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

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

Introduction: Newspapers in Colonial America

In 1690 Boston printer Benjamin Harris decided it was time to publish a newspaper. He believed Massachusetts needed one so that people could have a better understanding of public affairs, business, and, in fact, all the occurrences that take place and affect everyone. He called his paper, quite appropriately, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick. Even though the Massachusetts Bay government did not like the idea of Harris publishing all the information that he received and shut down the newspaper after one issue, the love of Americans for news of all sorts could not be denied or controlled through censorship. Sixty years later, another printer, James Parker of New York, wrote that the taste Americans had for news could not be understood by foreigners, and then added, news was something that Americans "can't be without."1

For more than 250 years, newspapers served as the principal source of news for Americans, and despite the introduction of numerous other media in the last 100 years, newspapers still offer the most in-depth analysis of events of all media. But what were newspapers like in their infancy in America? Were they like today's newspapers, or were they different? Today's reader would find many things about America's newspapers before the Revolution to be familiar. The same reader would also sometimes find it difficult to understand the language, arrangement, and content of the early newspapers. Still, the newspapers of colonial America established all of the newspaper practices in use today with the exception of color printing and photographs, techniques not yet invented.

Even though the printing press arrived in America in 1636 and Harris

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