Today, many recently established news companies use social media outlets like Facebook or Snapchat. Even though these companies may be under fire from more traditional publishers of news, such as the New York Times, the style of journalism being used is very similar to that of early American newspapers.
Prior to the late 17th century, only wealthy Americans had regular access to printed news. Then, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, more people began to have access to news as technology led to improvements like printing presses. These papers were often reliant on their audiences for information to publish, much like the Huffington Post’s “user generated content” of today. This was due to the fact that it was difficult to report news happening across the world without telecommunication technology, like telephones and the internet. Many articles weren’t original. If journalists, then commonly known as printers saw an interesting article in another paper, they would usually reprint it word for word―like re-tweeting now.
These papers were often biased; the printers were paid by political groups and would often publish articles that spoke highly of their sponsors and critically of their opponents. Around 80 percent of post-Revolutionary papers in the United States were affiliated with a certain political party.
These papers weren’t usually profitable because readers wouldn’t pay for their subscriptions, and some publications would only put out a few papers before their demise. Text based advertisements were one way to alter this. These ads didn’t look like the ones we see in today’s papers. They resembled Craigslist posts more, with one example being Benjamin Franklin asking for donations of horse carts, or a Twitter-like editorial, such as William Beasley complaining about his cheating wife.
In the beginning of newspapers, a two-man team could only produce about 250 pages an hour. However, newspapers were quick to adopt newer technologies like the “cylinder press,” which fed paper ten times faster than before. They were also some of the first businesses to use both the steam engine to print papers faster and telephones to receive information from far-off places.
Eventually, printing papers got so cheap that a newspaper cost only one cent. More and more people were subscribing to these newspapers. To appeal to a broader audience, the papers had to get rid of the obvious biases they had before. This led to the “just the facts” style of journalism commonly seen in the 20th century.
With more papers came more ads. The people selling these ads wanted their sections to stand out. To meet their demands, newspapers printed ads in large, eye-catching fonts to draw a reader’s attention. Soon, readers started complaining about the extreme quantities of these ads, similar to complaints about ads on websites today.
Between the ads and style, news published today via social media may not be that different from the articles published in the earliest American newspapers.