The Penny Press (1833-1860) is a significant era in print. It is the basis of change in the economic support for newspapers, the pattern of newspaper distribution, the definition of what constituted news, and the techniques of news collection. This phrase originated when newspaperman Benjamin Day dropped the price of his New York Sun to a penny a copy. Newspapers in this era started circulation for the selling price of one penny, 1/6 the price of the newspapers leading up to date, allowing not only the upper classes the opportunity to purchase them, but the entire public. Boys hawked newspapers on the corners of streets, declaring their daily stories.

  1. New York Sun - 1833, launched by Benjamin Day at the age of 22, started the idea of the Penny Press, considered sensational news.
    • "The object of this paper is to lay before the public, at a price within the means of every one, all the news of the day, and at the same time offer an advantageous medium for advertisements."
  2. New York Herald - 1835, launched by Jams Gordon Bennett, introduced a financial page, a sports page, and an aggressive editorial policy emphasizing reform.
  3. New York Tribune - 1841, launched by Horace Greesely, used editorial pages for crusades and causes – opposing capital punishment and gambling while favoring trade unions and westward expansion and supporting women’s rights.
  4. New York Times - 1851, edited by Henry Raymond, strong reputation for objective and reasoned journalism, still exists today.
  5. Note that New York City had a population of 218,000 in the 1830’s.

Prior to the penny press newspapers relied heavily upon subscription costs to fortify their funding. Not so during this era, they relied more upon the funding from advertising. It was also subsequent to note that the cost of materials such as paper dropped in price considerably helping the pricing. The printing press also changed its frame from wood to iron. The Richard Hoe & Co. press allowed for 4,000 copies per hour to be generated. Because of the cheap cost of the newspaper, the circulation of such papers increased rapidly, cutting across political party and even social class lines. Newspapers prior to this era had a year's subscription that would cost a common laborer usually over a full week's pay, which had to be paid in full and invariably in advance. Any advertiser could as a result reach significantly broader audiences due to the penny press.

Older papers were distributed primarily through the mails while the penny press relied upon both the mails and street sales. The concept of news altered as well, changing from the affairs of the commercial elite to the social life of the rising middle classes. They concentrated on news that affected the broader public, sports, religion, the sudden appearance of crisis news, and crime. When the U.S. Mexican War hit, the three papers of that time covered the war in depth. The papers were used to drum up support for the war as well. Perhaps the biggest change of all was the timeliness of news. The importance of speed in news collection and presentation was now a factor to be considered. Stories were delivered through all means including pigeon, Pony Express, railroads, steamships, and the telegraph.

Consulted Sources:
Dominick, Joseph R., The Dynamics of Mass Communications, Media in the Digital Age, 8th edition, viewed Fall 2006.
A website with much of the book’s information and dialogue can been reached here.

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