The Gilded Age Press, 1865-1900

By Ted Curtis Smythe | Go to book overview
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Reflections on the Gilded Age Press

The press at the end of the Civil War was substantially different from that of the antebellum period only in its emphasis on news as against commentary and politics. Most newspapers were politically oriented and tied to parties. Publishers and editors hoped to win political favor in the form of postmasterships, customs sinecures, or other government offices. Government printing, whether from local, state, or federal entities, still constituted an important ingredient in the support of the press.

The partisan press, which had dominated antebellum journalism, still was shackled to party. The partisan spirit infected news and comment, but this bias enabled new publishers to offer something different, for new party newspapers seldom were started where party newspapers already occupied the field. One of the striking developments during the Gilded Age was the rise of the evening newspaper. By 1890, two-thirds of all dailies were evening newspapers.

The rise of the evening press was made possible by new technologies and an emphasis on timeliness. Western evening newspapers carried news of events from the day, especially if the news occurred in the East. Even the press agency fight, which resulted in a victory by the Western Associated Press (WAP), helped evening newspapers, because the WAP provided more news for evening newspapers than had the New York Associated Press (NYAP).

The extension of the telegraph and railroads spread both news and newspapers. Telegraph lines largely paralleled railroad lines in early years, though suburban areas were linked with urban centers. In 1880, when there were 93,000 miles of railroad track, there were almost 111,000 miles of telegraph wire. Reporters who covered the suburbs, or traveled throughout the states, used the telegraph to send news to the office. Editors used it to control their movements. The railroad was largely limited to the East and Midwest during and immediately after the war, but it quickly spread. The continent was joined in 1869, and by 1883 there were four intercontinental lines. But the more important change, so far as the press was concerned, was the spread of tracks into


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