Print as a medium has a long history… Let’s explore some parts of it:
Printing was invented in China. Block printing was invented circa 609AD and the movable type printing was invented circa 1040AD. In Europe, the first paper was made in 1309AD. In 1476, England has its first press set up by William Caxton and John Tate starts the first paper mill.
The first weekly newspaper in Europe was published in Antwerp, 1605. In 1702, London sees the first English-language newspaper and Fleet Street is established as the centre of London newspaper publishing.
17th – 19th Century Press
- Not just newspapers; pamphlets, periodicals and novels too.
- These often had more influence in shaping public opinion than newspapers.
The Fourth Estate
- Once free of party patronage and state censorship, buoyed by expanding advertising revenue, the press achieved independence.
- Became the ‘fourth estate’ – the public watchdog, existing within a healthy ‘marketplace of ideas’ (Ginsberg cited in Mullen&Klaehn, 2010).
- The urban population was divided into social classes.
- Only half the middle class engaged as ‘the public’ in the first half of the 19th century.
- Eventually, a penny press emerged which began to speak to literate workers.
- A radical working class had been in existence for at least a century but was mainly illegal and more or less disappeared by the mid-century.
- Newspaper created a mass market; a forerunner of modern media.
- Main features of today’s press: mass circulated, popular and ‘quality’ newspapers with chain ownership had emerged by 1900.
- The press created the first professionalised media worker.
Case Study: The Times
- The Times was able to hold people to account and influence elite opinion.
- The Times was officially established by the 1850s.
- It was originally named ‘The Daily Universal Register’ – founded in 1785.
- They pioneered the use of new technology reducing labour and increasing productivity.
- They invested in printing press technology.
- They pioneered an original form of professional journalism and cultivated elite networks.
- They were the first newspaper to send war correspondents (William Howard Russell – Charge of the Light Brigade – Crimean War, 1853).
- The Times was pre-eminent up until the 1850’s but went into decline in the second half of the century.
- The first reason for this was its success in influencing elite opinion made it a threat to the government. Prime Minister Lord Russell enacted legislation which increased the cover price of The Times.
- The second reason was the emergence of the penny press provided cheap, and popular, competition.
The Struggle for Press Freedom
- In its infancy the news press was subject to government restriction.
- The key events in this struggle are:
- The abolition of the Court of Star Camber in 1641.
- The ending of press licensing in 1694.
- Fox’s libel act, 1792.
- The repeal of press taxation in the period of 1853 to 1861.
‘Only with the last of these reforms, it is claimed, did the press finally become free’. – Curran & Seaton, 2003)
- Publishers began to cultivate particular readerships on the basis of social class, political persuasion and gender.
- This becomes enhanced by the influence of advertising – stimulating status through conspicuous consumption.
- More people gain education and are literate.
20th Century Press
- By 1930, newspapers were ‘social engines’.
- They became an important part of the public sphere.
- The press being ‘free’ allowed the public a watchdog to keep government accountable.
- This leads to investigative journalism which requires fact checking, interviews with public figures, on the ground reporting – long time periods of information gathering.
- It’s important to add how there is an issue of ownership plurality and large conglomerations in modern media.