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Newspaper Editors


Journalism may have begun in Rome with the regular publication of reports called Acta Diurna, or "Daily Acts," begun in 59 B.C. They reported political news and social events on a daily basis. In China, a journal called the pao was published on a regular basis from 618 A.D. until 1911, recording activities of the court. The first regularly printed European newspapers appeared in the early 1700s in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. The Dutch corantos, composed of items from the foreign press, were translated into English and French around 1620. The first English newspaper is considered to be the Weekly Newes, initially published in 1622. Until 1644, the news in English journals was controlled by the Star Chamber, a court that censored any unfavorable information about the king. Interestingly, also in 1644, the chamber was dismissed, and the English enjoyed the first semblance of freedom of the press. It was not until 1670 that the term "newspaper" came into use.

Benjamin Harris, an English journalist who emigrated to the United States, published the first American colonial newspaper in Boston in 1690, but because of the repressive climate of the times, it was immediately closed down by the British governor.

The first regularly circulated newspaper in the colonies was the Boston News-Letter, a weekly first published in 1704 by John Campbell. The press at this time still operated under rather severe government restrictions, but the struggle for freedom of the press grew, and before the end of the century, journalists were able to print the news without fear of repression.

The need for newspaper editors grew rapidly through the 19th and early 20th centuries as the demand for newspapers increased, causing circulation to jump from thousands to millions. New technology allowed the newspaper industry to meet the demand. Presses were invented that could produce newspapers by the millions on a daily basis.

In the 19th century, newspaper publishers began to endorse political candidates and to take stands on other political and social issues. They also came to be sources of entertainment. When Benjamin Day founded the New York Sun in 1833, he sought to do more than inform. The paper's pages were filled with news from the police beat as well as gossip, disasters, animal stories, and anecdotes. Other papers of the era began to print sports news, particularly horse racing and prize fights, society pages, and the business news from Wall Street. By the mid-19th century, there was an outpouring of human interest news, and journalists discovered the public appetite for scandal. By the end of the century, a number of newspaper editors were famed for their craft, including Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Charles A. Dana of the New York Sun, and William Allen White of the Kansas Gazette.

Newspaper sensationalism reached its peak during the last years of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th. The most notable figure in this period of "yellow journalism" was William Randolph Hearst. He built a vast newspaper empire by playing on the emotions of his readership. Hearst often fabricated news, as did others, including his chief rival of the period, Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World. Perhaps the most glaring example of this type of journalism was Hearst and Pulitzer's exaggerated treatment of Spanish atrocities in Cuba, which incited public sentiment for war against Spain. Historians feel that the news coverage was at least partially responsible for the declaration of war that came in 1898. Although most newspapers through the 20th century have adhered to ethical journalistic practices, a number of dailies and weekly tabloids, protected by freedom of the press, continue to exploit the sensationalist market. Journalists in general, however, have adopted codes, such as that of the Society of Professional Journalists, which stress responsibility, freedom of the press, ethics, accuracy, objectivity, and fair play.

By the 20th century, newspapers became big business. Many newspaper publishing companies became corporate conglomerates that owned printing plants, radio and television stations, paper plants, forest acreage, and other related assets. Most of the profits came from advertising dollars as newspapers became the leading medium for advertising. As costs rose, it took more and more advertising to support the news portion of the paper, until advertising occupied most of the space in almost all U.S. newspapers. The amount of advertising, in most cases, now determines the amount of news coverage a newspaper carries. Eventually, many newspapers could not withstand the rising costs and the increased competition from television. From the mid-20th-century, newspapers started declining at a rapid rate. Between 1962 and 1990, for instance, the number of daily papers in the United States fell from 1,761 to 1,626.

As some papers failed, others, especially in large cities, grew as they took over new circulation. The major metropolitan dailies continued to add new and more exciting features in order to keep up with the competition, especially television.

From the beginning of this century, newspapers had been expanding their coverage, and on large papers, editorial departments came to be divided into many specialty areas, requiring reporters and editors with equivalent specialties. Today, most newspapers have departments devoted to entertainment, sports, business, science, consumer affairs, education, and just about every other area of interest in today's society. Many also have online versions which feature articles from print editions as well as Internet exclusives.

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