History of Newspapers in Canada

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is a fascinating look at the development of the newspaper industry in Canada.

The article is included in the online version of The Canadian Encyclopedia.

The first part of this detailed article is included below to give you a taste.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed and your water iced.
KJ

http://thecanadianenc...

Canada's first newspaper, John Bushell's Halifax Gazette, began publication in 1752. Like most colonial newspapers in North America, it was an adjunct of a commercial printing operation. Moreover, it was dependent on the printing and patronage largesse of the colonial government. This reliance on revenues from sources other than readers - from governments, political parties and ADVERTISING - would remain a characteristic of Canadian newspapers.


The First Newspapers

There were no newspapers in New France, in part because of the opposition of French officialdom to the establishment of printing presses in the colony. The British Conquest, and the termination of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR in 1763, brought a trickle of printers from the American colonies. In 1764, 2 Philadelphia printers, William Brown and Thomas Gilmore, began the bilingual Quebec Gazette at Québec City. In 1785 Fleury Mesplet, a French printer who had been jailed because of his attempts to persuade Québec to join the American Revolution, started publication of the Montreal Gazette (now the oldest continuing newspaper in the country).

In 1793, under the auspices of Upper Canada's first governor, a Québec printer started the Upper Canada Gazette at Newark [Niagara-on-the-Lake], the first newspaper in what is now Ontario. Like the Halifax Gazette, these first papers - operating in colonies where populations were low - remained utterly dependent upon government patronage. In Upper Canada, William Lyon MACKENZIE pressed the Assembly to subsidize the province's first paper mill, in part to ensure a source of newsprint for his journal - a telling example that the close relationship between newspapers and government patronage held even for a democratic firebrand.

The development of legislative assemblies in British North America encouraged political factions. At the same time, particularly in Halifax, Saint John, Montréal, Kingston and York [Toronto], a merchant class, with an interest both in reading commercial intelligence and in advertising, was growing. Weekly newspapers sprouted up, allied with political movements and the various mercantile and agricultural interests.

In Lower Canada, the Québec City Mercury (1805) and the Montréal Herald (1811) became mouthpieces for the province's English-speaking merchants, while Le Canadien (1806) and La Minerve (1826) spoke for the rising French Canadian professional interests.

In Upper Canada, William Lyon Mackenzie used his Colonial Advocate (1824) to argue the cause of Reformers in general and farmers in particular against the dominant professional and mercantile groups. In the Maritimes, newspapers such as Joseph HOWE'S Novascotian (1824) of Halifax also worked to challenge the authority of colonial oligarchies.

Newspapers, Politics and the State
By the early decades of the 19th century, most newspapers were allied with either the Reform (now Liberal) or Conservative Party. These early newspapers were by no means simple tools of the parties they claimed to support but rather were organs of specific leaders or factions within the parties. Thus the Toronto Globe (1844) was a personal organ of its publisher, the Reform politician George BROWN. The Toronto Mail (1872), while set up to act as spokesman for the whole Conservative Party, was quickly captured by the dominant faction led by John A. MACDONALD.

Moreover, it was not unusual for an organ to deviate from the party line. The Mail, for example, broke with the Macdonald Conservatives in the 1880s, forcing the party to set up the Empire in 1887. The relative independence of newspapers from political parties and governments varied from place to place. But in general, newspapers had more potential for independence from parties as their revenues from circulation and advertising grew.

In part, the politicization of newspapers continued because readers demanded partisanship. POLITICS was a serious matter in 19th-century Canada; newspapers were expected to have views. Thus occurred the phenomenon of the 2-newspaper town. By 1870 every town large enough to support one newspaper supported 2 - one Liberal and one Conservative. As well, newspapers have never cut themselves off completely from government patronage. Since 1867 the federal government has subsidized newspaper publishers by granting them special postal rates. Canada's first international wire service, Canadian Associated Press (1903), was subsidized by the federal government, as was the domestic news co-operative, CANADIAN PRESS, during the initial years after its founding in 1917.

The Rise of Advertising

While partisanship remained, the financial dependence of newspapers on governments and political parties did decline throughout the 19th century. The reason has to do with the economics of newspaper publishing and with overall economic development. Newspapers faced high overhead costs, ie, newspapers were forced to incur the same initial outlays for equipment, typesetting and editorial matter whether they printed one copy or a run of 10 000. In the 1860s, when daily circulations were usually under 5000, these overhead costs were covered by party or government patronage. But as population expanded and literacy increased, publishers were able to spread these overhead costs over more readers. In addition, as a newspaper's circulation increased, merchants became more interested in it as an advertising medium. With productive capacity increasing in all industries, advertising - as a means of persuading people to buy the massive volume of goods being produced - became crucial.

Early advertisers were wholesalers trying to catch the attention of other merchants, but by the 1880s retail advertising, aimed at a mass market, was dominant. By 1900 consumers were flooded with newspaper advertisements calling upon them to purchase such things as soap, patent medicines or electric belts. Big-city dailies were earning between 70% and 80% of their revenues from advertising.

Technological developments in the newspaper industry, and in the economy as a whole, hastened the trend to large-circulation, advertising-based newspapers. The spread of the TELEGRAPH during the 1850s and the laying of the Atlantic cable in 1866 increased the availability of world news to newspapers, but at the same time increased their overhead costs of production. By the 1880s, high-speed web presses and stereotyping allowed newspapers to expand their circulations in order to earn more revenue to cover these costs. In 1876 the combined circulation of daily newspapers in the 9 major urban centres was 113,000. Seven years later, it had more than doubled. Railway building, from the mid-19th century onwards, put more of the population within reach of daily and weekly newspapers. By the 1890s, typecasting machines such as the linotype were allowing daily newspapers to expand their size from the standard 4-, 8- or 12-page format to 32 or 48 pages. This greatly increased the amount of advertising space.

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