THE NEWSPAPERS: Nineteenth Century America by Leonard Everett Fisher

THE NEWSPAPERS: Nineteenth Century America

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The 19th-century American newspaper, a subject with limited potential for ten-year-olds, doesn't in any case get its due here. Writing of the early Republic, Fisher makes no point of the exceptional number of local papers or the unusual freedom they enjoyed--or the extent to which most of the major ones (not just the one cited) were the creatures of political parties. In due course, we do hear about the spread of readership with the advent of the penny press, when papers were also sold singly and not by subscription; about the speed-up in reporting with the advent of the telegraph; and about the improvement in news-gathering with the founding of the wire-services. And of course we hear about the hard life of the newsboys. But much of the text is simply a hodgpodge of tenuously-linked, incidental information--as when Fisher shifts from a New York newspaper price-rise to Jenny Lind's New York debut (""at Castle Garden, once a fort and soon to become an immigration station, an aquarium, and finally the site of a national monument at Battery Park in lower Manhattan"") to P.T. Barnum's early, fractious newspapering to the ""salute from a cannon"" that greeted his release from jail . . . to the slavery crisis (via ""Any salute from a cannon would have seemed ominous in hindsight"") to civil war in China! All this, moreover, in less than two pages. And Fisher's characteristic emblematic illustrations are a very poor substitute for a chance to see what the papers actually looked like.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1981
Publisher: Holiday House