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Mass Media and Society

Penny Press

The Country Changes
It's 1800. • • • • Most of the big ports in the country have newspapers, which have jumped from 55 just after the American Revolution to 512. The War of 1812 will open the west to the Frontier Press. Magazines start to take hold as a national medium, though not yet a mass medium. And Thomas Jefferson, an anti-federalist, is elected president.

The stage is almost set for newspapers to make the leap to a mass medium. One of the themes of the textbook is that the media are technology driven. Well, in the early 1800s printing technology brought together the new rotary press and the steam engine. This is key ingredient to what is about to come. Also key was the fact that Jefferson was president. Under his administration a public education system was established. Remember that literacy, until now, had been reserved for the elite. Well, while slaves in this country still were excluded, the public education system opened up literacy for the masses. Jump ahead to the 1830s. • • • • A generation has been educated in public school. Immigration has brought a large populace to the cities. The economy is good. Technology has brought together the new rotary printing press and the steam engine, which makes it possible to print thousands of papers inexpensively.

Benjamin Day and the Penny Press
All that is needed for newspapers to become a mass medium is a good idea. Along comes Benjamin Day and other publishers in 1833. Day opened the New York Sun and created the Penny Press. Newspapers of the day cost about 10 cents each . . . too expensive for the masses. But there was a large literate audience out there. Day took advantage of the fact that he could print thousands of papers inexpensively and sold the papers for a penny each. He also changed to content of newspapers to make it more sensation and more popular to the lower class. He hired boys to hawk the newspapers on street corners. His idea was huge success and newspapers crossed that line that made them truly mass media. Others were quick to follow his lead. They became so powerful that they were called Lords of the Press.

The Importance of the Penny Press
While this lecture is short, the importance of the Penny Press to mass media cannot be underestimated. Only recently have we seen anything like it. In 1989 the Gannett Corporation started a new kind of newspaper, called USA Today. The impact it had, and continues to have, on other newspapers is akin to the Penny Press. And still another event has taken place that has had a more profound impact. The Internet is changing ALL media in many ways.

Reading Assignment
You should be reading the chapter on newspapers in your textbook to get more information about newspaper history.

Briefly describe how the Penny Press transformed newspapers into mass media. Note that when submitting the answer start the subject line with:

J100x – YourLastName – PennyPress Send to