Travel With Me Through Journalism’s History: An Essay by Danielle Desouza

What is journalism? It depends on whom you ask. The most concrete definition is that it is the gathering, creating, and presenting of news and information. Based on this definition, it is hard to imagine journalism in any other way. However, journalism in the early nineteenth century was vastly different from what we are used to today.

Tracking the history of journalism through approximately 500 words is no mean feat. However, it is crucial in discovering how journalism ended up in its current state.

The advertising model was central to journalism in the early nineteenth century. By paying publishers for the advertisements on the paper, advertisers could reach the public at a larger scale and in turn, the audience could receive the news. As a result, newspapers in the early to mid- nineteenth century contained more adverts than actual news articles. At this point in time, journalism was not yet seen as a profession. Journalists did not yet realise that they could use newspapers to promote popular culture and influence the population.

The emergence of the penny press in 1930s America was revolutionary. The penny press gave rise to our modern understanding of the news: the use of reporters and a human element. Such a concept was new and exciting. The penny press worked as it provided cheap access to news, which led to extending its reach on different groups of people, particularly the middle class. The emergence of the penny press also made a switch from commerce to culture: news was based on what was popular at the time. Newspapers were no longer prisoners to advertisers.

In conjunction with this new focus on culture, government restrictions on journalists were removed. The Advertisement Duty was repealed in 1853, the Stamp Duty in 1855 and the Paper Duty in 1861, all of which led to a massive surge in the independence of journalists. It forged the way for more creativity in the industry, with newspapers adopting their own identities. The news manifested itself into various forms, ranging from gossip in tabloids, to political opinions in broadsheets.

One of the main differences between the nineteenth and twenty-first century is the amount of spare time that people have. Reading newspapers used to be a fun pastime for many; it was a time to socialise and discuss topics. With the digital age dominating the present, many news companies have reverted to using online methods: WordPress is growing in popularity, print is becoming unfashionable amongst the younger generations. Modern society moves at such a fast pace that people want to access news as quickly as possible. The majority do not have time for newspapers.

However, is digital always better? Some believe that you cannot replicate the feeling of reading a physical newspaper; the smell, the feeling of the paper in your hand.

Thus, we are currently at a crossroads in journalism. In order for physical newspapers to exist, more of an effort needs to be made to bring the enjoyment back to finding out about the news – news that is powerful, and has every reason to be accessible in every way, shape and form.

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