Newspapers are the original form of broadband communication, a distinction not always recognized in the age of the Internet. Long before we had computers, television, radio, telephones and telegraph, newspapers were the cheapest and most efficient way to reach mass audiences with news, commentary and advertising. Newspapers, from their beginnings as hand-printed "broadsheets", have been a true random-access medium -- readers can move easily and quickly through the different sections of a newspaper, returning to them days or even weeks later. And because a newspaper's "software" consists of a common language, it possesses a universal and timeless quality. For example, a newspaper published before the American Revolution is as readable today as it was in 1775!
In this edition of How Stuff Works, we'll take a behind-the-scenes look at the increasingly complex business of running a newspaper, using The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C. as a real-world example. We'll examine how the news is covered and reported, how it makes it into the newspaper and how the newspaper makes it to the press and then to your neighborhood and racks across the circulation area. We'll also look at the newspaper as a business and discuss how it balances making money with serving an important communications role in our society.
While that newspaper from 1775 is still readable, there is one great disparity between a newspaper of 1775 and its modern counterpart. The 1775 newspaper was published under the whim of a British colonial government with little tolerance for the free expression of ideas -- particularly radical political ideas. The First Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights added to the American Constitution in 1791, forbids laws abridging freedom of the press. In an era of kings and emperors, this was a heretical unleashing of individual freedom and a frightening challenge to state authority. It remains so in many nations today.
The principles and practices that govern today's newspapers -- journalistic objectivity, concise writing, national and international news -- emerged after the American Civil War. This was the Golden Era of daily newspapers, golden not only in their enormous number and diversity, but also in the profits that allowed press barons like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer to live on a regal scale. Never before or since have newspapers wielded so much influence on American politics and culture. Hearst, part of whose newspaper empire survives today, was so powerful that he is credited (or blamed) for the outbreak of war with Spain in 1898.