Problems with Early Newspapers: Project for Part 1 & 2

                Communication in the American colonies before the revolution was a hit or miss concept. It took days or weeks to get letters around and even then the news was lost to most people. Soon journals and newspapers would evolve into the form that most people would receive the news. In the early years of newsprint there were major problems that would arise with little to no viable way around them. In looking at early communication in the form of newspapers in early colonial America there are three distinct problems that have been identified. These three problems are: cost (with its own set of problems), availability and literacy rates of early colonists.

                Taking on the first problem, cost. There are separate sub issues to deal with. Not only the cost of the paper, there was also the cost of manufacture, start-up, equipment and finding people to run and distribute the papers. In an era where many people were struggling to live, it was difficult to find the money to buy anything that was not life essential. Second, the cost of manufacture was prohibitive to the publication of widespread newspapers. Many of the early newspapers were only one to three pages and had only local distribution; it was not until the advent of the postal system that newspapers could be efficiently carried to remote locations and made available to the masses. Next, the start-up cost was a stumbling block to many. Equipment, type-set and paper did not come cheap, many early printers found themselves heavily in debt and out of business in short order. Finally, finding the trained people to run the equipment, use the type-set and page layout was a scarce commodity. It is difficult to find someone with experience in a new field since there were limited printers in the beginning.

                The second problem stems from availability. Going hand in hand with the first issue of cost, many early newspapers were not available outside of local towns. The high cost of paper made for select topics and short print runs for many of the early papers, keeping circulation low, the important news of the day might only reach a fraction of the population in the biggest towns and little to no one in the country, or at least not for days following the print.

                The final problem was literacy rates in early American colonies. The problem was not in the cities and larger towns where literacy rates, at least for males, could reach seventy percent. This is not what is usually thought of during the colonial times; however in the American colonies the average male could read and write. The problem came from the people living in the country. Most farmers could not read or write and as such had little use for newspapers unless they had somewhere to go and have the paper read to them.

                In conclusion, the problems and complications of early colonial American newspapers as a form of communication can be separated into three areas. Cost, availability and the amount of people who could read the newspaper all factored into the problems of communication from early newspapers; problems not solved until widespread literacy, the postal service and more efficient ways of publication.



Hudson, Frederic. Journalism in the United States from 1690-1872. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873.

Marshall, Nicholas. “The Rural Newspaper and the Circulation of Information and Culture in New York         and the Antebellum North” New York History. Volume 58 Issue 2 (Spring 2007): 133-151.

Mott, Frank L. American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through 250 Years, 1690-1940. New York: MacMillion, 1950.

Rutland, Robert A. Newsmongers: Journalism in the Life of the Nation 1690-1972. New York: Dial Press, 1973.

Sloan, William D. The Early American Press 1690-1783. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

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