The beginnings of American Journalism
The first newspaper published in what would later become the United States was a failure, publishing only a single edition.
“Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick” was published in Boston on Sept. 25, 1690 and just four days later it was shutdown by the local English colonial government, who declared it to be “strictly forbidden any person or persons for the future to Set forth any thing in Print without License first obtained from those that are or shall be appointed by the Government to grant the same.”
Benjamin Harris, the newspaper’s editor, had chosen to publish an account of a battle in the French and Indian war, among other things, that angered the colonial government. They issued the above announcement and passed a law requiring licensing of publications.
He upset them with his writing, so they shut him down with theirs.
It was almost 15 years before another newspaper printed, and this one, “The Boston News-Letter”, was careful not to offend the colonial government, at first largely publishing reprinted articles from London newspapers.
As the newspaper changed hands over the next 70 years, the new editors remained loyal to the colonial government. So loyal, in fact, that when the English evacuated Boston in 1776, the editor and owner of the newspaper were taken with them back to London.
Thankfully, there were other newspapers, like Benjamin Franklin’s “The Pennsylvania Gazette”, that were not so eager to take publishing orders from the government. Within it’s pages, the first political cartoon was published.
This is why the freedom of the press was included among the other things in the First Amendment.
To truly hold those in the government accountable, we must be able to have public discussion, and for a group so large as an entire state, that requires the use of media. At the time, the most powerful media on earth was the printing press. The press’ enshrinement in the First Amendment promises U.S. citizens the chance to establish that media.
Newspaper licensing, state-controlled broadcasts, and internet shutdowns happen elsewhere in the world and in the American past, but have been intentionally forbidden for the here and now, in part thanks to “Publick Occurrences”, a “failed” newspaper.