History of newspapers. From the first one published to the Digital Age

By |Published On: December 29th, 2020|Last Updated: February 9th, 2023|

Ever since forever, newspapers have been keeping people up to date. They have delivered the news, informing everyone of the important events of the day. From the Italian gazettes to the advent of the printing press and the appearance of the Digital Age; the history of newspapers has come a long way and it is still being written.

We all know how a newspaper looks like, we have all been flipping through its pages at least once in our lifetime; but not all of us know how newspapers appeared and evolved into what they are today: one of the most powerful tools of mass communication.

make your own newspaper

If you’re curious to discover who invented the newspaper, how the printing press influenced the newspapers, and what is the future of the newspapers; then we invite you to take part in this visual and chronological journey that hopefully will answer all of your questions. So pretty please; fasten your seatbelts; ‘cause we’re getting started!

What was there before newspapers?

Before answering this question; here’s a quick preview of the in-depth article you’re about to read. Enjoy!

Now, getting back to our question…

So, the history of newspapers has undergone many transformations throughout the years. Before the appearance of the printing press, the word of mouth was the primary source of spreading the news. Humans exchanged news long before they could write. 

Merchants, sailors, and travelers brought the news to the continent. Then, pedlars and traveling players picked them up and spread them from town to town. Criers walked through villages announcing births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. Perhaps you’ve also seen in old movies that messengers raced back from battlefields with reports on victories or defeats.

communication in the Middle Ages

But the word of mouth was not the only thing that lay the foundation for the appearance of the newspapers. Scholars discovered that Chinese people invented one of the earliest forms of news media: qipao. Created somewhere around 202 BC; these were “palace reports or imperial bulletins” distributed by the government and intended for bureaucrats. Any news for public consumption was distributed via posted announcements; which were the forerunners of modern-day posters.

Ancient Romans also found a way throughout they distributed the news. In 59 BC, they invented the first so-called “newspaper”. Acta Diurna, or daily doings; were created by the government and contained information for the public such as chronicles of events, births, deaths, and daily gossip. In the beginning; people chiseled them in stone or metal. Later; people have handwritten and distributed this news in public forums or read them from scrolls by town criers.

Acta Diurna is a precursor to the modern newspaper.

history of newspapers - Acta Diurna

But even though both ancient Romans and Chinese had early forms of news media; they don’t qualify as newspapers because they couldn’t be mass-distributed. In fact; all of these ways of transmitting the news died out once Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440.

The birth of the printing press

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press drastically changed the face of publishing and influenced the history of newspapers significantly. He invented a movable-type press that permitted the high-quality reproduction of printed materials at a rate of nearly 4,000 pages per day. In other words; 1,000 times more than could be done by a scribe by hand! This innovative machine reduced the price of printed materials and, for the first time; making them accessible to a mass market. In a blink of an eye; this new printing press transformed the scope and reach of the newspaper; paving the way for modern-day journalism.

Johannes Gutenberg's printing press

Even though printing presses with movable type had already existed in eastern Asia for around two centuries; they never made it to Europe. More than this; only Gutenberg’s version made it significantly faster to mass produce documents. By 1500, the printing press appeared throughout entire Europe; and publishers massively distributed the news sheets. Therefore, here comes the question we’re all looking forward to:

When and where was the first newspaper published? 

But before giving the straight answer to this question, we have to mention another ancestor of the modern newspaper. The avvisi or gazettes appeared in Venice, Italy. They were handwritten and focused on politics and military conflicts. These gazettes were issued on single sheets, folded to form four pages, and broadcasted on a weekly schedule. Their format and appearance at regular intervals influenced the way newspapers look and are distributed today. The idea of a weekly, handwritten newssheet went from Italy to Germany and that’s how the first newspaper has ever been published.

Avvisi - Italian newspaper

Therefore, in 1609, Johann Carolus published in Germany the first weekly newspaper. Called Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien, the publication satisfied the four principles of a “true” newspaper:

  • accessibility to the public;
  • published at a regular interval (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.);
  • current, up-to-date information;
  • covers a variety of different topics (politics, events, entertainment, sports, etc.).
The first newspaper ever published

In a short period of time; newspapers became popular throughout entire Europe and more and more countries started to publish various types of newspapers. The first English newspaper was published in 1665 in Oxford. Known as the Oxford Gazette, the newspaper moved to London in 1666 and was renamed the London Gazette. It’s still being published today.

Right after the appearance of the Oxford Gazette, the newspaper became a staple in all major European countries. Then; it made its way to the New World.

The history of American newspapers

The first American newspaper published

Early European colonies in America started to print news sheets similar to the European doppelgänger. The first American news sheet was printed in Mexico in 1541, and described an earthquake in Guatemala. 

However, newspapers did not come to the American colonies until September 25, 1690; when Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick was published in Boston by Benjamin Harris. This is considered to be the first true American newspaper. Unfortunately; Harris was arrested due to including political criticisms. The government censored his newspaper and destroyed all the copies.

the first true American newspaper

The history of newspapers continues to 1704 when postmaster John Campbell published the Boston News-Letter; and it became the first successful newspaper in America. Different from Harris; Campbell didn’t engage in the political discussions so that he won’t upset colonial authority. 

 the first successful newspaper in America

But American publishers wanted to express all of their thoughts and ideas freely (including the political ones); without having fear of governments. That’s why they fought until they obtained total freedom and control over the press. Let’s get into more details.

Freedom of the press

In 1734; New York governor William Cosby arrested John Peter Zenger (a German printer and journalist in New York City) for political criticism lobbied in Zenger’s New York Weekly Journal. Despite the judge’s wishes, the jury returned with a “not guilty” verdict. It was a memorable verdict because the journalists finally had total freedom to publish political criticism without fear of retribution.

John Peter Zenger

Going on with the history of newspapers when the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights in 1791 guaranteed the freedom of the press in the United States. But it was not what the journalist thought; because the Sedition Act of 1798 forbade “writing, printing, uttering, or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States.” Luckily for them, two years later; Thomas Jefferson, one of Benjamin Franklin’s compatriots allowed to omit the Sedition Act. Therefore; the American publishers obtained the freedom of the press for real and for good.

The appearance of the Penny Press

Right after the journalists succeeded to have total control of the press; more and more newspapers have been published in America. By the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, 43 newspapers have been published in the colonies; and by 1814 that number expanded to 346. 

In the beginning, only the wealthy and literate Americans could buy the newspapers; because not everyone afforded to pay for subscriptions in advance. The subscriptions typically cost what a general laborer would make in an entire week of work; so you can imagine how difficult it would have been for a commoner to buy a newspaper.

The Era of the Penny Press

But the great part is that all that changed in the 1830s; when the advances in printing and papermaking made it possible to sell newspapers for one cent per copy. The technological advancements such as the telegraph and the rotary press made it possible to quickly share news over great distances and also contributed to the newspaper’s growth. The Penny Press made newspapers affordable to the entire public and led to an explosion of newspaper publishing across the United States.

Benjamin Day

Benjamin Day was an American newspaper publisher who founded The Sun; the first penny press newspaper in the United States, in 1833. Printed on small, letter-sized pages, The Sun sold for just a penny. While the old printing press was capable of printing approximately 125 papers per hour; this technologically improved version printed approximately 18,000 copies per hour! This newspaper sought out stories that appealed to the new mainstream consumer; such as human-interest stories and police reports. It became such a successful and popular newspaper that by the end of 1835 it sold 15,000 copies per day. 

the first penny press newspaper in the United States

Newspapers flourished in the Industrial Revolution

As we already mentioned in the previous paragraph; the Industrial Revolution highly influenced the history of newspapers; because it generated giant presses capable of printing 10,000 papers per hour. It also contributed to the massive growth in the newspaper industry – from 2,526 newspapers in 1850 to more than 11,000 newspapers by 1880! And by 1890, some papers boasted circulation above one million copies. Wasn’t this simply amazing? 

the history of newspapers was highly influenced by the Industrial Revolution
Source: theweekender.news

But the Industrial Revolution also brought other improvements to the world of newspapers. People invented and developed lots of amazing technologies that made it possible to feature detailed illustrations, published as pictorial weeklies. Studies say that the reporters’ sketches inspired the illustrations. Later, revolutionary technology discovered photographs and every publisher started to insert photographs in their newspapers. 

Newspapers over the past century

Moving on with the history of newspapers to the early twentieth century when journalists began to include modern features such as banner headlines, photos, illustrations, and comics; in addition to the political and event news that has always been newspaper staples. These are important elements that we still see today in newspapers.

History of newspapers over the past century

The color photographs and other color elements revolutionized the look of the newspapers. Although color printing seems a modern advancement; the first color comic in an American newspaper made its appearance in 1894. However; it wasn’t the first use of color in newspapers – the Milwaukee Journal used blue and red to commemorate an election in 1891 – but color printing was expensive and newspapers adopted it entirely only after the 1990s. Right after the color printing feature was in vogue; the number of North American newspapers that incorporated color increased from 12 percent in 1979 to 97 percent by 1993; according to the New York Times

The Yellow Kid - one of the first US newspaper comic strips
The Yellow Kid – one of the first US newspaper comic strips

But though the addition of color changed the design of the newspapers and made them even more popular; they began to face serious competition with the mass production of the radio beginning in the 1920s and television beginning in the 1940s. News over the radio was immediately available rather than waiting for the next day to wake up and buy the newspaper. And then, television became the primary medium to influence public opinion. The news formats on television were a lot more engaging when compared to print or radio because it was something modern and way faster. The concept of primetime was invented and people were glued to their television sets between 8 pm – 10 pm to catch the latest political, sports, and weather updates.

The future of newspapers in the Digital Age

Today; the newspaper industry continues to face challenges as the Digital Age threatens the survival of the newspaper as we know it. Studies show us that the number of daily newspapers in the United States has decreased from 1,730 in 1981 to 1,331 in 2014. This trend will continue even today as consumer consumption of news has shifted toward digital delivery. 

The invention of computers had a word in the way the history of newspapers developed. It greatly changed the way newspapers are made and also decreased the number of printed presses. Reporters can save precious time by sending the main facts of their stories by email and editors can also easily make corrections with spell checkers. In just a short time; the number of unique visitors to newspaper websites increased from 8.2 million in 2014 to 11.7 million in 2016

the future of newspapers

Nevertheless, we can say something important regarding the printed newspapers. There are approximately five billion newspaper readers in the world; and three billion of them still prefer the printed version of a newspaper. Certain niches and industries might prefer print over digital because they know that in general; senior citizens (but not only) might be reluctant to adapt to an online world. Therefore; some old, long-lived American newspapers appeared in the 1800s and still exist these days because people continue to buy their printed versions.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are two of the most popular newspapers from the United States that had drastically changed due to all inventions that influenced the publishing world. Below you can see some examples of how these two newspapers looked when they first appeared on the market; and how they look today, in the 21st century. They’ve come a long way, haven’t they?

History of newspapers - The New York Times
History of newspapers - The Wall Street Journal

What else is there to say about the history of newspapers?

One thing’s for sure: the future of newspapers is quite uncertain; but their history is still going on. Whether digital or printed publications, people will always choose to be updated with the latest news. And of course that journalists all over the world will take advantage of people’s thirst for knowledge and will continue to write stories about the world surrounding them. 

As an example; we’re so proud to present you a youth newspaper created in Flipsnack; proof that anyone can share their story with the world. It all started when the entire world was slowly going into lockdown; a journalist from San Francisco gathered tales from families stuck at home with nothing to do. Working from home and online school soon became the norm. The tales written by the little ones were gathered in this newspaper are proof that there is no minimum age for quality journalism. 

Make your own newspaper in Flipsnack

So, you see; there’s a starting point for everyone who wants to express themselves in a newspaper, especially today; when creating your own newspaper is just one click away. 

make your own newspaper

Our amazing publishing platform allows everyone to upload their PDF newspaper and transform it into a page flip publication within minutes. Moreover; you can start from one of the many free newspaper templates and edit it with your content; just like the “Six feet of separation” newspaper shown above. 

Middle School Newspaper Template
Click on the image to edit this template.

This example is a good starting point for anybody; so if you want to use the exact layout; grab this middle school newspaper template and fill it with your stories. Feel free to make any changes you want. Add more vibrant colors, use an impactful newspaper font, and keep your audience up to date with your stories. You can add as many text boxes as you want and fill them with what you love. Don’t forget to also add some relevant and professional pictures for the articles you are writing. In no time, you’ll have your own newspaper right at your fingertips. Who knows, after all? This could be the beginning of your independent journalist career.

History of newspapers – Final words

Thank you for sticking with us “till the end. Hopefully, you enjoyed this visual ride as much as we did. The history of newspapers is an interesting and impressive one; filled with lots of ups and downs; but there’s one thing that we all agree on: our world would be nothing without newspapers; be they digital or printed. They keep us up-to-date and entertained, kill our free time; and provide us information and general knowledge. 

One Comment

  1. ethan July 15, 2022 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    good info for this topic

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