The Penny Press

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The Penny Press was most famous for its low price, a penny per paper. It became popular with the American public because while other papers were priced around six cents, they were able to sell their paper for just a penny. The low price made newspapers and the news available to more than just upper class citizens for the first time.

The labor and lower classes were able to purchase a paper and read the news. As more people began buying papers throughout the country, news and journalism became more important overall.

Newspapers also began paying more attention to the public it served. They were quick to realize that the same information and news that interested the six cent public, did not interest the penny public. Newspapers used information from police stations, criminal courts and divorce courts to fill their paper and make it more appealing to their new public.

The heavy dependence on advertising as a major source of revenue was a main reason that the Penny Press was able to sell papers for a lower price than anyone else. Other papers relied heavily on subscriptions and daily sales. The price of paper and materials used to produce the newspapers also decreased making the production of the newspaper itself less expensive.

A pioneer during the Penny Press era was Benjamin H. Day, founder of the New York Sun. The Sun was the first popular penny paper. The paper's motto, printed at the top of every front page was:

"The object of this paper is to lay before the public, at a price within the means of every one, all the news of the day, and at the same time offer an advantageous medium for advertisements."(Book #3)

The changes made to the newspaper during the Penny Press era set a precedent for the way newspapers operate today. Newspapers rely heavily on advertising as a main source of income and that is also a main reason they are still being offered at relatively low prices today. Newspapers also pay more attention to their surrounding communities and report of important information more diligently and objectively. Newspapers changed their coverage when they no longer relied so dependently on subscriptions or daily sales to make a profit.

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