American Newspapers, 1800-1860: Country Papers

American newspapers 1800 to 1860 country papers this video on Antebellum American newspapers will introduce you to those newspapers that were published in the country although the big metropolitan dailies were tremendously influential fewer than 20% of Americans lived in urbanized areas during this period these statistics actually overstate the size of the urban population since the census counts any city with the population over 2,500 as an urban area many cities meeting this criterion even in the 19th century more closely resemble country towns in their economies and social organization than they do the big metropolitan areas like New York City Boston Philadelphia and New Orleans the vast majority of Americans lived in the country and the country press served this large segment of the population if you are using Antebellum newspapers in your research then it’s likely that you will encounter country newspapers country newspapers of the early 19th century looked very different from country papers today they tended to be large by today’s standards 24 by 18 inches would have been typical to illustrate this contrast here is a country newspaper from the Year 2012 next to one from 1854 at 17 by 12 inches the modern country paper is much smaller than its Antebellum counterpart even a large City newspaper in 2012 would scarcely measure more than 23 by 12 inches an antebellum country newspaper would usually be set in five to eight evenly sized columns each column running the full length of the page with few illustrations and minimal use of display type again contrast with the newspaper from 2012 four to six columns of varying width rarely running the full length of a page a country newspaper from 2012 will make liberal use of illustrations in eye catching display type not all country newspapers were this large some especially on the frontier would have been smaller the Kaskaskia Illinois Intelligencer was eighteen by 12 inches and the New Albany Indiana toxin of Liberty was 18 by 10 inches country newspapers were usually four pages formed from a single large sheet of paper folded once in 2012 even a small country newspaper would be at least eight pages formed from two or more sheets to summarize antebellum country newspapers when compared with their counterparts in the year 2012 had fewer pages but these pages were larger and more densely packed with text because of their size and layouts 19th century country newspapers can be difficult to read especially when viewed on a computer screen country newspapers were typically published once a week although this frequency sometimes increased to semi weekly or even daily as a town grew in size much of the news in a country paper was copied verbatim from other newspapers especially from the big metropolitan newspapers proper attribution was expected but not always provided the government encouraged this practice of sharing news by waving the postage on newspapers exchanged between editors and country editors received dozens of these exchange newspapers every week country editors most commonly exchanged with newspapers in bigger cities especially Washington DC the state capitals and important commercial centers like New York copying from other newspapers sounds like easy work but the process of selecting a small number of articles from among the dozens of newspapers received could be very labor-intensive after 1845 editors increasingly relied on the Telegraph for gathering news but even then only a small portion of the country newspapers came from the Telegraph’s and country editors continued to use newspaper exchanges until the post office finally ended the franking privilege in 1873 many people are surprised to discover that the country newspapers of this era included little local news today small-town newspapers are valued for their local news in the first part of the nineteenth century however country newspapers covered primarily foreign and national news especially political news

some scholars believe that in neglecting local news the country newspapers were consciously imitating the big-city newspapers others argue that the weekly newspaper was not an efficient instrument for distributing local news in small isolated communities local news was more easily and inexpensively communicated by word-of-mouth costly newspapers were valued more for the political and commercial intelligence coming from long distances furthermore when a newspaper was run by a single person as many country newspapers were the operator was simultaneously the publisher editor reporter and printer in such circumstances the operator had precious little time to do much original reporting it was far easier simply to copy stories from the larger city newspapers that were received on exchange country newspapers began including some local news in the 1820s in response to increased competition from the less expensive weekly editions of metropolitan dailies that were becoming popular with country readers local news appeared with increasing frequency in the 1840s and 1850s not until the 1860s and 1870s however did local news become standard in country newspapers the local news that did appear had often been submitted by subscribers and other correspondents sometimes in response to solicitations published in the newspaper itself international news decreased in significance after the war of 1812 but national news and especially political news continued to be heavily besides throughout this period because pages 2 & 3 were often printed last you can expect to find the most recent news there bear in mind though that recent news could be up to a month old political intelligence remained at the most important category of news in the country papers which were usually aligned with a particular party if they weren’t actually operated by the party itself the editors made no pretense of objectivity the paper served to propagate party doctrines and to publicize the party’s official candidates the party ticket was often printed week after week right below the newspaper masthead aside from news you can also expect to find letters to the editor which were commonly signed with pseudonyms country newspapers also printed editorials editorials often appeared near the masthead you will also find a lot of fiction and poetry in country newspapers like the news the fiction and poetry was usually reprinted from other newspapers sometimes pirated from abroad but you will find original works as well as with City newspapers advertisements could appear anywhere even on the front page and were usually set in the same column format as the news articles in town subscribers received their newspaper either through the publisher provided home delivery or by picking up their newspapers at the printing office out of town subscribers received their newspapers through the mail since there was no home mail delivery during this period subscribers who received their newspapers through the mail had to pick them up at the nearest post office in rural areas a round trip to the nearest post office could require a full day of travel because country newspapers often served an entire county or region out of town subscribers were common you might be wondering what motivated printers to launch newspapers in small isolated communities the speculative fever and optimism of the age may have encouraged some to establish newspapers in even the least likely places in town boosters encouraged printers to do so since a proper newspaper was thought essential to the dignity of any up-and-coming town newspapers were also valued as tools for promoting the town to potential settlers country editors published articles extolling the advantages of their communities hoping that through the newspaper exchanges news of the town would spread across the country and attract new settlers unfortunately news of hardships and horrors often spread through the exchanges as well historians agree however that the most common motive for launching a country newspaper was politics even very small towns commonly had two newspapers one for each political party despite the meager potential for subscriptions and advertisements whatever the reason for launching a country newspaper few were very profitable and many quickly failed often within three years it took between four hundred and fifteen hundred dollars to

launch a country newspaper that would be roughly six thousand to thirty five thousand dollars in today’s money because few publishers possess the necessary capital they usually had to borrow the money or solicit donations whether credit or gift the money often came from either political leaders or community boosters in either case it inevitably had strings attached as the person or organization supplying the capital usually expected to influence the papers editorial stance country newspapers had few employees beyond the editor one person for a small paper so five for a larger operation if an editor did employ extra workers they were usually involved with the printing side of the business editor’s often relied on subscribers to contribute news items usually without compensation and sometimes without attribution the correspondence actually seemed to have preferred anonymity once the paper was launched there were a few main sources of income the most obvious sources subscriptions and advertisements were usually not adequate even to cover operating expenses much less to make a profit although advertising commonly filled as much as half of the space in a newspaper the actual revenue it generated was insufficient to both to the scarcity of cash in the rural economy and to the limited range of goods and services to be advertised the same advertisements appeared week after week and month after month legal notices were the most valuable sources of advertising revenue revenue from subscriptions was also comparatively small many country newspapers had circulations of only a few hundred scholars estimate that about 1,500 paying subscribers were needed before a paper could expect to turn a profit East Coast newspapers commonly had 1,000 or more subscribers but the Western and frontier newspapers usually counted theirs in hundreds there were a few enough potential subscribers in the countryside to begin with but the problem was compounded by the widespread practice of sharing a single newspaper issue among multiple readers the sharing of newspapers further reduced an already limited field of potential subscribers even where there were advertisers and subscribers both were notorious for not paying their bills and publishers were often compelled to accept payment in kind due to insufficient income from subscriptions and advertisements country publishers had to supplement their incomes the two most important sources of supplementary income were job printing and government printing job printing was work done for hire examples of job printing included broadside advertisements circulars also called handbills leaflets or fliers lottery tickets and even books government printing was essentially job printing contracted by federal state territorial county or municipal governments governments printing business was commonly given as a reward for party loyalty examples of government printing included laws proclamations legislative journals tax delinquent lanlan and militia orders the government printing business often brought with it the obligation to support the party in power if it wasn’t actually given as a reward for having done so political patronage was well understood and openly practiced throughout this period the establishment of the government printing office in 1860 largely ended the practice of newspaper patronage at the federal level but throughout the period covered in this tutorial government printing remained an important source of revenue for country newspaper publishers the business model of the country newspaper more closely resembled the early colonial newspapers than it did its contemporaries in the city throughout this period City printing offices increasingly specialized in newspaper printing book printing magazine printing or job printing while the country printer continued to handle all kinds of printing work the country newspaper served many functions but among the most important functions were enabling the government to communicate with its citizens and enabling political parties to mobilize support for their candidates the country newspaper also served to bring news from long distances to people living in isolated rural communities finally to a lesser extent the country newspapers served to communicate information about these rural communities to people living elsewhere this video has been brought to you by the history philosophy and newspaper

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