March CommQuote

Ethan Zuckerman’s blog, … My heart’s in Accra, features a fascinating little piece on Ben Franklin.  Zuckerman doesn’t claim to be an historian and gives full credit to Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media for how profoundly interesting he knows this particular blog entry is!  Get this:

The Post Office Act established the right of the government to control postal routes and gave citizens rights to privacy of their mail – which was deeply undermined by the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, but hey, who’s counting. But what may be most important about the Post Office Act is that it set up a very powerful cross subsidy. Rather than charging based on weight and distance, as they had before Franklin’s reforms, the US postal system offered tiered service based on the purpose of the speech being exchanged. Exchanging private letters was very costly, while sending newspapers was shockingly cheap: it cost a small fraction of the cost of a private letter to send a newspaper. As a result, newspapers represented 95% of the weight of the mails and 15% of the revenue in 1832. This pricing disparity led to the wonderful phenomenon of cheapskates purchasing newspapers, underlining or pricking holes with a pin under selected words and sending encoded letters home. BenFranklinStamp

The low cost of mailing newspapers as well as the absence of stamp taxes or caution money, which made it incredibly prohibitively expensive to operate a press in England, allowed half of all American households to have a newspaper subscription in 1820, a rate that was orders of magnitude higher than in England or France. But the really crazy subsidy was the “exchange copy”. Newspapers could send copies to each other for free, with carriage costs paid by the post office. By 1840, The average newspaper received 4300 exchange copies a year – they were swimming in content, and thanks to extremely loose enforcement of copyright laws, a huge percentage of what appeared in the average newspaper was cut and pasted from other newspapers. This giant exchange of content was subsidized by high rates on those who used the posts for personal and commercial purposes.

This system worked really well, creating a postal service that was fiscally sustainable, and which aspired to universal service. By 1831, three quarters of US government civilian jobs were with the postal service. In an almost literal sense, the early US state was a postal service with a small representative government attached to it. But the postal system was huge because it needed to be – there were 8700 post offices by 1830, including over 400 in Massachusetts alone, which is saying something, as there are only 351 towns in Massachusetts. 

–Ethan Zuckerman (February 2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing Black Quotidian

AmsterdamnewsAn exciting new digital history project, Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers,” is being launched by Matt Delmont. Made possible by Proquest’s Black Newspapers collection, Delmont plans to post at least one newspaper article daily from that date in history with a brief accompanying commentary.  The project commences on Martin Luther King Day 2016, and the entry for that is already posted (as of 1/4/2016).  The post includes four articles published on January 18, 1969 from the Philadelphia Tribune, the Pittsburgh Courier, and the New York Amsterdam News. Explains the curator, Black Quotidian “is designed to highlight everyday moments and lives in African-American history…By emphasizing the ordinary or mundane aspects of history I hope both to call attention to people and events that are not commonly featured in textbooks, documentaries, or Black History Month celebrations, while also casting new light on well-known black history subjects.” His hope is to not be the only curator of the site and invites others to contribute.  No stranger to creating culturally rich websites, there’s  The Nicest Kids in Town digital project, that accompanies his book on American Bandstand and  Why Busing Failed  built to accompany his book of the same title (Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation).

Newspaper Map

mapThere’s a new way to read electronic facsimiles of current newspapers from around the world other than through Library PressDisplay (NewspaperDirect), a Penn Libraries e-resource.  If the paper you are looking for is not in the PressDisplay, try Newspaper Map which purportedly displays over 10,000 newspapers on one Google Map.  Navigating the map, it may be tricky locating the paper you want from areas of dense marker population. Luckily you can use the search boxes to locate titles by place and name; that’s usually the easier path. What makes this resource really useful is each title is linked with translation options (though it doesn’t always deliver I discovered). Give it a try.  It’s fun reading even (or especially) without a research agenda.