What were early newspapers like? Who started them and why?

The early newspapers—those of the 1600s and roughly the first half of the 1700s—were all, as our definition of "newspaper" suggests, published for a general audience, printed, periodical, and for the most part present-minded in content. Still, there was no single model of what a newspaper should be, but a set of models, and many blended versions of them.

As historian Charles Clark has suggested, writing of Britain and its colonies, the eighteenth century witnessed four models emerge. One prominent model was the official state-issued news vehicle coming into use in the 1600s. In England, the London Gazette began as a government publication in 1665. It was a collection of official state announcements. Another model was the "advertiser." In some cases, advertisers contained nothing except advertisements. These might be distributed without charge to booksellers, coffeehouses, and inns. London's City Mercury began this way in the 1670s. By the 1690s, it contained also business news, not advertisements only.

A third form was the propaganda journal or a publication guided by a strong political position. Finally, there were literary and satirical journals and magazines. England's most celebrated example was The Spectator, begun in 1710 by Joseph Addison—a lively, humorous, and sometimes philosophically inclined writer. Remarkably for a time in which newspapers typically published once a week, Addison managed for several years to produce his blog-l ike first person publication daily. The number of newspapers in its various forms grew over the 1700s; London counted twenty-three newspapers by 1790.

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