On January 28, 1966 Herbert G. Bredemeier gave a lecture before the Fort Wayne Quest Club titled, “Colorful Journalism in Fort Wayne.” The Fort Wayne Quest Club later selected his lecture for publication in their book titled The Quest for Fort Wayne. In the next several issues of The Waynedale News, Herbert Bredemeier’s Quest Club lecture will be printed in its entirety: People today can hardly imagine an America without magazines, or even one without daily newspapers.
The first American newspaper was probably published in Boston in September of 1690; but until 1704 no newspaper was regularly published in the territory which we now call the United States. The newspapers of the colonial period were largely by-products of printing establishments and the printer-journalist-editors were produced by the English apprentice system. Following the Revolutionary War, and until the 1830s, the journalist was a political partisan and incidentally an editor. Newspapers came into existence in this country as new devices to satisfy old needs. In part, they replaced services rendered by coffee houses, taverns, preachers, postmasters, towncriers and local gossips. Their immediate forerunners included personal letters, the handwritten newsletters produced here and abroad, notices posted in public places, broadsides, pamphlets, imported newspapers, official sources and correspondence couriers.
Bartholomew Green in his Boston Newsletter of March 7, 1723 has a typical request showing the manner in which early news items were found: “He desires of all Ingenious Gentlemen, in every part of the Country, to communicate the Remarkable Things they observe: and he Desired them to send their accounts Post-Free, and nothing but what they assuredly know; and they shall be very gratefully received and Published.” Even in the 1840s the chief editor of a newspaper in New York rarely employed more than two or three assistants. Limited capital, small circulation, cheap advertising, all prevented the hiring of a large staff. Editors were reporters, add-men and political writers alternately, and their pay was not commensurate with the work required of them.
The modern conception of a newspaper with a capable staff and huge circulation didn’t emerge until the 1890s. By this time journalism had seen the pioneering work of James Gordon Bennett and was experiencing the sensationalism and the organizing ability of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. It was important for editors to be more than merely chief reporters. Hearst and Pulitzer trained sensation mongers, jugglers of the truth and “catch words” for big city dailies. The “Sage of Emporia,” William Allen White, inspired many a reporter and editor with such homely maxims as: “Boil your story down. “Never use two words where one will do,” and laugh with but not at people, and you will never get into trouble.” “Dip your pen into your arteries and write.”
American newspapers and newspaper people played an intimate and leading role in developing America; influencing public opinion about corporations, unions, politicians, political parties and other institutions. And, like a wise politician, the successful newspaper editor has had to be a mirror of his time, staying ahead of his competition and readers, but not too far ahead.
What brought about the founding growth of so many newspapers in Middle America? Many of the factors involved are in keeping with Fredrick Jackson’s “Frontier Hypothesis” in American history. Settlers who had come from newspaper-endowed eastern cities brought the habit of reading daily newspapers with them.