quickly followed by magazines and books. Soon, after a series of legal precedents, the fledgling industry became what would later be referred to as a “government watchdog.”
Colonists Versus the King Followed by the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment
Also a fledgling in its development, the colonies of North America were divided over the use of the press. Some said it stirred up sedition; others believed it kept them informed. Along with a portion of the population, journalists fought to separate from King George III, and reported on the events of July 4, 1776.
Five years later, the Congress of the United States passed the Bill of Rights, which included the first amendment, which permitted freedom of the press, an outlook not always shared by other governments.
Newspapers’ Long Period of Success: 1780s to 1980s
At that point, and for more than two hundred years, turning to a newspaper for coverage of daily events from around the world was normal, either through a subscription delivered to one’s home, to a regular stop to a newspaper stand, or a trip to the library to read for free. Newspapers were “hardly affected” by radio news and were competed with — but not surpassed by — television broadcast news, according to Tebbel in The Media in America.
That changed when cable news became available in the 1980s. In a Washington Post article from 2005,“Newspaper Circulation Continues To Decline,” Annys Shin explained that newspaper circulation revenue was decreasing, as it had during the previous twenty years, when readers either supplemented or replaced their newspapers with news from cable TV. Shin also explained that the National Do Not Call Register substantially reduced newspapers’ telemarketing revenue.
The Arrival of the Internet
Things changed again in the mid-1990s when the Internet became available to the public. Newspapers began to lose even more revenue, this time from advertisers who gradually switched to online advertising. During the first few years of the Internet, newspapers earned up to 41% of their revenue from classified advertising, reported Duncan Riley in “Understanding the Fall of Newspapers in Revenue Numbers” on inquisitr.com on November 30, 2008; the figure fell to 28% that year.
Due to the changes in revenue, newspapers began to suffer. In early 2007, major newspapers began to shut down.
Meanwhile, the Internet has been flourishing. Remaining newspapers have posted their presences on the web, offering free content and paid online subscriptions. News networks and organizations such as CNN provide online content. In a CNN.com article “Survey: More Americans get news from Internet than newspapers or radio,” from March 1, 2010, Doug Gross explained that 61% of Americans obtained their news from online resources.
The New Media
In mid-2010, newspapers are still around, as are cable news channels. However, a print publication without an online presence is unusual. News is also available on blogs, which are are personal “web logs” which resemble online journals; and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In the early twenty-first century, people learn about local, national and world events from sources in addition to newspapers, which was the main form of print news for many years. News is available in many forms, from the traditional print version of newspapers, to 24-hour television channels, to online publications, and even from portable phones which have access to the Internet. As a visionary thinker and inventor, Gutenberg would probably be excited at what has evolved from his medieval printing press.