Newspaper in the penny era/ Journalism and objectivity/Business Vs Editorial/ Mass Circulation/ News Article Analysis (NYT)


Newspaper in the penny era/ Journalism and objectivity/Business Vs Editorial/ Mass Circulation/ News Article Analysis (NYT)

Emergence of newspapers during the penny press era

The penny press era was preceded by the prevalence of colonial newspapers, partisan papers and commercial papers. The penny era distinguished itself as the era when newspapers because a product of mass consumption, that is, mass media. Before the penny press, newspapers were confined to the wealthy since the subscription (which was yearly) was worth more than a week’s salary for the common man. The industrial revolution of the 1820s however increased access to newspapers to the masses in different ways. First, more education led to larger pool of readers. Second, the shift in printing technology to steam powered press increased production numbers and reduced costs. Penny press thus emerged to compete with the six-cent per year newspaper. The penny press appealed to the common citizen – middle-class and working people – due to its accessibility.

Objective journalism

Objective journalism developed a way for newspapers to be neutral or impartial in their reporting. The basis of objective journalism grew from the need to tackle yellow journalism which was tabloid-like due to its sensationalistic reporting and partisan views. As such, the core of objective journalism is to have reporters gather just the facts to the point of seeking competing points of view on a story since to ensure a balanced view. In addition, objective journalism led to development of newspapers that expressly identify what is objective and what is opinion (editorial columns). The benefit of objective journalism is its ability to offer straightforward news. An example is the inverted pyramid model where important facts are reported in a telegram-like style and the article answering the who, what, where, and when questions. However, a disadvantage lies in the fact that such reporting does not answer the how and why questions.

Business side of newspapers and the editorial side of newspapers

The business side of newspapers is where a paper relies on advertisements, print and digital sales, and other forms of consumer-driven revenue-generating activities (like consumer donations) to generate income. This is in contrast to the editorial side of newspapers where clients pay to have their opinions represented in newspapers. An example is the early partisan newspapers that relied on donations from political parties for income. It seems important to keep the editorial and business sides of newspapers separate – or at least with a clearly labeling to help the reader differentiate between articles from either side. The reasoning is that just as it were in early days of newspapers, there are readers that appreciated neutral and impartial news and would thus buy a business-sided newspaper while there are those consumers that do not mind the tabloid-like partisan reporting in editorial newspapers.

Decline in newspaper circulation

Newspaper circulation, in the early years, was caused first by the advent of radio broadcast and later by network television. Both radio and television offered alternative sources of news hence reduced the pool of people depending on newspapers. In addition, part of the core readers – at-home women – began working outside the house hence creating a further rift in readership numbers. In the modern context, readership has dropped due to the internet age and its related technologies. Social media for instance has become an always-updating source of news to the extent that it is replacing print newspapers. Among my friendship circle, I have not seen anyone who subscribes to print newspapers. Personally, the only time I read a paper it is usually an online version and often because of an exclusive story that I cannot find elsewhere. In the same sense, I think in order to appeal to a younger audience, newspapers should concentrate on generating content that is not available anywhere online. This is because if all a newspaper does is report facts collected from online sources – or available on social media platforms for instance – young readers have no incentive to buy the paper as they probably saw the stories first before even the newspaper got access to them.

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Newspapers in a democracy

Newspapers play a critical role in a democracy as they help keep a balance through highlighting issues and stories of concern. Due to their position of informing the public, newspapers can for example rally public interest on certain topics affecting democracy hence pressuring responsible parties to effect change. As such, newspapers balance the democracy model of governance by being watchdogs for the public.

Newspaper journalism versus other mass media

Newspaper journalism carries value that is not found in a lot of other mass media. This is especially where journalism relies on scientific methods of reporting where gathered information is verified and free from the bias of the reporter. The end result for newspaper readers is information that they can rely on to make decisions about the subject matter. This is in contrast to other mass media that could simply be conveying biased, false, irrelevant and even meaningless information.

Newspapers ceasing to exist

I do not think newspapers will cease to exist. A primary reason is that the need for organized (verified and reliable) information on specific subject matter will cease to exist. This means that whether online or via print, newspaper readers seek the same form of value from news stories. A good illustration is the rise of niche newspapers that address specific audiences with relevant news. ProPublica and Politico are some examples. Others such as Fortune Times have a affluent audience that they address while some like Bloomberg serve investors. The only project thus could be that the number of niches would increase in future and the nature of gathering news will change for reporters but the newspapers will not cease to exist.

Hand-on Exercise

Choose a day of the week and then read that day’s print newspaper and the online version

(New York Times – Print and Online versions of July, 29th, 2020)

Content, style, organization, advertisements and experience of reading both

The front page has the main news piece as ‘Trump Family Legacy: Empathy Is for the Weak’ along other headlines. Two of the headlines on the front page are about racism, one is about Trump’s son and one is about FBI and seeing black lives matter protestors as threatening. The main picture on the first page is about Barr protecting actions against protestors. The organization is such that the Barr story is highlighted in a space twice the size of the rest of the stories and takes the upper-left corner while the rest of the stories occupy the upper-right side in smaller columns. The bottom of the front page has pointers to the content in other pages. Advertisements in the print version are distributed on different pages with some occupying double pages, whole pages, half pages and smaller sections.

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The online version has a different home page. At the top, after the logo, there is a row that has a few links to a podcast – The Daily -, two other articles, stock indices and weather information. The main piece of information on this page is COVID-19 data about deaths in the U.S. To the left there is a column with two story pointers and the right has several story pointers to editorials and opinions. A lot of stories, in different sizes, come up as one scrolls down the page including a live video. There was no advertisements on the main page or on story-based pages.

Reading the online version felt faster as almost all the stories were highlighted in the home page and I could just click on the ones I was interested in and immediately land on the specific page. The print version felt a bit overwhelming as only a few of the stories inside were highlighted on the main page and I had to go through all the pages to seem what I would find interesting. However, the print version also felt deeper in reporting as most stories were lengthier than the online version.


The web and print versions are not organized the same. The content on the main (home) pages differed completely. The print version had just the main stories highlighted while the online version had almost all stories of the day highlighted. The stories were also different with the print version having more of US-centered stories and the online version having more of international news around issues in the US like COVID-19, schools reopening and returning to school formula. There were no similar stories between the print and online versions.

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The medium of newspaper affects the design, content, style and reading experience. One design, the online edition has higher visual appeal and arranges content to allow for easy access to most stories of interest. The print version has an almost similar appeal but is design seems to just highlight the big stories of the day. The content is different from articles to newspapers and the reading experience varies with the online version seeming easier to search through and get to specific stories. The print version does however seem to emphasize on the quality of content as it has lengthy and more insightful articles.


I do not think online newspapers will replace print editions because they offer different value propositions. At least in the case of NewYork times, the print versions feels like its targeted towards people more intreated in specific stories that have detail and curated for their attention. The online edition covers more stories and seems to target all news-consuming audiences. I believe it is optimized for news being searched on the internet. I think both quality of content and the experience of getting content are important. If the experience is good but the news is shallow then the readership will drop and if the content is good by the experience is bad then the readership will still drop.  

Works cited

Campbell, Richard, Christopher Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media & culture: Mass communication in a digital age. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014.

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