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The Day the Newspaper Died

I think we can all agree that due to the rise in the computer age as well as the usefulness of the internet, the newspaper is dying. Nonetheless, according to many advocates of e-journalism, the newspaper of today “hardly merits a moment’s mourning, since it is not a death at all but, rather, a rebirth?. In the article “Back Issues?, Jill Lepore argues that the situation that the newspaper is in today resembles very much the threats against the newspaper during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The newspaper business started in Europe around the mid 17th century as a means to tell their respective country about politics or trade. However, like most readings on the web, they were said to be unreliable and or if anything they bent the truth. The famous Boston Massacre, for instance, was an event in which case only five civilians were shot. However, writers Samuel Adams and Paul Revere made the incident more catastrophic. When Benjamin Franklin published his autobiography, he painted his brother/apprentice James as a brute for his inspiration in writing during his later years. It was said to be used for “a metaphor for the colonists’ growing irritation with parliamentary rule?.
As popularity of the newspaper grew, it became more of a means to attack people in power like kings or the church. Especially in the colonies, the newspaper was used to spread opinions or announce certain events that were happening that week. Benjamin Franklin, the editor for New-England Courant, had an editorial policy that said, “I hereby invite all Men, who have Leisure, Inclination and Ability, to speak their Minds with Freedom, Sense and Moderation, and their Pieces shall be welcome to a place in my paper?. Papers like these represent the bloggers of today, speaking about anything that’s on their mind.
Of course, as most opinions are, and the majority of those opinions being directed at the British, they were fought with. It all started with the infamous Stamp Act of 1765 which taxed all printers by a halfpenny for every half sheet they used for their paper (essentially one penny per issue distributed). Papers such as the Maryland Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal and the New-Hampshire Gazette were already saying their good byes weeks before the act was set to go in effect. Franklin constantly typed essay after essay about freedom of the press saying, “To anathematize a Printer for publishing the different Opinions of Men is as injudicious as it is wicked?. In response to these essays, Franklin was thrown in jail twice for doing so. Another example of this is John Peter Zenger, a printer for the New-York Weekly Journal. He printed many essays that showed the governor of New York, William Cosby, that he was “an avaricious scoundrel?. Even though Zenger never wrote an essay against Cosby, he was given the blame. However, Zenger was acquitted for the charges for proving that Cosby was the “avaricious scoundrel? that he printed.
By the time of the revolution era, the Boston Gazette, ran by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, became a great opposition against the British, “flinging mud? at anyone who opposed them. On top of that, more and more papers in the colonies saw the Boston Gazette as a role model for patriotism and freedom of the press. Soon, the British would end up reading constant insults that drove the revolution to the brink of fighting.
Even after the revolutionary war, the paper still attacked anyone that was in power. This time it was the president of the United Sates. The first to be seriously attacked was John Adams, one of Ede’s friends from the gazette. Even though he was mainly attacked for his administration and not himself, Adams was forced to act and so he created the Sedition Act. It made it a federal crime to insult Adam’s and/or his administration. After Adams was Jefferson, who too understood the true power of the press, but unlike Adams, Jefferson failed at accomplishing anything to stop them. For the first term of his presidency, Jefferson just argued with the press, making threats that he would prosecute them for any wrong doing. Of course the press knew he was bluffing and continued to “fling mud? at him. Even during his second term, the closest Jefferson did to stop the press was suggesting that each paper should be categorized by how truthful they were. Obviously this was against the first amendment and never came to pass.
The newspaper of old faced a similar task of fighting against the rulers of the time whereas the paper today is fighting the power of technology.