Evolution of Newspapers

 By Mohammad Alghathami


According to Newspapers, Canada, 2012, a news-sheet was published daily to chronicle the activities of the Roman senate as far back as 69 B.C. Dubbed Acta Diurna, which translates to acts of the day,the one page paper is believed to be the earliest form of a continuous newspaper.

News bulletins are known to have been printed in China prior to the 13th century, but it was not until Marco Polo’s journeys to the Orient in that century that the court gazettewas introduced to Europe. The term Gazette, a particularly popular name today for newspapers all over the world, is said to have been coined in Italy, where accounts of the status of the various wars taking place were printed on a news bulletin that cost the reader a gazetta, a small coin used in Venice in the 16th century.


In Germany, where most news bulletins had been single sided news sheets (broadsheets) the newspaper came into being around the 1500s, quite some time after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press (1440-1445). The main topics for news in those days were battles, disasters and royal announcements. By the 1700s newspapers had sprung up all over Europe, but the concept of a free press was launched primarily in England, not long after 1688, when representative government came into being (Newspapers, Canada, 2012).



With the new colonies building up in America, news publications became an important part of the communications systems over the vast areas being settled. Freedom of the press did not immigrate along with the English colonists, however. In fact, most newspapers had to hold licences in order to operate and stood to lose printing privileges if authorities felt they overstepped their boundaries. The first recorded newspaper publishing in Canada, was the Halifax Gazette, on March 23, 1752.  This was soon followed by the Quebec Gazette, which has survived to the present day as a weekly publication known as Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph and is likely the longest running newspaper in North America. (Kesterton, 1967 as cited in Newspapers, Canada, 2012).

In  the Americas, the newspapers, which contained mostly government announcements and some foreign news, were more or less sponsored by the government so went along with whichever officials were currently in office. It was not long before the publishers rebelled. In 1833, the penny press was introduced as a newspaper for the working population. Thriving on the lurid and sensational, the press was directed at the common man. Advertising became a necessity for the small newspapers to survive (Newspapers, Canada, 2012);  at the same time, publishers came to realize that not sensationalism but timely reporting and honesty in the news were the elements  necessary to win the public’s trust and patronage.



In the mid-nineteenth century, the invention of the telegraph meant that wire services started up in the United States. The job of this new technology was to gather and distribute news items from all over the world to newspapers all over the country. The system soon grew to encompass the globe and newspaper subscribers were able to get current news daily or weekly from outside their community and even outside their country.

In Canada, the newspaper went through terrific changes at the beginning of the 20th century. With the phenomenon of two World Wars, a depression and a massive amount of changes in industry and technology, the French and English newspaper circulation by 1989 tallied 5.7 million subscribers. After the recession, the figure dropped considerably and today stands at 5.3 million (Newspapers, Canada, 2010). Digital newspapers began to crop up on the Internet, when, in 1996, the New York Times launched its first electronic newspaper.

In the UK, the Guardian followed suit in presenting its first digital edition in 1999.  Soon, most newspapers in the U.S, UK and Canada had digital reporting as well as the published offline news services. The content continued to change and grow until the electronic newspapers included a huge array of images, advertising, forums and readers’ opinions. (mediaspacesolutions.com/blog,2012). Newspapers have come a long way from a single page of news on daily community happenings to a digitally manipulated communication system that spans the world (Lapham, 1995).



Media Space Solutions.com/blog, (2012). Evolution of Newspapers starting with size changes. Retrieved from http://web.mediaspacesolutions.com/blog/bid/120001/Evolution-of-Newspapers-Starting-with-Size-Changes

Simply Zesty.com/Social Media. N.d. The evolution of newspapers and the internet through the years. Retrieved from http://www.simplyzesty.com/social-media/the-evolution-of-newspapers-and-the-internet-through-the-years/

Newspapers, Canada, (2010). Retrieved from http://www.newspaperscanada.ca/about-newspapers/history-newspapers

Kesterton, W.H. (1967), A History of Journalism in Canada. McClelland and Stewart Limited

Lapham, C. (1995) The Evolution of the Newspaper of the Future. Retrieved from http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1995/jul/lapham.html


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