Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By Frasca, Ralph | Journalism History, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period


Frasca, Ralph, Journalism History


Copeland, David A. Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. 397 pp. $59.95.

Clementina Rind was in a bind. After she refused to publish an inflammatory pseudonymous letter in her Vita Gazette in 1773, "An Attentive Observer" chastised her from the pages of a competing newspaper, accusing her of hypocritically refusing to print the letter despite her newspaper's policy of openness. Rind wished to abide by her paper's journalistic motto, "Open to All Parties, but influenced by none," but also remembered that her late husband had been charged with libel for publishing a similarly controversial essay.

Rind was particularly sensitive to the "Observer's" claim that she was "shutting up the Press" and thus denying the public the benefit of press freedom. After weighing the arguments, she proposed a starting conceptwriters must sign essays with their real names if they wished to be published, rather than hiding behind a pseudonym.

This controversy over the implications of press freedom is one of many addressed in David Copeland's mostly impressive book. Copeland, among the most prolific and talented of colonial journalism's current historians, has collected essays from thirty-one controversies addressed in colonial newspapers from 1690 to 1776. Each chapter presents examples of opposing editorial views on a social issue, ranging from a lottery to a smallpox epidemic and slave rebellions to Tea Parties. Some issues are well-known to journalism historians, like the Peter Zenger trial and the Stamp Act rebellion, while others are refreshing and fun, like quack medical treatments and the controversial Anglican affiliation of New York's first college.

Copeland is less an author than a compiler, assembling newspaper essays that capably represent multiple sides of each chapter's controversy, preceded by a brief introduction.

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