Of Politics, Religion, and Popular Culture
While not precisely a Golden Age of Journalism, the period covered by William Dorsey's scrapbooks was one of fully free expression, and surely in technical terms the most innovative span in the history of the newspaper business. Full of cocksure conclusions, often scurrilous and fiercely partisan, the journals of the day were almost wholly unfettered by modern fears of libel law, or by modern restrictions in the name of sensitivity or taste. In other respects, however, the years between roughly 1873, when Dorsey began to clip out items in number, and 1903, when he largely stopped, represent the development of the newspaper (although not the publishing) business into a recognizably modern form.
The history of the Philadelphia Inquirer, locally the only surviving daily from the period, is fairly representative. Founded in 1869, it was published through the early 1870s under a rigid format, eight pages long, six days a week--no news on the Sabbath--with no single headline wider than any of its invariable six columns. It added a Sunday edition in 1889, graphics in 1885, wide headlines in 1893, photographs in 1899. By the mid-1890s the journal's layout, its editorial and sports pages, its special Sunday supplement full of special features and graphic department store advertising, had made it into something closely resembling its contemporary incarnation. The difference between then and now is less visual than economic: while the Inquirer today is the only daily in town--with the quasi-exception of the tabloid Daily News, published cooperatively by the same corporation--a century ago it had to share the market not with broadcast media but with six, eight, or ten other daily newspapers at any given time.
During the same period, although the Afro-American population of the city was according to somewhat suspect census figures no more than about 21,000 in 1870 and perhaps 70,000 in 1904, the black community managed to