The Industrial Revolution: The Real Deal behind Public Appeal

The New York Herald's Morning Edition issued on February 11, 1861. (James Gordon Bennett, The New York Herald)

How were communications the catalyst for evolution in the press?

All in a matter of almost sixty years, the global community lived through two pivotal revolutions (French and American), watched the invention of modern presses, witnessed the growth of new and more lucrative industries and experienced the transformation of society from a more agrarian culture to an industrial one.

By the 1830s, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the dollar ruled the sensibilities of day! Revolution surfaced in every facet of society that was in transition, as everyone who believed in the humanistic ideals of past revolutions challenged society’s leaders to stay true to their promise to respect the rights of man.

What were some of the major issues of the time?

At the peak of the Industrial Revolution, women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery and child labor were some of the more controversial social causes of the day. Meanwhile, business and the economy greatly benefited financially from the new ways in which manpower combined with machinery could be exploited.

On the one hand, statesman and businessmen alike enjoyed the perks of being leaders of this new society. Even more so, the excitement that came with every new discovery only fueled capitalistic ideals. However, even with the technological advances, a good portion of society was still marginalized!

At the center of all this societal upheaval was media, a tool that transmitted information much quicker than in previous decades.

How did media transform news from purely a method by which information is disseminated to one of public interest?

During and after the American Revolution, news was disseminated by means of press agency. With the advent of the printing presses in America and in Europe, though, numerous copies of the news could be printed for public consumption.

For example, in the United States, The New York Herald, one of the country’s first papers, could produce at least 30,000 units of copy by 1835. To gain a little perspective, at the beginning of the century most presses could print only a few thousands of copies.

The New York Herald newspaper issue released on Monday March 10, 1862 was sold for 2 cents. (History & Philosophy of American Mass Media)

So, when exactly does news appeal to the public?

A couple of things were going on during the rise of the newspaper:

  • For one, in the beginning, not everyone could afford the pennies, as they were commonly called. These papers that only appealed to mostly businessmen and politicians contained advertising and were a part of the penny press.
  • Newspapers needed to make money and one way to make money was through advertisements. As a result, newspapers ended up in the pockets of business, which prevented independent reporting up until the thirtiesRemember, this was at a time when children were suffering horrible atrocities while working in factories! A time when these events were important!
  • Because these papers were only read by those who could afford them, typically, they contained advertisements, public information, and advertisements disguised as news, but nothing sensational. In fact, some sources describe newspapers as being quite boring.
  • Businessmen and local politicians had so much control over the papers that some papers even offered free publicity in the form of “free puffs.”

Then, printing became more affordable…. This affordability allowed newspapers to print more copies and much cheaper, but more significantly, this allowed for newspapers to lower the cost on copy and the papers became affordable and accessible to the masses!

The results of these advances were…

  • That this advance in technology not only helped inform a large number of people, but it also promoted a more literate, sophisticated society.
  • Furthermore, it increased readership and loosened the stranglehold that business had on the press.
  • These advances changed the tone and tempo of the news reported in that it gave news organizations more flexibility where content was concerned.

With the inclusion of P.T. Barnum’s sensational stories about Joice Heth, political news and other human interest stories, people began to actually read the papers!

People wanted to read about speeches delivered at abolitionist meetings!

People wanted to know about states’ rights!

People wanted to know about these hysterical women who demanded the right to vote!

People wanted to know about the ugliness of child labor!

They wanted the newsssss!

…And newspapers gave writers the platform from which to inform and persuade the public.

More importantly, these papers allowed organizations and politicians to connect with the public, to relate to the public.

These papers began the formation of public relations….


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