The Newspaper Revolution

National Gazette, April 12, 1792.

Newspapers are a source that many turn to even now for getting their news. The craze for newspapers in America began in the early years of the Republic, with the proliferation of newspapers to nearly every town in the country.

Then and now, newspapers had political slants. In the early Republic, most newspapers had a Federalist slant generally, but there were a set of newspapers that had a Republican perspective. Those Republican newspapers were not just delivering the news to their readers, however. Reading those newspapers became part of participating in the politics of the young Republican party. See Jeffrey L. Pasley, The Tyranny of the Printers: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, (Charlottesville, 2001), 1-47.

Experts have estimated that approximately three-quarters of Americans received newspapers in the 1790s. See Donald H. Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period, (Albany, 1969), 13.

The biggest difference between the readership of 1790s and present readership is that newspapers are far from the only source for news or opinion. Now, television, radio, magazines, blogs, apps, all compete for the attention of the average American, and that attention is generally spread amongst those forms of media. With that being said, there is no question that party affiliation and party participation are entirely disconnected from newspapers. However, the slants still very much exist. Just as the New York Times is known to favor Democratic-leaning readers, the Wall Street Journal is known to favor Republican-leaning readers.

The fact that American public opinion is now shaped by so many varied forms of media is perhaps better for a healthy political discourse. It allows for wide dispersal of information throughout the country, but public opinion is likely more scattered now than the early Republic. In the early Republic, each town’s newspaper would be the one reliable source for information about what was happening in the town, the state, the country, and the world, both politically and otherwise.

While it is difficult to quantify the effect of the diversification of media in American news, there is no question it has changed how Americans learn events, view the world around them, and participate in politics.

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