Looking back in 1910 on his years as a printer during the period
before and during the American Revolution, Isaiah Thomas noted:
It was common for printers of newspapers to subjoin to their
titles 'Containing the freshest Advices both Foreign and Domestick;'
but gazettes and journals are now chiefly filled with political
essays. News do not appear to be always the first object of
editors, and, of course, 'containing the freshest advices,'
&c., is too often out of the question.
As you can see below, not even Thomas could resist making that
claim in his "Boston Gazette."
By the 1770's, a network of colonial postmasters had been established
and these men often received copies of foreign publications as
part of their work as well as having access to the newspapers
to be delivered to subscribers in their area. For these reasons
the postmaster was often the one to establish the first newspaper
in a town, and he would fill his publication with "intelligence"
gleaned from overseas journals and from newsletters exchanged
with other postmaster-printers. As two enterprising printers announced
in their 1775 prospectus for the Pennsylvania Mercury that intended
to offer "a Relation of the most remarkable and important
Occurrences, Foreign and Domestic, collected from the Magazines
and Papers in Europe and America, as well as from other Sources."
communicate Advertisements of every Kind--the Arrival and Departure
of Ships--All interesting marine Intelligence--Improvements
in Agriculture, &c. &c. with such ingenious Observations
as may tend to the Entertainment of the Public--Nor shall a
Place be wanting for judicious Remarks, Essays, Moral, Historical,
Political, Geographical, and Poetical of the Learned of both
Sexes, in this and the neighbouring Provinces, whose general
Assistance is earnestly requested, and to whom the Paper shall
be ever free, and their Productions received with Gratitude--Fully
intending to establish a Correspondence in Europe, the several
Colonies in America, and Islands in the West-Indies.
What Qualified as "News"
Several characteristics of late eighteenth century newspapers
are immediately evident from the prospectus above. Intelligence
of matters "Foreign and Domestic, collected from the Magazines
and Papers in Europe and America" was intended to provide
one of the main sources of content for newspapers. Although the
more respected newspapers of today claim to privilege "objective"
reporting of events, with journalists' commentaries limited to
the editorial sections of the paper and the remarks of others
confined within the restraints of the "letters to the editor"
column, the late eighteenth century newspaper offered a lively
mélange of "intelligence" from a variety of sources.
As Patricia Bradley notes in her disssertation, Slavery in
Colonial Newspapers on the Eve of the Revolution, 1770-1776
(Ann Arbor, 1988):
At a time when formal channels of news were not
plentiful, British and American periodicals frequently used
hearsay and gossip in their news columns, items appearing as
'an extract from a Letter" or 'Our correspondent observes.'
These items were likely to express the opinion, interpretation
or concern of the particular writer."
Colonial editors transcribed the British press
accounts verbatim to their own pages, frequently including all
the versions available from the British periodicals they received.
Although that coverage might include biased and inaccurate versions,
no one version dominated because other coverage was available
in the same newspaper. (62-3)
It was not unusual, in fact, for a newspaper early in the revolutionary
period to publish several accounts of even an event as controversial
as the Battle of Concord and Lexington, offering not only different
sets of facts but also contrasting viewpoints.
See At Other Sites:
The Story of The
New England Courant (where Benjamin Franklin began his
trade) and sample issues from the 1720's
the News? The American Revolution and Maryland’s Press
-- A wonderful collection of Maryland newspapers from the 1760's
and 1770's available in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) form.
Buff: The First Ten Newspapers Printed in America (Note: gives
insight into newspapers as business enterprises, personal expression,
and political tools.)
Newspaper Library Web Catalogue The British Library Newspaper
History of the British Newspaper The British Library Newspaper
Colonial Journalism 1607-1783
The History of Printing
Part II Journalism Index
pages from an unidentified Boston newspaper for the week of July
Press in New Hampshire 1756-1800, an online exhibit from
the Department of Special Collections of the University of New
in New Jersey