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PostPosted: 19 Mar 2009, 07:26 
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Grand Poobah
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Not a lament that papers are losing to blogs, but a look into how papers started and their role in the US' birth...

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/a ... rge_lepore

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The newspaper is dead. You can read all about it online, blog by blog, where the digital gloom over the death of an industry often veils, if thinly, a pallid glee. The Newspaper Death Watch, a Web site, even has a column titled “R.I.P.” Or, hold on, maybe the newspaper isn’t quite dead yet. At its funeral, wild-eyed mourners spy signs of life. The newspaper stirs!

The last time the American newspaper business got this gothic was 1765, just after the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto,” was published, in London, and, in an unrelated development, Parliament decided to levy on the colonies a new tax, requiring government-issued stamps on pages of printed paper—everything from indenture agreements to bills of credit to playing cards. The tax hit printers hard, at a time when printers were also the editors of newspapers, and sometimes their chief writers, too. The Stamp Act—the “fatal Black-Act,” one printer called it—was set to go into effect on November 1, 1765. Beginning that day, printers were to affix stamps to their pages and to pay tax collectors a halfpenny for every half sheet—amounting, ordinarily, to a penny for every copy of every issue of every newspaper—and a two-shilling tax on every advertisement. Printers insisted that they could not bear this cost. It would spell the death of the newspaper.


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That ghost story—the fate of the undead newspaper in Revolutionary America—bears telling. Maybe if we knew more about the founding hacks, we’d have a better idea of what we will have lost when the last newspaper rolls off the presses. If the newspaper, at least as a thing printed on paper and delivered to your door, has a doomsday, it may be coming soon. Not so soon as weeks or months, but not so far off as decades, either. The end, apparently, really is near. That makes this a good time to ask: what was the beginning about?


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“The newspaper is dead, long live the newspaper!” has lately become the incantation of advocates of e-journalism, who argue that the twenty-first-century death of the newspaper hardly merits a moment’s mourning, since it is no death at all but, rather, a rebirth. Even if that turns out to be true—and you have to hope it is true—the digital newspaper could do with a better slogan. Invoking the hereditary succession of a divine line of kings to celebrate the zippy thrill of reading an RSS feed on your iPhone runs counter to the history of the newspaper. Our rulers do not rule over us for as long as they live and, when they die, their heirs do not inherit their titles. That, in short, is what the beginning of the American newspaper was about.

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