Social Change and Newspapers

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Newspapers and Social Changes in the 19th Century

An Early Newspaper Printing PressUntil the reign of William IV London alone had daily newspapers. The Government imposed a tax of fourpence on each sheet of a newspaper, and three shillings and sixpence on each advertisement.  In return, newspapers received a Government stamp, insuring free carriage in the post; but the cost to subscribers of a daily so heavily taxed was about £10 a year. The tax was reduced in [1836] to a  penny a sheet, and eightpence on advertisements and from that time the newspaper grew steadily cheaper.  In [1855], when the public was eager to get news of the war in the Crimea, the special tax was wholly abolished.  Before long London had penny newspapers, and now the halfpenny paper is common.  The newspaper, while it grew cheaper, increased also in efficiency as a record of the world’s doings.  In [1814] the Times was first printed by steam-power, and henceforth newspapers could be produced much more promptly and rapidly.  There was still great need of improvement in the quality of the news.  That from abroad long came in sailing vessels, that at home by post or special courier, and it was a great feat when couriers covered the distance from Glasgow to London in little more than twenty-four hours.  But the telegraph changed all this.  The first public telegraph was set up in England in [1844]; by [1850] the invention was in general use, and upon it the newspapers soon began to rely for news.  In [1866], when a cable was at last laid from Britain to America, the chief political and commercial centres were brought into immediate touch with each other, and now daily news of the occurrences in all parts of the world has become almost a necessity. 

Excerpt from The British Nation by George McKinnon Wrong – 1903


Further Reading and External Links

A Brief History of Newspapers

A Newspaper Timeline from World Association of Newspapers

Newspaper: The History