Newspaper Production 1892-1992
By Rick Brown
While there was little change in the methods used to gather news and print it in newspapers produced in America between 1692 and 1792, the next century saw many significant advances.
For one thing, the Linotype machine had been invented and was in almost universal use by 1892. With the use of this machine, 2 men could set type for several pages of a newspaper in just a matter of hours instead of several days. Printing presses had been perfected that could print thousands of pages per hour rather than the lowly figure of 200 per back-breaking hour in 1792.
Yet another area to bring about the advances in newspapers was the invention of the telegraph and telephone as well as the laying of the Atlantic Cable. Editors now no longer had to rely on ship's captain's or foreign correspondents they didn't know as their chief sources of news. News was now fairly current news -- not months old events.
In its infancy, to send long news stories by telegram was too cost prohibitive. Initially, several reporters working for different papers united unofficially to split the cost of transmission of the same news item and then copies made and sent to their papers. This arrangement didn't last long. 1848 saw the birth of the Associated Press. Through this cooperative venture, the weekly telegraph bills were totaled by the Association president and then divided evenly among the member newspapers. The Association grew quickly to the point that a single newspapers' bill would only amount to a few dollars per news story. In 1892, the Associated Press had 26,798 miles of leased telegraph wires. Many other associations also sprung up such as the Western Associated Press and the Southern Associated Press, United Press, and International Press.
The use of telegraph to send news stories had grown so much by 1892 that individual newspapers were becoming overwhelmed with news items.
The first published news story reported by telephone was in the February 13, 1877 edition of the Boston Globe. The news related with the meeting of the Essex Institute at Lyceum Hall, where professor Alexander Gharam Bell exhibited his telephone and explained its workings to an audience of 500. The receipts for the lecture amounted to $85. The news story carried a single line heading, "Sent by Telephone". Howver, due to poor quality of transmission, few news items were relayed by telephone. By 1901 transmission quality improved enough that the first reports of the McKinley assassination were relayed to points west by telephone.
By 1892, the art of journalism had now become a true profession. In 1875 Cornell University offered a certificate of Journalism for the completion of a prescribed liberal arts curriculum plus some work in the university printing department, but it had no specific journalism courses. The first journalism courses offered in a university was two at the University of Missouri were "History of Journalism" in 1878 and "Materials of Journalism" in 1884.
1885 saw the formation of several press clubs and associations as well as trade unions for journalists. That same year saw the first issue of a trade publication specifically for newspaper workers -- "The Journalist".
Women flocked into newspaper work in the 1880's. It is estimated that in 1886 there were 500 women who worked regularly on the editorial side of American newspapers. It is also this era that the term "Yellow Journalism" was coined. The New York World issued a supplement in their Sunday, November 19, 1893 edition. One of the features in the supplement was "The Yellow Kid", a cartoon drawn for the World by R.F. Outcault, depicting a snaggle-tooth youngster in a single shirt-like garment. The cartoon became very popular. As for the term "Yellow Journalism" having its origin with the cartoon, it was not the content of the cartoon but rather the content of the newspaper that it owes its allegiance. For example, some sample headlines from World's of that era include: "A Mother's Awful Crime," "A Bride But Not a Wife", "Baptized in Blood", "Little Lotta's Lovers", and so forth. Competitor newspapers began referring to Hearst's World as the "Yellow Newspaper". It wasn't long before the public began to associate sensationalized "news" with being "Yellow Journalism".
While Hearst and Pulitzer are often criticized for their sensationalizing of news, there is another side of their journalism that is seldom mentioned. -- the accomplishments for the public good. Both editors went beyond simply editorializing whom people should vote for in the next election. Rather, both extensively used their newspapers as platforms for the public good. One such example is the New York World in 1885. The newspaper successfully carried out a campaign to raise funds to erect a pedestal in New York harbor for Bartholds' Statue of Liberty. It only took the World 5 months to raise the $300,000 needed to erect the pedestal. The money didn't come from big business or corporate sponsors -- there were over 120,000 contributors with many contributing only 5 or ten cents. Other campaigns exposed corruption in the city government and legislation tightening child labor laws.