The Founding of the Associated Press

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The Beginning of a Legend

The Associated Press was created after the invention and wide-spread adoption of the telegraph created problems for newspapers of the time. Newspapers feared that the telegraph would eventually take over the task of delivering the news altogether.

Newspapers were use to competing for stories and receiving news before any other newspaper in the area. Once the telegraph was used frequently, the news became more readily available to all newspapers at the same time. The only way to be competitive was to send a reporter from each individual paper to get the news first, essentially redefining the role of a reporter. Newspaper reporters were often sent on rowboats to meet incoming ships in the harbor to get the news as quick as possible, this was not only costly for newspapers but dangerous for reporters.

The expense of obtaining stories in far away places became almost impossible. Sending a reporter, in addition to dispatching the news back to the office via the telegraph wire, would have put many newspapers out of business. The transmission of the news was too costly for a single paper.

A solution for many newspapers was to create "networks" and groups of reporters who would dispatch their material to a central office where the material would then be made available to all the newspapers in the area.

Although this solution eliminated some competition between rival newspapers vying to get the story first, it prevented newspapers from incurring massive expenses and allowed them to have a much bigger coverage area than ever before.

The first "network" organization or news agency was the New York Associated Press, a group of New York newspapers set up in 1848. Ten men representing six competitive newspapers in New York met to discuss pooling resources to collect the latest news from Europe and other areas efficiently and less expensively. (Link #4)

The Associated Press's coverage eventually covered news as far away as Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and the Midwest. It used the telegraph and Samuel Morse's code to dispatch news to local papers. In 1875 the Associated Press was the first news organization to obtain a leased telegraph wire.

The organization was quick to dominate the telegraph companies and the business of selling the news to newspapers and as we all know, it is still in business today.

I recommend reading the novel The Victorian Internet to learn more information about the founding of the AP and how the technology of the telegraph helped shape our communication methods for the future.

The historian can be reached at: jennifervance@hotmail.com