BRAD STAMAN: Newspapers’ role in America

Newspapers have never been without their critics, but newspapers have played an important role in America and in the very formation of this great nation.

During this country’s Revolutionary War, newspapers played a vital rule, for both sides.

Today, we tend to see the war as black and white. You have America versus England, the good guys versus the bad, however, back then it was not so cut and dry. On one side, you had the Patriot Press and on the other, there was the Loyalist Press.

The cry for freedom was reported and championed through the Patriot Press and it started long before the first battle was fought. At the same time, the cry for peace and loyalty to the crown could be found in the Loyalist Press. The reporters and publishers were not always popular with their readers.

On May, 27, 1731, Benjamin Franklin printed his “Apology for Printers” in his newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.

“I request all who are angry with me on the Account of printing things they don’t like, calmly to consider these following Particulars,” Franklin wrote.

The first of his 10 points read, “That the Opinions of Men are almost as various as their Faces; an Observation general enough to become a common Proverb, So many Men so many Minds.”

His fourth said, “ That it is as unreasonable in any one Man or Set of Men to expect to be pleas’d with every thing that is printed, as to think that nobody ought to be pleas’d but themselves.”

Back then, if you believed in breaking away from England you might subscribe to the Boston Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, the Massachusetts Spy, or the South Carolina Gazette. If you supported the crown, you probably faithfully read the Rivington’s New York Gazetteer.

After the war, American founding father and second president, John Adams wrote, “The complete accomplishment of it in so short a time and by such simple means was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together: a perfection of mechanism which no artist had ever before effected.”

There was no Internet, no social media or cell phones; there were just handbills, snail mail, and newspapers.

On Oct. 31, 1765 the Pennsylvania Journal, published by William and Thomas Bradford, made a strong editorial statement when they redesigned their masthead to look like a tombstone. The goal was to inform their readers British actions were destroying American rights

The Boston Gazette became the primary mouthpiece for Samuel Adams and others who opposed the British government. It was also the first to report on the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea party.

The Massachusetts Spy, used less than objective language when publisher Isaiah Thomas’s reported on the first battle in war. He wrote, “Americans! forever bear in mind the BATTLE of LEXINGTON! where British Troops, unmolested and unprovoked wantonly, and in a most inhuman manner fired upon and killed a number of our countrymen, then robbed them of their provisions, ransacked, plundered and burnt their houses! nor could the tears of defenseless women, some of whom were in the pains of childbirth, the cries of helpless babes, nor the prayers of old age, confined to beds of sickness, appease their thirst for blood! – or divert them from the DESIGN of MURDER and ROBBERY!”

The loyalists probably called Thomas’ account fake news. For the patriots, it was a battle cry.

Threats were also common toward journalists on both sides. Loyalist publisher James Rivington, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, was repeatedly attacked by mobs during his career.

Today, we are not accused of being patriot or loyalist, but claims of conservative and liberal are thrown out daily. Just like in Revolutionary times newspapers’ opinion pages may lean one direction or the other depending on the community it serves, the views of the publisher and the editor.

Words can paint vivid pictures and can sway opinion in many different directions. The stories newspaper choose to run and those they choose not to run can direct actions, such as our independence from England.

Newspapers were and are still very powerful, it is why people, especially politicians, love and hate them. They love them when they agree with them and hate them when they don’t. As Franklin said, you will never be able to please everyone.

As a reader, you will not always agree with the stories run in this publication. You will call us liberal or conservative, but the role we play in our community is as vital as it was in Franklin’s day.

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