The Rise and Demise of the Daily Newspaper
By Tom Morrow
The history of the American newspaper is far too large to jam into an 800-word column, but here’s a shot at some of the basics.
The “word-count” of the average daily newspaper such as the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, or San Diego Union, amounts to a sizeable 200-to-300-page book. Weeklies such as the average community newspaper can be as labor intensive, turning out enough copy to fill a small paperback novel.
The newspaper can be a recognized to publish legal documents of recorded judicial, business, and governmental minutes for school districts, city councils, and county boards. To be officially considered a “publication of record,” county courts “adjudicate” a newspaper for printing “Legal Notices.” those governmental minutes and records from school districts, city and county boards and anything else where public monies have been or are proposed being spent.
The nation’s first newspaper, “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick,” lasted only one day – Sept. 25, 1690. It was printed in Boston. The British Colonial governor thought it was too radical and had it suppressed after its first edition. In 1704, some 14 years later, a different governor allowed The Boston News-Letter, a weekly, to be published, and it became the first continuously published newspaper in the American colonies. Soon after, weekly newspapers, more or less with a commercial slant, began publishing in New York and Philadelphia as well as Boston. Colonial America’s primary population centered in those three cities. Commercial newspapers like The Boston Daily Advertiser reported on ship arrivals and departures. Newspapers began to take on a more interesting direction when James Franklin, Ben’s older brother, made a news sheet something other than a “garbled mass of stale business items.”
James launched The New England Courant.” It was a distinctive newspaper that annoyed the New England elite while proving entertaining and establishing a kind of literary precedent. James’ newspaper is where young Ben Franklin got his start as a journalist and humorist.
Instead of filling the first part of the Courant with the tedious conventionalities of governors’ addresses to provincial legislatures, James Franklin wrote essays and satirical letters modeled on The Spectator, which first appeared in London 10 years earlier.
Prior to the 1830s, a majority of U.S. newspapers were aligned with a political party or platform. For the most part, that hasn’t changed all that much. In years past newspapers generally declared political positions on the editorial page(s), keeping the news columns as objective as possible. For the past several years, unfortunately, writer bias has crept into news reporting to the point the term “fake news” has become commonplace to those readers in disagreement on a position.
Since the founding of the nation, daily newspapers have played an important role in American society. Here locally, San Diego County’s newspapers have been important to our everyday life … that is until the last few years. In the 1980s, the County had seven daily newspapers and more than double that number in weeklies. Today San Diego County has only one daily newspaper and no more than six weeklies printed on folded newsprint you can hold in your hands.
The advent of the Internet has revolutionized delivery of news and opinion. Today’s young people have never really had a habit of reading a printed newspaper … most get their news online from social outlets or on TV. We older folk, (aged 60 years-plus) have depended upon our local print publications to keep us apprised of what’s happening at our community’s government, the courts and school districts as well as the business community. Local dailies are disappearing across the nation and electronic news reports are taking their place. Locally, the daily North County Times, at its peak, had a 100,000-plus readership. The 1995 merger of the Escondido Times-Advocate and the Oceanside Blade-Citizen became the NCT, but daily circulation began to slide and the inevitable happened. The San Diego Union, which earlier had been bought up by the Los Angeles Times, purchased the NCT and a few months later, the Union ceased its publication causing dozens of staff members to lose their jobs. As a result, North County no longer has a daily newspaper reporting to the more than seven respective cities. A number of online electronic news reports are joining area newsprint weeklies such as The Paper, all somewhat taking the place of daily newsprint publications.
For local young people pursuing a career in print journalism it’ll be tough going as more than half of California’s daily newspapers are gone.
As my generation leaves the scene, our newsprint publications of yesterday are still with us … sort of, but you’ll have to go to a public library to find them. They’re mostly on microfiche. You can’t hold them in your hand but you can view them on a captured video page of a chosen date when daily newspapers reported our history of yesteryear.