The earliest recorded effort to inform the public of the news was the Roman Acta diurna, instituted by Julius Caesar and posted daily in public places. In China the first newspaper appeared in Beijing in the 8th cent. In several German cities manuscript newssheets were issued in the 15th cent. The invention and spread of the printing press (1430-50) was the major factor in the early development of the newspaper. The Venetian government posted the Notizie scritte in 1556, for which readers paid a small coin, the (gazetta).
In England in the 17th cent., journalism consisted chiefly of newsletters printed principally by Thomas Archer (1554-1630?), Nathaniel Butter (d. 1664), and Nicholas Bourne (fl. 1622). The London Gazette, founded (1665) in Oxford, is still published as a court journal. The first daily paper in England was the Daily Courant (1702). Thereafter many journals of opinion set a high standard of literary achievement in journalism—the Review (1704-13) of Daniel Defoe; the Examiner (1710-11) edited by Jonathan Swift; and the high society periodicals, Tatler (1709-11) and the Spectator (1711-12) of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele.
The first English periodical essay was published in the Tatler. John Wilkes, the 18th-century outspoken journalist, challenged Parliament's efforts to punish the press for the reporting of Parliamentary debates. After Wilkes's successful battle for greater freedom of the press, British newspapers began to reach the masses in the 19th cent. Of several present-day London papers born in the 18th cent., The Times, founded in 1785 by John Walter, the Manchester Guardian, now printed in London, and the Financial Times are internationally known. Other prominent London newspapers include the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail.
The continental newspaper also developed in the 17th cent. in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Censorship was common throughout Europe, and Sweden was the first country to pass a freedom of the press law in 1766. One of the oldest papers, Avisa Relation oder Zeitung, appeared in Germany in 1609; the Nieuwe Tijdingen was published in Antwerp in 1616; the first French newspaper, the Gazette, was founded in 1631.
Major French newspapers today include Le Figaro, France-Soir, Libération, and Le Monde. Among newspapers of contemporary Germany are Tagesspiegel (Berlin), Die Welt (Hamburg), Rheinische Merkur (Coblenz), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich), Frankfurter Allgemeine, and Frankfurter Rundschau. Other well-known European newspapers include the Irish Independent (Dublin), Popolo (Rome), Corriere della Sera (Milan), Osservatore romano (Vatican), and Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Zürich).
Newspapers have played an important historical role as the organs of revolutionary propaganda. The most notable of such revolutionary newspapers was Iskra, founded by Lenin in Leipzig in 1900. In the USSR, Izvestia and Pravda were the largest-circulation official newspapers. After the Soviet Union's disintegration, Izvestia became an independent newspaper involved in joint ventures with the New York Times and the Financial Times. Pravda, which the new government briefly banned (1993), remained aligned with the former Communists. In 1994 an editorial faction at Pravda opened a rival paper with the same name, and in 1998 the original Pravda changed its name to Slovo ("the word").
In Asia the leading newspapers include Renmin Ribao (Beijing), Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo), the Straits Times (Singapore), the Times of India (Delhi), and the Manila Times. Japan's first daily newspaper, Yokohama Mainichi Shimbun, appeared in 1870, although printing from movable type was introduced in Japan in the late 16th cent. Today, Japan has a very high newspaper readership.
The existence in the United States of an independent press, protected by law from government authority and responsible to the public can be traced back to the libel trial (1735) in the colony of New York of John Peter Zenger. A single number of a newssheet, Publick Occurrences, was issued in Boston in 1690 and was then suppressed by royal authority. John Campbell's Boston News-Letter endured from 1704 to 1776. James Franklin launched the New England Courant in 1721, and seven years later his younger brother, Benjamin Franklin, founded the Pennsylvania Gazette. Other colonial papers include the American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia), the New York Gazette, and the Maryland Gazette.
The first American daily, the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, appeared in Philadelphia in 1784. The Independent Journal (New York) carried the famous Federalist essays. Two rival political organs were Alexander Hamilton's Gazette of the United States and Thomas Jefferson's National Gazette, edited by Philip Freneau. The first New York daily newspaper was the Minerva (1793), edited by Noah Webster. Under other names it survived into the 20th cent.
Alexander Hamilton was among the founders (1801) of the New York Evening Post, for many years edited by William Cullen Bryant. As the New York Post, it is the oldest newspaper in the United States with a continuous daily publication. William Lloyd Garrison made the Liberator a powerful organ for the abolitionists. The New York Sun (1833) achieved national fame under Charles A. Dana. The New York Herald, launched (1835) by James Gordon Bennett, was famous for its foreign news coverage and later established a Paris edition.
Horace Greeley, one of the best-known figures in American journalism, was proprietor and editor of the New York Tribune from its inception in 1841 until 1872. The Tribune was influential in the Civil War period. The New York Times was founded (1851) by Henry J. Raymond, and under the supervision of Adolph S. Ochs it achieved worldwide coverage and circulation, which it has retained. The rotary press, a huge automated roll-fed printing press made high production rates possible to increase circulation. Newspaper circulation increased to keep up with growing population.
The New York World became enormously influential after its purchase by Joseph Pulitzer. When it issued the first colored supplement in the United States in 1893, the paper's critics dubbed it "yellow journalism." The term stuck and it came to represent a more sensational handling of the news, for which Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst are considered by many to be main instigators.
Other major U.S. newspapers include the New York Daily News, the Providence Journal, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Nashville Tennessean, the Kansas City Star, the Atlanta Constitution, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor (Boston), the Dallas News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Denver Post, the Miami Herald and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
A number of American newspapers are published in languages other than English. An example of a foreign-language paper published in an urban area is El Diário in New York. Several other newspapers are oriented toward professional interests: Variety, for example, deals with show business. Although the Wall Street Journal is primarily concerned with commerce and finance, in 1990 it had the largest daily circulation of any U.S. newspaper.
As the U.S. population in the latter half of the 20th cent. shifted from cities to suburbs and as competition from other media grew, many large city newspapers were forced to cease publication, merged with their competitors, or were taken over by newspaper chains such as the Gannett Company or Knight Ridder. (In 2006 the latter was itself taken over by the McClatchy Company chain.) In England large newspaper-publishing empires were built up by Lords Rothermere, Northcliffe, and Beaverbrook. More recent media empires with major operations on both sides of the Atlantic have been created by Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. The great American chains were founded by Joseph Pulitzer, J. G. Bennett, William Randolph Hearst, F. A. Munsey, E. W. Scripps, the McCormick-Pattersons, Frank E. Gannett, Charles L. and John S. Knight, and Hermann Ridder.
In 1982, using satellite transmission and color presses, the Gannett chain established a new national newspaper, USA Today, published and circulated throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today are read all over the country; small towns and rural districts usually have daily or weekly local papers made up largely of syndicated matter, with a page or two of local news and editorials. These local papers are frequently influential political organs.
Since the invention of the telegraph, which enormously facilitated the rapid gathering of news, the great news agencies, such as Reuters in England, Agence France-Presse in France, and Associated Press and United Press International in the United States, have sold their services to newspapers and to their associate members. Improvements in photocomposition and in printing (especially the web offset press) have enhanced the quality of print and made possible the publication of huge editions at great speed. Modern newspapers are supported primarily by the sale of advertising space.
Computer technology also has had an enormous impact on the production of news and newspapers, and by the 1990s when the first independent on-line daily appeared on the the Internet, it also had begun to affect the nature of newspapers. By the decade's end some 700 papers had web sites, some of which carried news gathered by their own staffs, and papers regularly scooped themselves by publishing electronically before the print edition appeared. Meanwhile, independent Internet-based news sources proliferated. The growth of on-line editions of established newspapers, other on-line news sources, and on-line venues offering free classified ad space also affected newspapers' sale of advertising space and the production of vital advertising revenue. In the early 21st cent., as newspaper owners devoted more and more attention to their Web editions, print advertising was increasing by small increments while sales of on-line advertising were surging ahead. Concurrently, as print readership declined, many newspapers were experiencing cuts in their budgets, buyouts, staff layoffs, and reductions in physical size.
The extent to which the editorial policy of a paper is affected by the interests of its advertisers has been a subject of frequent controversy. More broadly controversial is the entire question of corporate ownership wielding vast influence through controlling interests in newspapers, radio, and television.
See R. E. Wolseley and L. R. Campbell, Exploring Journalism (3d ed. 1957); F. L. Mott, American Journalism: a History, 1690-1960 (3d ed. 1962); J. C. Merrill, The Elite Press: Great Newspapers of the World (1968); A. K. MacDougall, The Press (1972); A. M. Lee, The Daily Newspaper in America (1937, repr. 1972); E. Case, The Press (1989); P. Meyer, The Vanishing Newspaper (2004); A. S. Jones, Losing the News (2009).
On 9 November 1861, during the Civil War, soldiers of the Illinois 11th, 18th, and 29th Regiments, after forcing the Confederates south, set up camp in Bloomfield, Missouri. Upon finding the newspaper office empty, they decided to print a newspaper for their expedition, relating the troop's activities. They called it the Stars and Stripes. Today, the Stars & Stripes Museum/Library Association is in Bloomfield.
In World War I, the staff and roving reporters and illustrators of the newspaper were veterans of the newspaper world or, more frequently, talented young soldiers who would later become famous members of the United States media in the postwar era. Harold Ross, the editor of the Stars and Stripes, returned home to found The New Yorker magazine. Cyrus Baldridge, art director and principal illustrator, later became a major illustrator of books and magazines, as well as a writer, print maker and stage designer. Drama critic Alexander Woollcott's essays for Stars and Stripes were collected in his book, The Command Is Forward (1919).
Stars and Stripes was then an eight-page weekly, which reached a peak of 526,000 readers, relying considerably on the improvisational efforts of its staff to get it printed in France and to distribute it to U.S. troops.
In World War II, the newspaper was printed in several editions in several operating theaters. Again, both newspapermen in uniform and young soldiers, some of whom would later become important journalists, filled the staffs and showed zeal and talent in publishing and delivering the paper on time. Some of the editions were assembled and printed very close to the front in order to get the latest information to the most troops. Also, during the war, the newspaper published the 53-book series G.I. Stories.
After Bill Mauldin did his popular "Willie and Joe" cartoons for the WWII Stars and Stripes, he returned home for a successful career as an editorial cartoonist and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Former Stars and Stripes staffers also include 60 Minutes’ Andy Rooney and Steve Kroft, songwriter and author Shel Silverstein, comic book illustrator Tom Sutton, author and television news correspondent Tony Zappone, cartoonist Vernon Grant (A Monster Is Loose in Tokyo), Hollywood photographer Phil Stern and the late stock market reporter and host of public television's Wall Street Week, Louis Rukeyser.
The newspaper is the main printed source of news at the installations in Europe and Mideast and East Asia. Stars and Stripes has expanded to an average of 40–48 pages each day and is still published in tabloid format. The newspaper employs civilian reporters, and U.S. military senior noncommissioned officers as reporters, at a number of locations around the world.
Stars and Stripes newspaper is a non-appropriated fund (NAF) organization, subsidized by the Department of Defense. Unique among the many military publications, Stars and Stripes operates as a First Amendment newspaper under control of the Defense Media Activity (along with the Pentagon Channel and Armed Forces Radio and Television Service).
Stars and Stripes recently released its digital archives. Newspaper microfilm from 1943 to 2007 was scanned by Heritage Microfilm and integrated into an archives website.