White Paper: From Six Penny Press to Penny Press – When Newspapers Began the Shift to Mass Media

During the early years of the United States, newspapers were the output of printing houses. Those who could afford to pay printing costs were the actual and preferred contributors of content. Because journalism was not yet a paid occupation, the printer would collect statements on a particular topic from any variety of interested parties, with no fact-checking or claim verification.

As a business transaction, the printer’s clients were paying for the labor of setting out type, the physical production and subsequent distribution of commercial and political notices — advertising and advocacy. The subscription model was the dominant form of distribution and subscriptions to these papers (at a cost of $6-8 dollars per year) were affordable only by the affluent classes of merchants and landowners. Only a limited number of individual issues would be available to citizens and one had to travel to the printer’s shop to buy one at a cost of six cents each. Such an expenditure in the context of an average weekly wage of 85 cents would have been a luxury. Papers consisted of four pages; advertising always appeared on the front and back page with other content (listings of ships with available goods, legal notices, political essays, etc.) appearing on the reverse second and third pages. The owner of a printer’s shop handled multiple responsibilities –typesetting, collection of subscription monies, and limited creation of advertisements that individuals of lesser means might need to place.

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The Pennsylvania Gazette

The Pennsylvania Gazette

Accessible Archives Collections Used in Preparing This White Paper

Accessible Archives provides diverse primary source materials reflecting broad views across American history and culture have been assembled into comprehensive databases. The following collections were utilized in developing this material.

African American Newspapers – This collection of African American newspapers contains a wealth of information about cultural life and history during the 19th and early 20th century and is rich with first-hand reports of the major events and issues of the day. The collection also provides a great number of early biographies, vital statistics, essays and editorials, poetry and prose, and advertisements all of which embody the African-American experience.

Frank Leslie’s Weekly – Frank Leslie’s Weekly, later often known as Leslie’s Weekly, actually began life as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Founded in 1855 and continued until 1922, it was an American illustrated literary and news publication, and one of several started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. Leslie’s Weekly followed a tested and proven formula of carefully combining elements of war, politics, art, science, travel, and exploration, literature and the fine arts in each issue, enhanced with between 16 and 32 illustrations.

The Liberator – The Liberator was a weekly newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison in Boston, Massachusetts. William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in December 1805. At thirteen years of age he began his newspaper career with the Newburyport Herald, where he acquired great skills in both accuracy and speed in the art of setting type. He also wrote anonymous articles, and at the age of twenty-one began publishing his own newspaper.

The Pennsylvania Gazette – The Pennsylvania Gazette was one of America’s most prominent newspapers from 1728—before the time period of the American Revolution—until 1800. Published in Philadelphia from 1728 through 1800, It was first published by Samuel Keimer and was the second newspaper to be published in Pennsylvania under the name.

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