Newspapers and the press have been an integral part of American society since the beginning, in fact a free press was one of the founding tenets of the nation. Through the 17th and early 18th centuries, newspapers helped to improve communication and educate the public, but publishers’ motives were mainly profit driven, through advertisement and circulation revenue.
By the 18th century, the newspaper began to take a different form, defining both what ‘news’ was, and the role of journalism in providing the news to the public. After 1765 the purpose of newspapers became almost entirely political, supporting the American cause during the Revolution. Prior to the Revolution, newspapers focused on what was going on in the rest of the world; the Revolution turned the focus to the colonies.
The 1780s saw the first daily publications, and the 1790s saw a boom in papers created to support a particular political party. Editors believed that they should support their particular party in all that they did, so they wrote essays in support of their party and included editorial comments in the news pieces that either supported their party or attacked the opposition. The primary legacy of 18th century journalism is the right to comment on political events, and the modern-day editorial had its beginnings in that era.
As the nation developed in the 19th century, newspapers increased production. The development of the railroad and telegraph allowed news to travel faster and reach more people. With tensions rising through the mid-century, the outbreak of the Civil War launched the newspaper industry to a new height. Newspapers in both the North and South provided the public with updates on the war’s political issues, battle results, and casualty reports. More importantly, newspapers were responsible for editorializing the war, acting as the propaganda machines of the day, driving the ebb and flow of public opinion.
BIRTH OF MASS MEDIA
Between the end of the war and the 1890s, improved technology, urbanization and increasing public literacy allowed the industry to continue to grow, with a focus on the newly developed middle class. Political and financial news remained staples of daily publications, but journalists began to write stories for middle and lower-class readers, finding sensationalized reporting appealing to those groups of people. Investigative journalists, or muckrakers, became concerned with social ills, often focusing on corporate corruption and abuses suffered by the impoverished.
Over the next century the newspaper industry continued to grow and assume a place of tremendous power in American society. The era in history marked the birth of mass media on a previously incomprehensible scale. Politics, finance, and popular culture were fused into an entity that would both reflect and shape public opinion for the next century.
AUBURN’S NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY
In 1808, Auburn was a settlement of a few hundred residents. Newspapers had been published elsewhere in the county since 1798, but according to Henry Hall in History of Auburn:
“the establishment of a newspaper was the chief event of 1808. Henry and James Pace, two ancient-looking, dumpy little Englishmen, had begun, on the 30th of April, 1806, the publication of a paper called the Gazette, at Aurora, but, starved out by the removal of the county seat, had brought their whole office to Auburn as a more profitable field of operation.
They issued here a new weekly paper, entitled the Western Federalist, the first number of which appeared on the 7th day of June, 1808. It was printed on coarse, blue paper, ten inches wide by fifteen long, in a little office standing a few yards west of the present Cayuga County Bank.
Everything about this office seemed the dusky relics of a distant age, and the type was really so, having been used so long in the old world before it came to America, that it was worn down nearly to the “first nick.” The Western Federalist was generally patronized by the residents of Auburn, as one of the local institutions, though its politics offended some.”
As Auburn’s population continued to grow, the newspaper industry developed in tandem, with partisan papers for the mounting political climate.
DAWN OF A NEW ERA
According to Hall, “1846 was the dawn of a new era for journalism in Auburn. A major problem was it took too long for news to travel. The canals and railroad aided newspapers in the interior by increasing the rapidity with which news might be obtained. Semi-weeklies and extras began to be largely issued, in 1838, by the presses of Auburn, to keep pace with the progress of the times.”
“But the prosperity of these papers really began with the construction of the telegraph, in 1846. Lines of the wires were brought to Auburn from the east in May of this year, and were thrown open for use on the 25th. Our editors were then put in possession of intelligence from the seats of commerce and government as soon as the papers in the city. With the commendable public spirit and enterprise, they anticipated the completion of the telegraph by arranging with the Syracuse and Utica papers for receiving the news temporarily, and in March, issuing for the first time in Auburn, daily gazettes.
These were published respectively from the offices of the Cayuga Patriot and the Auburn Advertiser. Both were modest little five-column sheets, about the size of the original Western Federalist. From that time the local papers of Auburn rapidly gained ground in the esteem of business men and residents of the town. They now occupy a commanding position, and overshadow the prints of all daily presses outside of the metropolis.”
Over the course of Auburn’s history there have been scores of papers published on every subject matter, from politics to religion, to medicine, to agriculture.